DISTINCTIVE DEACONS: diocese of Melbourne

Clear and focused info on distinctive deacons on the website of the diocese of Melbourne.  Nice – we could take a leaf out of their book!



​Click the image to download a brochure on the Diaconate in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne

A distinctive ministry

The renewal of the diaconate on a more permanent basis has seen a careful examination of what is distinctive in all ordained ministries within the context of a ministry belonging to all baptised believers.

The Diaconate is part of the threefold order of ordained ministry and deacons are authorised by the bishop to assist the bishop to focus the church and the world alike on issues of justice, mercy and compassion.

Deacons take part in the liturgy of the church as well as serving in ministries at the intersection of church and world. Deacons ordained in the Diocese of Melbourne may be found in many areas of ministry including the following:


Some deacons have roles in aspects of chaplaincy, sharing in the pastoral ministry of the church to bring compassionate concern and practical help to people and communities, in schools, nursing homes, aged care facilities, hospitals or prisons. They may be licensed to these ministries or be based in a home Church where they equip others for ministry at the margins of society, away from the gathered church. They care for the young, poor, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, and the marginalised and bring their concerns to the attention of the church.

Deacon in the Parish

Deacons are licensed to a local parish as part of their ministry responsibility, assisting and sharing in the leading of God’s people in worship and representing the church scattered, bringing the hurts of the world to the attention of the church. They may also have a specific ministry to special groups within the parish.

Deacon in Mission

There are Deacons who work in mission outside Australia in areas of education and compassionate concern.

Diocesan Deacon

Several of the deacons operate at the diocesan level employed by Diocesan agencies.

The church needs deacons in ministry leadership, in education, in parish ministry and growth and in prophetic and advocacy work. If you feel called to this ministry you may contact the Director of Theological Education for more information.




Although this was written in 1968 and is of its time, much of what it says seems remarkably prescient.  Some of the points made by Roberts Ehrgott of the Episcopal Church in America still hold true for the diaconate today.  The emphases in bold type are mine.

This column by the Rev. Roberts E. Ehrgott (1925-1997), then rector of the Church of the Nativity, Indianapolis, addressed what he called the “Clergy Shortage” in the late 1960s. Fr. Ehrgott was held in a German prisoner of war camp in the final months of the Second World War after his capture while serving as an Army corporal. Following the war, he studied at Seabury-Western, being ordained deacon and priest in 1949. He served parishes in the dioceses of Chicago, Indianapolis, and Northwestern Pennsylvania and worked as a consulting editor for Saturday Evening Postin addition to contributing occasional articles to The Living Church. (Small formatting and punctuation changes have been made to the article below.)

From The Living Church, December 15, 1968, pp. 10-1, 14.

By Roberts E. Ehrgott

In an attempt to offset the “clergy shortage” or bottleneck which occurs whenever the Holy Eucharist is celebrated and a number of communions are administered without the diaconal assistance of a minister, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA now permit layreaders, under special episcopal license, to administer the chalice. This is admittedly a stop-gap measure, designed to meet a real need caused by increasing use of the eucharistic liturgy. Our “glorious handicap” — the common cup — does lengthen our Eucharists when one priest must communicate more than 100 persons and perhaps bless droves of small children at the parish communion.

Another method of ministering Holy Communion expeditiously has been attempted: that of intinction. But it is our stated Anglican position not to deny the Cup of the Lord to the laity. At the Anglican Reformation the chalice was restored and the rubrics direct that the sacrament, in both kinds, shall be delivered into the communicant’s hands, ostensibly so that he can be not just ministered unto but also minister to himself in priestly fashion. Methods other than the rubrical directions cause a kind of passivity on the part of the communicant. The effort to expedite the administration of the chalice, which takes perhaps three times as long as that of the hosts and unduly lengthens the Eucharist, by using lay readers, is an attempt to retain the traditional method. However, it is without precedent and it would seem to violate the Ordinal’s statement that “…no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be (ordained).” Elsewhere in the Prayer Book we learn that the deacon is to assist the priest in divine service. If, then, the Prayer Book cannot be superseded by canon law, it follows that this use of laymen is irregular.

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photo from Catholic Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu

Legalities aside, however, the new permission does point up the need for full restoration of the diaconate; the difficulty is that it circumvents the diaconate. Further, it seems to create a new “minor order,” contrary to general Anglican polity. The use of layreaders in a diaconal function also flies in the face of growing ecumenical attention to the diaconate.

The World Council of Churches has issued Studies No. 2, The Ministry of Deacons, in which there is a paper, “The Diaconate in the Anglican Communion.” A new book, The Diaconate Now, discusses Anglican use of the third order in depth. Studies XVII by our liturgical commission ends on the wistful note that the diaconate ought to be used more fully. Bp. Emrich of Michigan submitted a report to Lambeth on the subject, and the Conference issued a statement. The diaconate is receiving attention in the Church of Rome: the deacon of the Eucharist is now communicated with the chalice and can administer it at certain Eucharists; deacons are being released from seminary to work in parishes; the place of married deacons is being explored — these would no doubt be “worker-deacons.” All these studies and more indicate that the diaconate is being viewed in the light of its ancient integrity and as a current need.

Anglicans have used the diaconate all along, to read the Gospel, to preach, to administer the chalice, and in the absence of a priest, to baptize. However, three major errors crept in. First, the diaconate has been kept in an inferior position, and the Ordinal even speaks of “this inferior office.” We delegate (in compounded error) to the deacon the administration of what medievalism tended to suggest — that the species of consecrated wine is itself somewhat inferior to the consecrated bread. The second error has been to treat the diaconate as a kind of apprenticeship to priesthood, and the third has been to put deacons only under the direction of parish priests. Anglicanism should be able to restore the diaconate to its rightful place as an office and function which has both an integrity of its own and a function which relates to the whole, and not just to the other two orders of the ministry in a hierarchy.

As to the first error — that of regarding the diaconate as an inferior office — the practice of allowing the deacon only to administer the chalice should be examined. The House of Bishops has already gone on record as stating that deacons should be allowed to administer Holy Communion to congregations as well as to the sick, and this would involve ministering the sacrament in both kinds, presumably. Deacons in the earliest times ministered both species to concelebrating priests, and the tradition that has the celebrant ministering the hosts did not spring out of protocol, but was a sequential thing. And, if there are two assistants acting as deacons, we know that using them to administer two chalices coordinates best with the celebrant ministering the hosts. But this is not to make the two functions of differing degree. In the case of one assistant acting as deacon, then, he need not be limited to the chalice. It is sometimes more convenient for the celebrant to minister the cup while the assistant delivers the paten.

The second error — that of using the diaconate as a kind of apprenticeship to priesthood — has been somewhat offset by ordaining “perpetual deacons,” but the vast majority of deacons are of course en route to priesthood: “temporary deacons.” Perhaps we should use this description, if we retain that of “perpetual deacon,” to correct the thought that to remain in deacon’s orders is to remain in an inferior position.

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The third major error — that of putting deacons under the jurisdiction of parish priests — in practice is, of course, part of the training of “temporary deacons” learning to function as priests. However, the old phrase, “under the direction of the bishop,” indicates that the diaconate is not immediately subordinate to the presbyterate but to episcopal control. And we know full well, from the New Testament and early writings, that the office of deacon is older than the presbyterate and that deacons were the right-hand men of the early bishops: their liturgical and pastoral assistants, in a close relationship. Then too, deacons were used flexibly in the field until the presbyterate was evolved as an extension of the bishop’s priesthood in a stable situation in what became the parish. The perhaps more parallel ministry of the priest involves stability, incumbency.

Anglicanism has lately evolved a more apostolic functional use of the diaconate beyond “apprenticeship,” but the deacon of both types — temporary and perpetual — has been made into an assistant of parish priests, only. However, a deacon is not historically and originally a parish minister, and the mistake in latter days has been to ordain perpetual deacons to a particular parish. This has caused some problems. Men ordained to the diaconate frequently regard the “superior” office of priest wistfully and are sometimes priested, out of sentiment, without adequate training. There have been cases where such clergy have been advanced “career-wise” beyond those who had seminary training. Many a new rector inherited a perpetual deacon who had seen younger pastors come and go while the deacon remained as the link in the succession of the parish’s clergy, with consequent personality problems. Often the perpetual deacon is ordained later in life and soon becomes less active — even handicapped by age. There have been many professional and personal problems in our misuse of the diaconate.

A solution would be in the use of “worker-deacons.” Most perpetual deacons have been engaged in secular work, so that this is no new suggestion. But, to repeat, Anglican use of permanent deacons has been based on their stability in one parish and on a certain professionalization. A decade ago the “worker-priest” was tried in a sister Communion on the Continent, but this failed in part because this type of priest was too freelance. The priest-pastor needs stability and full-time function as long as the parochial system remains; the presbyterate is a geographic extension of episcopacy.

After the development of the presbyterate, deacons continued to be used as the bishop’s assistants in a more roving capacity: the office of archdeacon gives a clue to this. Inherent in the diaconate, then, is itinerate liturgical and pastoral assistance to the episcopate. We have a tool already forged and to hand, to meet many shortages and emergencies: a diaconate which to a greater extent than most Churches we have used. It would then be only a logical further step to create in the diocese a corps of deacons much like the scriptural and pre-Nicene “Seven.” In this transient age the Church needs a more flexible ministry, but before wiping out the parochial system on the one hand, or admitting laymen to diaconal function on the other, the Church could well restore her diaconate to more efficient and full function.

Already established is the tradition that a deacon serves “under the direction of the bishop.” It is no affirmation of inferiority to say that the diaconate is by definition a “ministry of service.” A corps of deacons functioning directly under the bishop (or his suffragan or archdeacon) and responsible primarily to him, could prove of invaluable assistance so long as it is not used to supply cheap curates or to substitute permanently for a priest. Deacons sent forth by the bishop could fill temporary vacancies, nevertheless, in the missions and parishes; they could supply agencies and institutions which are too often woeful blanks. This ministry could be kept flexible, mobile, and adjustable; it need not and should not become entrenched in any one place nor be used where priestly functions would thereby be supplanted.

All bishops and clergy have seen men aspiring to the ministry but restrained by family and economic responsibilities. Many young men must wait until retirement to attain holy orders. But it is the priesthood which has been held up as the ideal, for some unattainable, while the diaconate has been neglected as a vocation in itself, or treated as “this inferior office” — a stepping-stone to “the higher ministries.” Throughout the Church there are good, loyal, consecrated laymen of character and sufficient education to serve as deacons. We see them often in our layreaders now. A worker-diaconate, volunteer, “unprofessionalized,” and devoted to assisting the bishop wherever needed could prevent the fragmentation of the ordained ministry which seems to be happening with the admission of laymen to diaconal function.

Parish clergy know what help our retired priests and those in weekday secular work are on Sundays, but these men are in limited supply. They do point up the need for diaconal assistance because while they are priests, their use in the parishes is mostly in their assistance in the administration of the sacrament; a diaconal function. Just as the House of Bishops has said that a deacon need not be limited to the communion of the sick, but can conduct a “deacon’s mass,” so this minister can do more liturgically than read the epistle, minister communion, preach, and baptize in emergencies. He can administer Holy Communion in both kinds, he can prepare the bread and wine for the offertory, and he can perform the ablutions. In the Eucharist he could possibly recite some portions not specifically the function of a priest.

In a day when liturgical renewal is occasioning increase in the number of individual communions, it is only a step, and a natural one having precedent, for the Church to restore its diaconate much as the office was originally instituted. The day has passed when medieval reluctance to receive Holy Communion combined with other factors to concentrate on the lone figure of the priest-celebrant; nowadays the lone priest in a station cannot satisfactorily function at the Eucharist; no amount of liturgical renewal will offset the inordinate length of time it takes for him to administer communion. Restoration of the Eucharist to its proper place, coupled with increasing numbers of individual communions, will be negated if we continue with the bottleneck caused by using one sacred minister at the altar. The use of laymen for help with communion shows the need for diaconal assistance. The difficulty is that lay sacramental ministration fragmentizes rather than restores and integrates ministerial function.

Restore the “Seven,” and let them fully serve God’s Church!

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Richard Mammana is archivist of the Living Church Foundation, clerk of the vestry at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.
 With thanks to Deacon Corinne Smith for drawing this to my attention


Recently, the Archbishop of York, an enthusiastic advocate, support and friend of the diaconate, published his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod (5 November 2016) advocating a fresh approach to ministry.

He asked for copies to be distributed to everyone in  church communities across the Diocese of York.

This is now available in booklet form:  see link and also this blog’s pages (right hand side)

Here’s what he says about deacons:

Their aim is that the work of service may go on. The word used for service is diakonia; and the main idea which lies behind this word is that of practical service. The office-bearer is not to be a person who simply talks on matters of theology and of Church law; they are in office to see that practical service of God’s poor and lonely people goes on.

This means that every mission unit (parish) must have office-bearers who are equipped by the Gifts of Grace. In every mission unit there must be a desire for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Evangelists, pastors and teachers, a Renewed Diaconal Ministry, Presbyters, and differing ministries by every one. When the Ministry of Readers was restored 150 years ago, they were meant to be the go-between the Church and the World. Frankly this is what the office-bearer of Deacon is as we see in Acts 6 and in our Ordinal.
The Ordination of Deacons
God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light..[3]
The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. .[4] In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.
To serve this royal priesthood, God has given a variety of ministries. Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped [5] to make Christ known. Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others. [6]
[3] cf 1 Peter 2.9; Exodus 19.6; Revelation 1.6, 5.10
[4] cf 1 Corinthians 12.27; 1 Peter 2.10; 1 Corinthians 3.16
[5] cf Ephesians 4.12
[6] cf John 13.14


It would be good to have a Leadership Team in every Mission Unit.
It would be good to have Prayer-Triplets in every Mission Unit.
It would be good for every Leadership Team to discern the gifts in the Body of Christ in that place; and we will commission them.
It would be good to turn Multi-Benefice Parishes into manageable United Parishes, and to hold an act of worship in every church on Sunday. We will train catechists to do this.

Radically, he also is encouraging Readers who believe their ministry is primarily diaconal, to explore the diaconate with vocations advisers: 

Clearly some Readers know themselves to be called to the ministry of pastor/teacher. We honour this. Maybe they should be commissioned as such – at their licensing. But some may know themselves to be called to the ministry of deacon. These we should ordain and like in the Porvoo Churches they will not be allowed to seek the possibility of Ordination to the Priesthood before seven years in the Ministry of Deacon.

The full document can be found here http://dioceseofyork.org.uk/uploads/attachment/3655/the-church-on-earth-is-the-embassy-of-heaven.pdf


It’s good news that the Anglican and Methodist churches seem at last to be moving towards real unity and interchangeability of ministers.  But where does this leave deacons of both denominations?  Has any thought been given to our vocation and ministry?  David Clark has sent off this letter to the Church Times.  Regardless of whether it is published or not, what he has to say is relevant to our churches.

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Dear Letters Editor

As a Methodist deacon, I read with encouragement the article (30 June) on the plans to further the interchangeability of the ministries of Anglican and Methodist presbyters. My question is whether any thought has been given by either church as to where deacons fit into these plans.

At present neither church appears to be clear about where its permanent diaconate fits into the ministries of the church present, let alone the church to come.   For such a time as this (a report to the General Synod of the Church of England in 2001) and The Distinctive Diaconate (a report to the Diocese of Salisbury in 2003) were hugely optimistic about the potential of a permanent diaconate to give fresh impetus to the church’s engagement with wider society. The response from most dioceses was a resounding silence. Since then the Church of England had done little to clarify the relationship between transitional and distinctive deacons. Thus the potential of the latter to help equip the church for mission has been wasted.

Methodism has addressed the role of the distinctive diaconate with much greater awareness of its being a mission resource. The Methodist Diaconal Order (MDO) is now an order of ministry (as well as a religious order). However, in practice, it is still treated as subordinate to presbyteral ministry. Many of us believe that the future potential of the MDO, and a renewed diaconate across all churches, will not be realised until full equality of diaconal and presbyteral ministries is achieved. That means an end to a hierarchical understanding of ordained ministries, which is where the Methodist Deed of Union has always taken its stand.

Will the plans for the interchangeability of Anglican and Methodist presbyteral ministries also embrace plans for the interchangeability of diaconal ministries? And will they do this is a way that moves the equal standing of all ordained ministries forwards not backwards?


More info here:  http://www.methodist.org.uk/news-and-events/news-releases/welcome-for-major-step-in-anglican-methodist-unity

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