Methodist deacon David Clark shares his vision of a renewed diaconal movement serving the world.  He would welcome your comments.

David & Susan Clark 2019

Becoming a diaconal church

Over the week-end of March 22nd to 24th this year, I was privileged, as a Methodist deacon, to be invited to lead the annual conference of some two dozen distinctive deacons from the Diocese of York, together with a number of participants from other dioceses.  The theme of the week-end was ‘Becoming a diaconal church – broadening the vision’, about which I have written at some length over the past few years.  This short article is my response to being asked to offer a few thoughts on that theme for a wider Anglican audience.

Wydale deacon group 2019A world at risk

We are living in a hugely exciting but extremely precarious world.  The potential opportunities ahead are immense – a new era of health and healing, excursions into outer space, a world in which wealth creation lifts everyone out of poverty, the fulfilment of billions through universal educational provision, a planet whose resources are fully used but carefully preserved, and a diversity of cultures all contributing to an enrichment of what it means to be human.

However, over this potentially amazing future for humankind is cast a shadow which could eventually destroy life on earth as we know it.  As we have been reminded by the demonstration of thousands of school children worldwide, and Extinction Rebellion more recently, human life on our planet is living on borrowed time.  Epidemics of infectious diseases threaten to outlast the ability of anti-biotics to contain them.  Weapons of mass destruction are no less a challenge to life on earth than they were in the heady days of ban-the-bomb marches.  And economic globalization continues to make the rich richer and poor poorer.

The stark truth is that the forces of destruction will obliterate the hope of a long and fulfilling human era unless we get our act together.  We have to learn, and learn fast how to create a world which is a global community of communities or humankind will self-destruct.  As Parker Palmer, an American Quaker, puts it: ‘Community means more than the comfort of souls.  It means, and has always meant, the survival of the species.’  So where do we look for the message and the means to enable us achieve this communal imperative?

A church fit for purpose?

Over the centuries, many religious and secular creeds have offered us a vision of the common good.  In the forefront of these has been Christianity.  Christian faith, and its institutional expression through the church, has at best provided the world with a transforming and inspirational vision of what life at its most human is all about.  Even a secular society can still mourn at the destruction of a great cathedral like Notre Dame.

Yet, as Christians, we are slowly having to accept that the church which Christendom bequeathed us is no longer fit for purpose.  The evidence is not just in its numerical decline – at least in the West.  It is brought home by the fact that the church as we have it – from the tired old institutions of Europe to the burgeoning Pentecostal churches of the South – remains captive to clericalism, paternalism, fundamentalism and, above all, sectarianism.  The ecumenical vision of the past century has faded and we are left with a church – Orthodox, Episcopal and Pentecostal – still fragmenting.  To make matters worse, the legacy of child abuse within so many churches undermines the last vestiges of credibility for a good number within wider society.

A new narrative

A renewed Christian narrative to inform and empower the universal quest for community is now imperative.  At its heart is the good news of the kingdom.  To be meaningful to our age, it is a narrative which must focus not only on the sovereignty of God, but also the call to the whole of humankind to become ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that (we) may declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.’  In short, the new narrative is about God’s promise that our world can and must become a universal and inclusive community – a kingdom community.  As I have described elsewhere, the gifts of that community include life to the full, liberation from the destructiveness of evil and for justice and peace, love of neighbour and care for stranger, and an openness to learning what it means to be one world.

A diaconal church

If we as Christians are to communicate the amazing offer of the gifts of the kingdom community to a world in crisis, then we have to discover a new way of being church.  The foundational hall-mark of such a church must be servanthood.  As the people of God, we have to become servants of the kingdom community and servants of humankind.  Such a church is first and foremost ‘a diaconal church’.

The diaconal church as a new form of institution

A diaconal church must not ignore its heritage.  The necessity of continuity means that it must embrace the features of the church as institution.  Since the days of the early church, there have been many Christians who have kept ‘the wonderful light’ of the gospel shining during some pretty dark times.  Faithfulness to such a past is a hall-mark of the diaconal church.

However, as the servant of the kingdom community, the diaconal church is a new form of institution.  Its calling is to manifest the gifts of that community – through worship, education, pastoral care, organization and leadership – in new and credible ways.

The diaconal church as a new form of movement

A diaconal church is not only a new form of institution.  It is a new form of Christian movement.  As the latter, its mission is to enable human groups and associations of all kinds – concerned with the family, education, health and healing, welfare, leisure, business and commerce, law and order and government – to manifest the gifts of the kingdom community.  It is a movement, first and foremost, about radical transformation – of that which inhibits life, liberation, love and learning into that which facilitates their flowering and bearing fruit.

The primary resource of the diaconal church as new movement is the people of God in the world.  Their calling to be the church in the world also entails their working alongside those I have called ‘friends of the kingdom’, fellow travellers of other faiths and convictions.

The type of leadership needed to give impetus and shape to this new form of movement is a renewed diaconate.  For many centuries dormant, it is now coming to the fore worldwide as a divine gift to enable the people of God, and all fellow travellers, to respond to the quest for community, local, national and global, on which the future of humankind depends.

Signs of a renewed diaconate

Every denomination within a fragmented Christendom faces its own particular challenges in seeking to bring the servant church, the diaconal church into being.  It is a daunting but exhilarating task which will take many generations to accomplish.  However, we have to begin where we are.  This means welcoming those still faint signs foreshadowing the coming into being of the diaconal church and a renewed diaconate.

As a Methodist deacon, I observe such signs within my own church – a diaconal order of men as well as well as women, one which seeks to use the features of being an informal religious order to model the nature of the kingdom community, an order which is beginning to recognise the priority of equipping the people of God for their transformational mission in the world.

Where next for the distinctive diaconate in the Church of England?

So where is the Church of England in its journey to become a diaconal church and re-instate the distinctive diaconate, for the two are inseparable?  The Church of England now has a significant number of its leaders, including diocesan bishops, who recognize that a renewed diaconate is what Paul Avis calls ‘a flagship ministry’.  Just as encouraging is the growing awareness amongst such leaders that the transitional diaconate is not just an anachronism.  It is a major road block in the way of bringing the diaconal church as a new form of institution, and the distinctive diaconate as ‘a full and equal order’ alongside the priesthood, into being.

Nevertheless, I do not think such ‘top-down’ developments will prove the most decisive steps on the way to radical change.  First and foremost, as distinctive deacons (in every denomination), I believe we have to widen our own vision.  We have to hammer out, own and communicate a new narrative in the form of a theology (of the kingdom) and ecclesiology (of the diaconal church) which is paramount for the communal salvation of a world on life-support.

As distinctive deacons we also need to grasp that diaconal ministry is very different from ‘witness through service’ (which is the calling of all God’s people).  It means us becoming passionate about the creation of a new form of Christian leadership as enablers and change-agents.  The vocation of a renewed diaconate is to inspire, energize and equip the whole church, in partnership with fellow travellers wherever they exist, to become a movement for the communal transformation of society and world.  I am convinced such a movement is a divine calling and imperative for our day and age.

David Clark

April 2019

David’s blog http://www.diaconalchurch.com/


I’m so pleased that Deacon David Clark’s talks are now available through the Diocese of York website.  (Thanks to Deacon Liz Carrington)

Please note that the talks are wrongly numbered:  #3 is in fact the first talk, #1 is second and #2 is third.

Becoming a diaconal church:  broadening the vision.


2 york conf12112018

More about David Clark:

David Clark

David Clark is a Methodist deacon and a member of the Society of Friends. From 1973 – 1990 he was a senior lecturer in community education at Westhill College, Birmingham. During that time he became a leading figure in the Christian Community Movement, establishing the National Centre for Christian Communities and Networks. He set up the Christians in Public Life Programme in the early 1990s. In 1997 he founded the Human City Institute (Birmingham). He is the author of numerous books and articles on the nature of community, schools as learning communities and the mission of the church in today’s world.

David has a popular blog at http://www.diaconalchurch.com

See David’s books here:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B00SWVJZKK?_encoding=UTF8&redirectedFromKindleDbs=true&rfkd=1&shoppingPortalEnabled=true


As deacons we are pretty starved of resources about our vocation and ministry.  But there’s good news.  Last year there was an international ecumenical conference on the diaconate in Saskatchewan:  see report here.

As a follow-up, a book is coming out in August this year with all the talks, to be called ‘The Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective’,  published by Sacristy Press.  The speakers were all very experienced leading Episcopal deacons or people who have been involved with diaconal formation for many years.   They  include our own Canon Rosalind Brown, and English Methodist deacon David Clark.

You can view all the conference talks here: 


(That should keep us quiet for a while!)

Read more details  in Deacon Michael Jackson’s latest letter:

Message to Conference Participants – March 2019-2



Methodist deacon David Clark has asked me to feature this flyer for his new book.

Image result for deacon david clark

David has a clear prophetic vision for a renewed diaconal church, and will be the keynote speaker at the York deacons’ conference in March (scroll down for details).  His latest publication provides much food for thought.  You can follow David’s blog here:  http://www.diaconalchurch.com/Cc4Scn_0000.bmp

2 york conf12112018


Methodist deacon David Clark tells us

I became a deacon at 71 – moving into the Methodist Diaconal Order after many years as a Methodist presbyter – because for many years my work had been on the boundary of church and society, in my case in education.  [I wonder what that says about the theology of a transitional diaconate?]  I am all for our ministries reflecting where life has taken us – being a Christian is an exciting and on-going journey of discovery.

It would, of course, never happen in the Church of England.  Once a priest, always a priest, and most priests would regard becoming a deacon again as a ‘retrograde’ step.  We are a very long way from equality of ministries.

Another good reason for unity with the Methodists, perhaps!

Image result for methodist deacons


Methodist deacon David Clark has long been a prophet to the church, challenging its assumptions and advocating tirelessly for a radical diaconal church that builds Kingdom communities.

Image result for methodist deacon david clark

With the national discussion well under way about unity between the Methodist church and the Church of England, David shares his personal, fundamental misgivings.

‘Hierarchy has had its day’

Hierarchy (vertical ranks of authority) is not a problem as such – where decisions need to be taken rapidly – as in the case of the armed forces, police or fire service – it has a valid place.  But in institutions where careful thought based on the gathering of insights from a variety of sources is important, it is dangerous.  Too often it is shaped by the personality, rarely benevolent, of the leader concerned.  ‘Bottom up’ (sometimes called ‘democracy’) is never perfect, or even easy.  But ‘top down’ has frequently been a disaster, costing millions of innocent lives.  It can also create a dependent (not infrequently fearful) and naively passive public.

In what I call ‘the diaconal church’, the model of the church to come, hierarchy as a matter of church order has a place.  But regarded as a divine imperative, as often the case in Christendom, it undermines the profound importance of the church as the whole people of God.  This was a truth at last recognized by Vatican Two some fifty years ago – even if it has in practice still to impact on Roman Catholic ecclesiology.

There is another problem with a church which embraces an institutionalized form of hierarchy.  It is increasingly out of kilter with the type of world into which we are rapidly moving.  Management years ago drew away from a dominantly hierarchical model of governance, recognizing that all employees need to be validated as a resource and their views regularly gathered and acted upon.  The digital age has also demolished hierarchy and, despite the problems of social media, given a voice to every user.  It is true that we see a resurgence of dictatorship and autocracy in many contexts, but this holds out no hope for the future of humankind.  It is simply retrenchment by those in power playing on the fears of globalization and the apparent threat posed by a world on the move.

The Guardian recently (21/3/18) published an article entitled ‘The Christian era fades across Europe as youngsters reject the faith’.  It reported that the UK has the 5th worst statistic out of 21 countries for young people who no longer identify with any religion (70%).  It has the 4th worst statistic for 16-29-year-olds who never attended a religious service (59%).  I would be the first to argue that the relevance of Christian faith cannot be correlated with ostensible ‘belief’ or church going.  However, these figures (they are destined to get worse) show that the Christendom (and largely hierarchical) model of church in the West is well past its sell-by date.  The disturbing thing is that church leaders still fail to acknowledge this and assume it can be business as usual with a few tweaks here and there, misleadingly called ‘fresh expressions of church’.

The problems of hierarchy were starkly underlined this week (23/3/18) with the Guardian reporting on the child-abuse scandal in the Church of England.  A leading article expressed the view that ‘the picture that has emerged of the Church of England is an organization almost paralyzed by self-importance…  (and) almost wholly unaccountable, even internally…  The clergy were held to be more important than the laity, and bishops far superior to the parish clergy.’  This situation is what can happen to hierarchy when seen as offering divine approval for every decision made by those ordained.  This model of church must change – we have to move towards servant leadership and a servant church focused on the kingdom not the church, as illustrated throughout by this blog.

A final word.  Methodism (my church) is now faced with a decision, in the name of Christian unity, as to whether it will buy into a hierarchical form of church leadership.  I have always recognized Christian unity as a divine imperative.  But I have come to believe that such unity must be unity in diversity, and not unity as uniformity.  Methodism is unusual in manifesting many hall-marks of the diaconal church.  If it succumbs to episcopal ordination for all future ministers, and to the Anglican form of sequential ordination which leaves the distinctive diaconate way out on a limb, it will be almost impossible for it not to surrender that of real communal worth which it has to offer to the church to come.


David Clark

Posted 24/3/18

Follow David’s blog: http://www.diaconalchurch.com/

and find more of his writing in the drop-down list under ‘Useful books and papers’


‘It is a movement from diaconal ministry as something Deacons undertake on behalf of the church ‘out there’ to Deacons equipping and empowering the laity, the whole people of God, for diaconal ministry, and Deacons collaborating in collective action with others in the community, beyond the four walls of the church’.

DIAKONIA President Rev Deacon Sandy Boyce, in her final presidential address to the Chicago delegates this month, poses a profound question.

Sandy Boyce - Deacon

‘what kind of model for (diaconal) ministry is required in our time and place, for our particular context?’

She quotes Methodist Deacon David Clark‘s vision for the whole church to become diaconal in its outlook and movement.  At a time when we Anglicans are seriously considering unity with the Methodists, maybe this is the question we should be asking ourselves.

Here is Sandy’s whole address:

Chicago 2017

DIAKONIA World Federation Assembly

22nd Assembly: Shaken by the Wind

Visions for the Future

Address by President Rev (Deacon) Sandy Boyce
During my term as President of DIAKONIA World Federation I have learned just how diverse are the expressions of diaconal ministry around the world and how diverse are the structures in which diaconal ministry is couched. There is no one way – but we have found we can all learn from each other. And that’s the great work, I believe, of the DIAKONIA World Federation, that within and between the member associations we can all learn from the experience of the other, to affirm as well as to be a catalyst for change when need be.

It is worth briefly pausing to look at the development of the Deaconess movement in 1836 under the leadership of a German Lutheran pastor, Theodor Fliedner. It was a response to the challenging contextual issues of the day, especially with the rise of industrialisation, the movement from rural areas to the cities for employment, the subsequent rise of the urban poor who lacked the community support they might have enjoyed in rural communities, the rapid spread of disease, the end of the Napoleonic wars that left society in upheaval, and so on. It was into this particular context that Fliedner established a deaconess motherhouse and a diaconal community that would enable women in the 19th century to find a meaningful vocation and that would respond to these challenges in society.

Now, I want to suggest that this direct correlation between the context as the catalyst for the shape and ordering of ministry may at times be disconnected. It is necessary from time to time to step back from the immediacy of ‘doing’ ministry, to reflect on the pressing challenges for our time, and how may we together to respond through releasing lay and ordained people to exercise ministry and mission within the church and in the community.

You know the many current challenges in the world – globalisation, the unjust distribution of resources, weapons of mass destruction, the rise of terrorism, increasing disparity between the rich and the poor, complex inter-faith relations, accelerating climate change, the worldwide refugee crisis, to name but a few. The pressing overarching question may be, how can we live together in peace as a global community? The particular question for the church may be, how do we respond most effectively to this particular context in which we find ourselves?

Using the example of Theodor Fliedner and the development of the deaconess movement, the question may be, what kind of model for ministry is required in our time and place, for our particular context? (We have heard this morning some thoughtful insights about that)

David Clark in his two books, Breaking the Mould of Christendom and Building Kingdom Communities, offers very compelling arguments for a new way of thinking. He provides a comprehensive vision of church and ministry from a diaconal perspective. The movement is away from what is ‘done to’ people, and towards collaborative and collective action – what people do together to address the issues and needs of the day.

It is a movement from diaconal ministry as something Deacons undertake on behalf of the church ‘out there’ to Deacons equipping and empowering the laity, the whole people of God, for diaconal ministry, and Deacons collaborating in collective action with others in the community, beyond the four walls of the church.

It places Deacons within the heart of the congregation – visioning, animating, equipping, empowering, sending.

It places Deacons within the heart of the community – building relationships, standing in solidarity, drawing alongside people and groups, committing to collective and collaborative action in cooperation with community groups to work towards an outcome that will enable flourishing for all.

‘The role of Deacon is not so much a personal vocation lived out in the community, but a vocation that releases all members – the whole people of God – to live out their baptism in service in the community, ‘to recognise, encourage, develop and release those gifts in God’s people which will enable them to share in the ministry of caring, serving, healing, restoring, making peace and advocating justice as they go about their daily lives.’ (Report on Ministry in the Uniting Church 1991 Assembly)

The role of the diaconate is very much a live issue for Deacons in the Methodist Church in the UK, where there is currently a debate about the future of the Methodist Diaconal Order.

David Clark suggests that the kind of leadership required for a church that orients its life towards diaconal ministry requires new understandings about leadership. He suggests that Presbyters (Leaders and Pastors and Ministers) take responsibility for the renewal of the gathered church through accessing the kingdom community’s gifts of life, liberation, love and learning.

The diaconate as an order of mission would assume responsibility for furthering the ministry of the laity as the church dispersed in the world, educating and equipping lay people for their task of building communities which make manifest the gifts of the kingdom community throughout the whole of society.

David Bosch’s definition of mission picks up this idea of ‘participation in the liberating mission of Jesus, the good news of Gods love incarnated in the witness of a community for the sake of the world.

What flexibility do we need in how we are church together in order to respond to the particular context and challenges of our time? What ways of organising ourselves as church will best enable a collective response to a particular context – social, political, economic?

Inga Bengtzon served 65 years as a Deaconess, and served for 13 years as the President of DIAKONIA World Federation. She was a visionary. Referring to the General Assembly of the WCC in 1983, she argued for the inclusion of a self-critical dimension of the diaconal role that challenges the church’s “locked, frozen, static and self-centred structures” in order to turn them into a “workable, living instrument for the church’s task of healing, reconstruction and sharing with each other.” Diaconia, she said, cannot be limited to institutional forms. It must “break through the already established structures and demarcations in the institutional church” in order to act, heal, and build in the world. (Bengtzon, 1984, translated from Swedish).

David Clark casts his vision to what he calls the kingdom community and suggests that in order to be able to undertake a kingdom-focused mission, the church has first of all to break the mould of Christendom, and become a diaconal or servant church, where all the ministries serve that purpose, and all the ministries orient themselves to servant leadership.

The diaconate should be responsible for encouraging and equipping the laity to exercise their ministry of kingdom community building in every sphere of the life of society.

What will enable us to most fully respond to God
s mission in and through the church? Its a question for us all, and particularly how we orient what we name as church to be a kingdom community with a kingdom-focussed mission.

And I return to the question I asked when I introduced Theodor Fliedner’s initiative to establish a deaconess community in 1836 in Germany: what kind of model for ministry is required in our time and place, for our particular context? How can the church best shape ministry so that the diaconal mission of the whole people of God can be best equipped?

It is a continuing conversation and perhaps calls for a conversion of how we ‘do’ church.

4th July 2017 

[David Clark is a member of the British Methodist Diaconal Order]


Clark, D. (2005, reprinted 2014) Breaking the mould of Christendom – kingdom community,

diaconal church and the liberation of the laity. Peterborough: FastPrint Publishing

Clark, D. (2016) Building Kingdom Communities – with the diaconate as a new order of

mission. Peterborough: FastPrint Publishing

[Available via Amazon]

David Clark has a blog at http://www.diaconalchurch.com