This is taken from a Church Times article in the 4 July 2019 issue and is excellent advice, not only to the new Revs but to every Christian minister.

Advice for new deacons: Don’t say yes to everything
We asked a management consultant and a psycho-therapist for advice for the newly ordained. Beware the incumbent in the kitchen, warns Matthew Caminer

THE ordination service has taken place, and the celebrating is over. It is an exciting time for you as a newly ordained deacon, as well as for any family you may have. You are experiencing a whole range of life-changes simultaneously. And, when I say “you”, I mean the new deacon, and the spouse or family (if any), and the host congregation into which the newly ordained deacon has been placed.

So many changes: ordination itself, possibly a change of home, possibly a new job for your spouse or partner, and perhaps new schools for the children. Separation from family and friends, maybe; a new church; and wondering how your gifts and aspirations will be accepted in your new environment.

In all probability, it will be a time of wonderful growth, new discoveries, and blessings. But a few tips might help you on your way. Much of what follows is addressed to the deacon, but could equally apply to the deacon’s spouse, partner, or family.

1. Protect the essentials

IT WILL be the work of a moment for your diary to get filled up. Protect the essentials at all costs: time for God; time for your family; and time for your ongoing training. You may now look different in your clerical collar, but, to your family, you are still husband or wife, Mum or Dad.

One common complaint is that, even after many years, some members of the wider family simply don’t get it — that you are not available for family events on Christmas Day, and may just feel like sleeping on Boxing Day. You may need to educate them, or be proactive by suggesting family get-togethers that avoid the big festivals. Guard your integrity. If you don’t get this right from the beginning, it will be an uphill task to adjust things later.

2. Manage time (or it will manage you)

THIS is hard, whether you are in full- or part-time ministry, managing a family, approaching retirement, single, or juggling work in secular employment. Learn to differentiate between urgent, important, and trivial; and filter your tasks accordingly, especially if your training incumbent has a very robust work ethic. Therefore. . .

3. Learn to say ‘No’

IN THE first flush of enthusiasm, you are liable to find yourself saying “yes” to everything, and, as a result, taking on stuff simply because your predecessor enjoyed doing it, or was good at it. But that does not mean that you have to edit the parish magazine, or repair the altar frontal. It is important to develop a way of saying “no”, firmly and politely, while you sort out your priorities and ring-fence the essentials.

It will be much harder to develop this habit later in your ministry; and by then the family may have felt neglected, and core tasks have been left undone. You can always add things later, but for the mean time learn to say “no”, and keep practising. This will benefit the family, ministry, and relationships.

4. Treat days off and holidays as non-negotiable

IT IS amazing how many conversations start with “I know it’s your day off, but . . .” Educate the congregation, and make sure that your day off is known by everyone. If your training incumbent has bad habits about this, don’t let that put you off.

This is especially critical if your spouse is also working, and time off does not often coincide. Days off together may need to be planned a long time in advance: don’t abuse them. If at all possible, rather than stay at home, find somewhere you can go for days off and holidays. This is partly because work has a way of creeping in, but also because if you are not there, they can’t get hold of you.

5. Manage your boundaries

PEOPLE are generally sociable and welcoming, and there will be natural curiosity about this new family — something that most curate families appreciate. Remember, though, that people whom you did not know before will see you though the filter of being “the curate”, or “the curate’s spouse”, and that will colour the relationship.

There are differing views on whether a deacon or spouse should have friends within the congregation; you will be given all sorts of advice, but only you can work it out. Establish boundaries up front, and — especially if you are an introvert person — develop coping strategies for your protection.

6. Develop your support network from day one

YES, you have God and each other, but it is a good idea to have a wider support network, including friends and family, or maybe the peer group of ordinands and their spouses from theological college.

Within the Church there are different resources for different purposes — the training incumbent, the IME officer, the diocese, your spiritual director, the pastoral-care adviser and work consultant, to list a few. Some of these are just as appropriate for the spouse, and a clergy-spouse support group (whether in the diocese or online) can be invaluable. Use them: don’t be alone.

7. Treasure your family and friends

FROM now on, anyone you meet is likely to think of you as “the curate”, or “the curate’s spouse”. The great thing is that your family and old friends will simply see you as “you” without any of that baggage; so you will be able to relax and “be” with them. There may be times when you need exactly this to keep balance in your life. If you are an unpartnered deacon, this may fill an important gap. It is very important to nurture the health of these relationships: it takes commitment.

8. Clergy marriage: establish the balance

THE psychotherapist Canon Beaumont Stevenson has written of clergy marriage as a form of bigamy, with potentially conflicting vows to God at both ordination and marriage. One spouse said: “I hate the fact that the training incumbent is in our kitchen at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, when I am still in my pyjamas.” It’s no joke: a newly ordained deacon may spend more time with the training incumbent than with the family. It can feel intrusive and excluding.

This needs to be addressed from the start, agreeing strategies for protecting both the marriage and the family. Above all, communicate, and plan together. For instance, take no appointments between 5 and 7 p.m. so there can be quality time with the children; leave the door unanswered, and let the answering machine take messages.

If that seems an impossible dream, work out a strategy for making it work, and ask yourself why some clergy do manage to achieve that sort of rule of life — and I use that term deliberately.

9. Decide what sort of clergy spouse your partner will be

OLD stereotypes of the vicar’s wife have all but gone. There is no “role” for a clergy spouse other than that which she or he has consciously chosen. You may see yourself as totally involved, or totally detached, or somewhere between the two. Any of these positions is valid, provided that you have thought it through between you, and have addressed any expectations and assumptions that you or others may have had.

The key point for everyone to remember is that the only established “duties” of a clergy spouse are derived from the words of the marriage service, not from the Ordinal. It is your marriage: don’t let it be pushed out of shape.

10. Protect and nurture your children

THIS can be an unnerving and destabilising period for clergy children. They may be leaving friends behind; routines are being interrupted; studies for exams may be disrupted; there are new schools to get used to; Granny may no longer be just round the corner; and Christmas has to be shared with the church.

Of course, the parish is likely to be very welcoming to your children, but even that can be burdensome and laden with expectations; and there can be a sense of collective ownership, to which some children respond positively, but which others may find difficult and intrusive. Make time for your children, and do not leave that to the non-ordained parent.

A word to congregations: understand what a curacy is for

YOU may expect the curate to be a spare pair of hands, and for the curate’s family to slot into your existing ways of doing things.

The reality is different: the deacon is primarily there to learn, through a combination of continued academic study and in-work experience. This will limit the time available for contributing in the parish. Similarly, having a curate is likely to make the incumbent busier. Set your expectations at that level, and give the curacy time to blossom.

And finally . . .

THE key thing, starting this new life, is to weigh up all the relevant factors, bringing any expectations and assumptions into the open, and, above all, being true to yourself. Without such reflection and open communication, the health of the ministry and of the marriage may be at risk. So have the conversations now, while there is still a blank canvas.

Whether you are the deacon or the spouse, this is a time for learning — for making mistakes. As long as those mistakes are seen as growing opportunities rather than misdemeanours, life will be full of richness and rapid development.

Hold on to the joy of ordination. One curate, approaching the end of his deacon year, wrote: “Nothing could have prepared me for how deeply I would love my congregation. It is joyful and painful in equal measure; but I was shocked by just how quickly I became completely devoted to people with whom I had nothing but Jesus in common! I found I needed time just to feel this, and to come to terms with it.”

Or, as one clergy spouse put it: “Look for, and celebrate, the joys; share the sorrows, and find time to talk to each other every day, even if it is limited. If you have children, let them see the good things about Jesus and the church. Remember that training incumbents, clergy, and their spouses are individuals, and what one may enjoy another may find terrifying, nonsensical, or boring. God is gracious, loving, and powerful; and miracles do happen.”

May this be a time of discovery, joy, and many blessings.

Matthew Caminer is a management consultant and speaker; and presents seminars for vocation-seekers, ordinands, and their partners, on behalf of dioceses and theological colleges. He is the author of A Clergy Husband’s Survival Guide and, with Martyn Percy and Beaumont Stevenson, Curacies and How to Survive Them, both published by SPCK.

DEACONS AND READERS: letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor, Church Times 16 March 2018

Patterns of ministry in the C of E

From the Revd Gill Kimber

Sir, — Nigel Holmes (Letters, 9 March) writes of Readers’ being “encouraged to move seamlessly to ordained ministry unless they wished to stay lay”.

He is, I think, missing the point. Dr Sentamu’s bold initiative is less about ordained and lay ministries than about the distinctive aspects of the callings of the Reader and the vocational deacon. Readers in York are being encouraged to consider whether their current ministries are more akin to those of the diaconate. Do they find themselves primarily focused in the community outside the church, characteristic of the outward-reaching, missional, and developmental ministry of the deacon?

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Or are they primarily focused on the teaching and preaching ministry of the church, and the building up of people in the faith, characteristic of Reader ministry?

Over the years, many Readers have recognised that in fact they are deacons at heart. The main reason that they did not become deacons was that they were never told that this was an option for them. Now is the time to offer them this opportunity.

Warden, College of St Philip the Deacon, Diocese of Exeter

SHARING THE GRACE: Deacon Didier Rance

Interview: Didier Rance, historian

24 November 2017

‘Being a Christian is not to have won an undeserved jackpot, but to help all people win this jackpot’

I always wanted to be a historian. I studied medieval history at the Sorbonne, and left for Egypt to work on a doctorate in comparative studies in medieval thought.

Something happened which prevented me to achieve my doctorate:
in Cairo, on my way to libraries where I worked, I noticed that families were staying exactly at the same places on pavements. They were living on the street.

I started to wonder if medieval history was as urgent as trying to help people like these,
and dropped history for humanitarian work in 1973. They were years of terrible drought and famine all over Sahelian countries, and I was sent as co-ordinator for relief operations for a volunteers’ organisation. I worked for them for seven years, mainly in West Africa, and with UNICEF.

I made another turn in life in 1980. Although I was born in a Catholic family, I had long proclaimed myself an agnostic. Africans made me a believer again, then a Christian — when I understood that being a Christian was not to have won an undeserved jackpot in the lottery of life, but was rolling up your sleeves to become a partner with Jesus to help all people to win this jackpot.

Returning to church opened my eyes.
Of course the poorest of the poorest needed humanitarian assistance, but also Christ. In 1980, I joined Aid to the Church in Need [ACN] in France, which led me to the diaconate in 1985, and the Secular Franciscan Order. I was now married with three children. I worked more than 25 years with ACN, as regional then national director.

This led me also to a third turn in life.
ACN has a mission not only for needy churches, but also for persecuted ones. A few months after I started with ACN, Fr Przemysl Coufal was assassinated by the StB, the local KGB in Czechoslovakia, near where I was living. Nearly no one was interested by this in my country, but it struck me to the core, and opened my eyes to the reality of persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Europe and elsewhere. I started working on this, with the intellectual tools I had developed as an historian, and published articles and books: first on Poland, second on Middle Eastern Christians, and so on. At the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, I travelled five years extensively to collect and publish testimonies of confessors of faith and martyrs there.

When John Paul II decided that the memory of the martyrs
would be one of the three main dimensions of the Great Jubilee, and created the Commission for New Martyrs in 1994, I found myself working with them in Rome. My own task was to deepen the understanding of martyrdom from the experience of 20th-century martyrs and confessors of faith.

I published Un Siècle de Témoins
[A Century of Witnesses], and then returned to academic work at the Ukrainian Catholic University. From 2008, I’ve given here an online Master’s course in ecumenical hagiology. I can summarise the course in one single sentence: “If Christians are able to suffer and die together for the same Christ, why should not they be able to live together for the same Christ?” And I began to write biographies.

It seems to me that the two trends in history have dominated in the last decades:
quantitative and structural methods, both tending to treat human facts in history mainly as things. It’s possible that we assist the return to study history as made by concretely human actors. Several of the greatest French historians of our time, like [Jacques] Le Goff or [Paul] Veyne, finished their life by writing biographies.

This very shallow knowledge of history,
shown in recent election results in France and Britain, is a fact. You may wonder how liberal countries have become, as the totalitarian countries, a subject of meditation for me. The way Christopher Dawson is now absent from discussion on Europe and its Christian roots is symptomatic. When the choice is between no roots and biased ones, what choice is possible for a Christian?

John Bradburne entered my life in 1983, when I raised money for the Mutemwa lepers, for whom he gave his life. [Bradburne was a lay Franciscan, warden of the Mutemwa leper colony at Mutoko, in what is now Zimbabwe, who was killed by guerrillas in 1979, a few months before independence.] I have a lot of various reasons for loving him, which I hope will be shared by the readers of the book [details below], but there were also points of personal convergence: the lepers, Africa, wanderings, playing the flute, poetry, and secular Franciscan life, even if I was well aware of the gap between this life totally given to God, and mine.

I travelled in John’s footsteps in England,
Italy, Belgium, and Africa, and studied his letters and his poems. My companionship with him was, and is, such that I made for myself a calendar, with entries for each day of the year, of what he did this day, any year of his life.

I’ve now published 25 books:
18 of them are about martyrs, persecuted Churches, and about witnesses of faith I have met. I’ve also written on Nietzsche, Tolkien, on the spirituality of the diaconate, on humanitarian work, and a long poem on a Ukrainian artist.

I’m not proud of my books.
But I’d be happy if John Bradburne and others agree with what I have written on them; and I’m happy when people tell me they were touched by John, and others I’ve written about.

I’m currently preparing the publication of a historical novel
on spiritual resistance against totalitarism in Slovakia; and a collection of essays on John Henry Newman; and finishing what will be my Summa on 20th-century martyrs, The Forgiveness of the Martyrs of Our Time.

Biography is the apex of historical work,
as well as a serious challenge to the art of the novel. Novels are the works of sub-creators, to use Tolkien’s terminology. Real lives are the joint work of the Creator and of human sub-creators. Doing research on Bradburne, I found, more than once, like Chesterton, that reality is more extraordinary than fiction.

I was born in 1947, in an ordinary family
of French post-war baby-boomers, with four siblings, in a Paris suburb which was still country. I remember going to a farm to buy milk, and helping my older sisters to rob some pears at the neighbouring orchard. Life changed when I was ten years old and my father was knocked down by a drunk driver. It was a hard time for the whole family. If I’d not been already going to school in Paris, I’d have gone to work at 14. I had to work when I was 16, to contribute to my studies.

Now, I’m an ageing, pensioned man,
happy to be able to walk, every year, 1000 kilometres or more, to Santiago or Rome for the last 15 years; working on books, articles, weekly broadcasts on a Catholic radio network, on handicapped people, Newman, and, of course, for our suffering Christian brothers and sisters, and the memory of martyrs.

To be a deacon is to share the grace of serving the One who said, “ I am among you as the One who serves.”
And serving those who give their lives for him is grace upon grace. Since 1988, another grace: I’m a bi-ritual deacon, serving the Greek Catholic churches — the most persecuted Catholic churches in the 20th century.

I love the Bach cello suites.

My greatest influences have been St Francis, Fr Marie-Joseph, John Bradburne, Silvo Krcméry
, who initiated the clandestine Christian Movement in Slovakia during the totalitarian era, and an African Sister who said: “Pourquoi tracasser ma tête, je vis l’aujourd’hui de Dieu.” (“Why bother my head, I live the today of God.”)

I usually do not pray for what, but for whom.
Walking to Rome or Santiago, I leave with a long list of persons to pray for.

Stupidity is an incurable disease.
I’m angry first with stupid people, but, soon after, with myself.

I’m happiest when I feel attuned to God and my neighbour.

I hope one day to attain the hope of the martyrs
, which is the measure of real Christian hope. I’m still far from it.

You are never alone in a church when the Real Presence is here.
A companion to share him? John, of course.


Didier Rance was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

John Bradburne: The vagabond of God, translated by Malachy O’Higgins and abridged by David Crystal, is published by DLT at £12.99 (Church Times Bookshop £11.70).


No, not the wheeled variety!  In this interesting comment on the north-south divide and the failure of the C of E to take informed responsibility in poor areas, community theologian Ann Morisy says ‘the Church of Scotland, besides investing in coaching, provides additional full-time staff for each and every priority (poor) parish. The people appointed, however, are not clergy, but youth workers, community animators, administrators, artists, and poets, as well as trained and experienced coaches.’

This concept, of people who are trained to coach others in dealing with their circumstances in order to make a difference, is surely a diaconal one. This is an opportunity for the diaconate to step in to community needs and show its true colours.

Ann’s article: