THE GOD WHO SPEAKS: Deacon Corinne Smith reports on RC Deacons’ Conference

Deacon Corinne Smith (CofE deanery deacon on the Isle of Wight, diocese of Portsmouth) reflects on her attendance at the Annual RC Deacons and Deacon-Directors’ Conference at Hinsley Hall, Leeds, Nov 5-6 November.  I have put some points in bold.


Corinne unveiling a statue in her church’s new tranquillity garden

It was a great joy and privilege to be invited, once again, to the Annual RC Deacons and Deacon-Directors’ Conference at Hinsley Hall, Leeds, Nov 5-6 November.

As usual – I have been a delegate at the Conference three times now – I was warmly welcomed and immediately felt at home among my “tribe” of Deacons.

The topic for the Conference was primarily about the launch of Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ initiative, “The God who speaks: The Year of the Word”.

As the Cardinal says in his introduction to the brochure, “In partnership with the Bible Society, this initiative focuses on celebrating, living and sharing God’s word throughout the Catholic Church in England and Wales from 30th September until the end of December 2020”.

The vision is “to create new and renewed encounters with Christ through the scriptures. The intention is to achieve transformation in the faith and life of the Church and in the public area, through evangelisation, education, creative arts and social action”.

We were fortunate to have Fleur Dorrell,

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who is a Catholic working for the Bible Society, to take us through the main points.  She said Deacons are “heralds of the Gospel” and, as such, should be proclaiming the Gospel and enabling others to hear it, by making sense of it, living it and sharing it.

As the Gospel for the Year is Matthew, NRSV copies of the Gospel will be sent to all RC Dioceses for distribution among the parishes; and there will be copies of the Good News version of the Gospel sent to all prisons, as well as official prayer cards, online ideas, downloads and articles.

In addition, there will be “Tents of Encounter” in a number of locations around the country, including Brighton, Birmingham, Exeter, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Swansea. These will be Bible “Domes”, in which people can engage in an immersive Bible experience.  The aim is to create scripture-filled events across the UK, with speakers, art, music, worship, food and fun!

The questions the deacons were then given to consider were

  • “What is your distinctive role as a deacon?
  • How can you be creative and inspirational?
  • What support do you need for this now, and beyond 2020?”

Fleur suggested creative ways of helping people to engage with scripture, such as House Masses, where the congregation could be asked to comment on the gospel reading, encouraging them to “listen to God in the present tense, so people can hear Him in their hearts”.

She spoke about deacons as being “accessible bridge-builders” and how, in our language, posture and dress we should be communicating in an appropriate way.  As Fleur said, “We don’t learn anything if we feel threatened”.  There is a need for authenticity and good quality in preaching, saying we should be asking ourselves, “where is the transformative grace in this Bible passage?”, so that our real-life experience as a deacon comes through.

Fleur spoke too about non-mass, seasonal things, such as the rosary, which can also be used creatively, by extending and developing the ways in which we would normally approach it. She stressed the need for creativity in communicating the message of the Gospel; recognising that we live in a very visual world now, with varying literacy levels. It is also hoped that “The God who speaks” could be used ecumenically; and that would certainly be my hope.

The other significant speaker was Mgr Peter Fleetwood,

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who gave a report on the   German Symposium which he’d attended recently. I had met him in a corridor before his talk and he warned me that some of what he would be saying would, “blow their socks off”!! He didn’t disappoint! The German Symposium had had some very radical things to say.

Fr Peter began by telling us what he had told the symposium. First he posed the question, “Where do you fit in the Catholic Church?’ He said there are some who belong without believing; others who believe, but don’t belong. A few both belong and believe, but there are others for whom neither statement is true. It was important for Deacons to be able to reflect on our own story in this regard and, compassionately, to enable ourselves and others learn to deal with difference.

The Deacon is key to understanding the function of the Church in the world, and said, “You can’t serve from above”, meaning that Deacons must not see their role as being about having “power” in the Church. “Asymmetrical relationships” exist between priests, deacons and bishops and he spoke movingly about the danger of the abuse of power in the Church.

He noted that the question of women as deacons had come up at the Amazon Synod recently, with Pope Francis “pushing the boundaries”. Fr Peter commented that there are many women in roles in the Church which would have been unthinkable years ago. The Church is servant to the world, and he stressed the link between servant and those being served. He quoted 1Cor 12, saying that the gifts given are not “MY gifts/ MY parish”; and we need to remember that.

Should foot-washing  be a sacrament of the Church?  No decision was taken, but he said, “When sacred rites are linked to clericalism there can be problems….” There is a risk in the sacralisation of power which must be distinguished from sacramentality; and he asked where Kenosis (Phil 2) would fit in such a power dynamic. He said we need to remember that our baptism is the base for our calling…and to imagine the Church as the “sacrament of justice”.

He ended by saying that women Deacons are not discussed much in most of the churches in UK but, as a result of the silence and invisibility of women, many women have walked away from Catholic life.

It was an extremely stimulating and enjoyable couple of days and I came away feeling energised, by having been in the company of other deacons, and inspired to see whether there is an appetite  for taking forward “The God who Speaks” in my area.

Anyone wanting more information about The God who Speaks can go to the website:


Deacon Corinne Smith, deanery deacon based at the benefice of The Good Shepherd, Lake & St Saviour on the Cliff, Shanklin (Isle of Wight and diocese of Portsmouth) has been very involved in the creation of a dementia-friendly tranquillity garden at the church of the Good Shepherd.   She writes
The thinking behind it was that we wanted to create a dementia-friendly garden, for prayer, relaxation and eg reminiscence sessions and quiet days, as part of one of our mission-priorities to become dementia-friendly churches.
We also wanted to provide a tranquil space for the whole community to enjoy and to create an environmentally-friendly habitat which would encourage biodiversity.
With the particular needs of people with dementia in mind, we took advice about the design & how to make a garden which would be a tranquil space, and which also offered a sensory experience.
Elements included:
– Path following a loop, so people can go on a “journey” round the garden, in either direction. The path is wide enough for two people walking side-by-side, or for a wheelchair
– Calm colours for plants – eg mauves, White, yellow
– Plants which had scented leaves, or perfume eg herbs, lavender, rosemary, Jasmine, roses
– Plants which would provide texture and movement – eg bamboos and grasses
– Somewhere to sit
– A statue as a focal point
– butterfly/ bee-friendly plants
– bird feeder/ bird-box/ bug-Hotel
We will be adding a water-feature & other elements in due course, as funds permit.
We enlisted the help of Community Payback to dig-out and lay the paths, but everything else has been done by parishioners.
We received grants from the Parish Council £200; Southern Vectis £50.00; Funeral Director William Hall £150 and the rest of the money has been raised through donations from fundraising events and individual donations.
As we are a United Benefice with two churches, I set up a project group consisting of two people from each of the churches to plan and oversee the Project; and it had the spin-off benefit of drawing the two church communities together.
We started meeting at the beginning of the year, to shape our vision and to draw up the plans for the garden design and, on 27th April, had our first “all hands of deck” day, to clear the site and to mark out where the paths would go. We have since had ongoing group and individual gardening sessions throughout the summer to get phase one of the planting completed.
We are fortunate that someone has joined the church as a consequence of the Project, who would seem to be heaven-sent!
He started coming to sit quietly in the church, as he lives very nearby in unsatisfactory accommodation, and is unable to work due to on-going mental-health issues.
He gradually started coming to services and, in the course of conversation, I discovered he used to do gardening work! He then started helping in the garden and was delighted when I invited him to become our  “groundsman”! He has done sterling work coming over most days to do weeding and watering throughout the summer.
We have installed a water-butt so we are self-sufficient, water-wise.
We are looking forward to using the garden in all sorts of ways, as a part of our missional activity in relation to serving the spiritual needs of those who live in the area; & I’m very excited to see what the future holds!
We may well affiliate to the Quiet Garden Trust, so any Quiet Days we hold can be included in their programme.
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Unveiling the statue of the Good Shepherd

MY CALL TO THE DIACONATE: Deacon Corinne Smith

Deacon Corinne Smith (diocese of Portsmouth) kindly sent these images of her serving as a deacon at the Petertide ordination in the cathedral this weekend, and the five-minute talk she gave at a DDO lunch afterwards – which clarified the diaconate for some, I gather! Many thanks, Corinne!

Why what I do is a vocation and how I serve God through it

1. All ministry comes from Christ. Baptism gives us the mandate to share the Good News, according to our circumstances and gifting. My Confirmation as a young adult was a big deal, because it made me take my baptismal vows very seriously.

2. I have always been someone who feels comfortable on the boundaries of church, and for years before I was ordained had a passion for helping the church look outwards and to get out of the building!

3. My original call to ordination, which came in my mid-20s, was to be a deaconess, when I was living in deprived area of South London and, as a member of my local church, became involved in supporting young mums and their families. Circumstances meant that I couldn’t act on it though, until I was in my early 40s. It came about when, due to a number of factors, other people, including the priest who had prepared me for confirmation, and my parish priest, both asked whether I’d thought about ordination; and I discovered that my sense of call to ministry was still there, as a deacon.

4. I felt called to be a deacon, because I believed it would enable me to more fully represent the serving aspect of Christ’s ministry, as someone who felt at home in the public eye; and comfortable  in playing a role in the liturgy and the life of the church, but whose primary focus of ministry was outward-facing.

5. As I proclaim the Gospel in church, and also in my preaching, it is a reminder that the role of the Deacon is to equip the church to live in the light of the gospel and to be agents of God’s love, specially to those on the margins of church and society. My ministry is firmly rooted in the church and has a circularity to it. It starts at the altar, goes out into the community and returns to the altar. “Go in peace…”

6. Outside the liturgy, it finds expression primarily in ministry to the sick, and to frail older people. I was a hospital/ hospice chaplain for many years; but it also includes a teaching role – baptism/ confirmation prep; teaching on ministerial training courses SAOMC/ Chichester Deacons’ Formation Programme, SCOP. Now I’m back in parish ministry I’m deacon to the IOW deanery, helping to strengthen links between the hospital and the churches and developing a community chaplaincy network across the island and in training pastoral assistants.

7. I don’t feel called to Eucharistic presidency, and never have! What difference would it make? It would be the most disabling thing you could do to me, because it would inhibit my ability to be in that liminal place on the threshold between the church and the wider community, exercising a “Kingdom” model of mission.

Rev Deacon Corinne Smith

For a vocations lunch

Isle of Wight

Diocese of Portsmouth

June 2019


Many congratulations to Deacon Corinne Smith!   She celebrated the 20th anniversary of her ordination yesterday by preaching and deaconing at the Eucharist.  Corinne has a special affinity with St Michael and her homily celebrates angels, which she’s kindly shared.

‘Angels in general, and St Michael in particular, have always been very important to me. It began when I was born – on the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. The first Anglican Church I attended from the age of  7 was St Michael and All Angels,

Croydon; and I have vivid memories of taking part in a school production of Paradise Lost – although I was disappointed that the part of Michael went to my friend Alexandra Fogden!

During my ordination training I spent 18 months at St Michael and All Angels, Steventon. I was ordained at Michaelmas, and during the service was seated immediately opposite the St Michael window in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. I went to serve my Curacy in a Team ministry in Abingdon, where one of our churches was St Michael and All Angels – and my training incumbent’s name was Michael (but I won’t speculate about his angelic qualities).

As The American deacon, Bill Ditewig, has noted in a recent article, In Eastern traditions, deacons have been frequently been associated with the role of angel in the community. In particular, deacons are often associated with angels who would later be described as Archangels. Michael, the great defender of the people; Gabriel, who announces and explains great messages, and Raphael: a healer who guides and protects his charges.

At the ordination service for  Deacons, the Bishops says, “Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and priests with whom they serve as heralds of God’s Kingdom. They are to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love. Sounds like there’s a lot of similarity between a deacon and an angel to me!!

Michael appears in the Old Testament as a special helper of Israel, but it is from the account in the Book of Revelation that he has become best known, as the principal fighter of the heavenly battle. In Christian art St Michael is usually portrayed fighting a dragon, representing the devil. By his actions, St Michael is bringing the light and goodness of Christ to overcome the forces of darkness of sin and death.

The other archangels whom we are thinking about today are Raphael and Gabriel.

Raphael’s name means ‘God has healed’ and he, like Michael was venerated in the East as a healer since early times. He is sometimes identified with the angel who stirred up the healing pool in Jerusalem, and many healing guilds have been placed under his patronage, including the Guild of Health and St Raphael, of which I am a member.

Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength” is, in the Old Testament, the angel who helped Daniel understand his visions, but is best known in the New Testament as the angel who told Zechariah about the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist, and who then came to Mary to announce the future birth of Jesus. In neither case, the human beings involved had any idea what was about to happen to them, but the angelic messengers entered into their situation and brought news which would turn their lives around.

What is important about angels for our purposes is that in both Jewish and Christian tradition angels are messengers and agents of God, who bring messages to human beings and intercede for them.

I think there are several things here which relate to the work in which I have been involved down the years as a Chaplain both in hospitals and in a hospice. Firstly, I would say that all who work in the medical profession, have the potential to be angelic messengers for God to the patients they encounter every day.

For doctors, for example, the news they bring may not be good, but through the knowledge and skills which God gives them in different ways, God can, and does, use them to be agents of his purposes to bring people healing and wholeness. Healing is, of course, not the same thing as cure and, indeed, some of the most whole people I’ve met have been chronically ill, or even at the point of death.

Secondly, God created people in his own image and so, in every person we meet, whether in hospital or in general life, there is something of the divine spark – no matter how dim or distorted it might have become as a result of the way their lives have gone. In my encounters with patients I try to recognise that, as I approach a hospital bed with a patient lying in it, the ground on which I am standing is holy.

Thirdly, I would say that all who work in healthcare should, like Moses before the burning bush, take off their metaphorical “shoes” – that is to say, all the things that protect us and keep us at a safe distance from people – titles, medical jargon, religious language, platitudes, even dog collars – we can hide behind them all! But this would be to miss the opportunity for the kind of human encounter which can allow both chaplains and medical staff  genuinely to accompany people on the painful journey they are on; to walk with them and allow ourselves to be used as channels of God’s compassion and healing.

There are many different kinds of angels in the Bible, who work in different ways. but what they have in common is that they are all God’s messengers, there to support, help, and intercede for people; but it’s not just deacons who are called to this ministry…..we all have the potential to be angels. Each one of us with our different callings and gifts can be messengers for God wherever we find ourselves, by the way we treat people.

Our churches are awesome places. They are none other than the Gate of Heaven. These are the places where we gather for worship, to be transformed and renewed, as we hear the message of the angels; but they are also the base from which we are called to go out into the world. We are therefore all called to be angels, heralds of the Kingdom in our community: sharing the Good News of God in Christ to renew and transform the lives of others amongst whom we are set.’