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The Association of Episcopal Deacons in the United States has recently produced a list of diaconal competencies for diaconal formation.  They are undergoing revision, but here’s the latest version for your interest.  It is fascinating to see where their approach is similar to ours, and where it’s different.

Association for Episcopal Deacons

You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word
and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship.
The Ordination of a Deacon:  The Examination, p543.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect
the dignity of every human being ?
The Baptismal Covenant, p. 305.
You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.
The Ordination of a Deacon: The Examination, p. 543.
(Formation image from ANFH)


In May this year there was a major international conference on the diaconate in Canada.

Rev Frances Wilson, Bishop’s Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Lichfield, attended and has kindly shared with us her reflections.  They make fascinating reading and provide much food for thought especially as we consider our national conference this October.  Many thanks, Frances, and we look forward to seeing you in October!

Frances Wilson

Reflections on the International Conference on the Diaconate

Regina, Canada, May 2018 

Diaconate: Transitional v. Distinctive

There was a lot of passion in the assembly, particularly from some delegates, about transitional diaconate which seemed to demean some Distinctive Deacons.

  • Candidates for priesting follow a formation path for this ministry, yet then are ordained into a different ministry, that of the deacon.
  • Although ‘inferior’ language has been removed from Anglican Prayer books, a priest who is a deacon first seems to show that they ‘move on to higher things’ when ordained priest.
  • Suggestion that priests who do diaconal tasks do so, not as ordained deacons but answering the diakonia calling of all the baptised.
  • From an RC perspective, D. deacons are valued because they are more likely to share the lived experience of the congregation (married/working etc.)
  • A huge negative reaction was expressed at priests acting out their diaconal role at the Eucharist in the liturgy and wearing a diaconal stole (‘cross-dressing’!). The depth of feeling about this was shocking.

Some Questions:

  • Does this affect the position of the Bishop – an arch-priest? Or should we ordain directly to the Episcopate also!

Also – does the Bishop, if never a deacon, have a relation to deacons?

  • Does a diminished place in society for priests in a more-professional world makes priests hold on more closely to their ‘privileges ‘? – This came from ‘the floor’.*

*A strong impression that D Deacons thought their parish priests held on to too much and didn’t give them space to articulate their specific ministry.

– Later, on speaking to priests (after the Conference), a suggestion that many Deacons were not used because they were not well selected or trained.

NOTE:  Selection and Training in the Episcopal Church is Canada is local and variable.  Eileen Scully is working with the National Church to set guidelines (my [priest] sources say these are minimal but this is a starting point).  Min Div. of the CofE does have Criteria for Selection for Distinctive Deacons but it might be worth seeing how Canada’s consultation is going.  On speaking to one TEI this month, I found that they had no teaching/formation pathway for Distinctive Deacons; perhaps Canada might have suggestions here too.

The Essence of a Deacon 

How should one answer the question, “How does Deacon differ from a priest or lay person?”  Usually the response is one of power: Deacons can… (baptise….) but the list isn’t that different from that of a lay person.

So perhaps the essence is more about the ‘being’ conveyed by a Deacon than the ‘doing’.

  • ‘Servant ministry’ is only a partial answer (those who were ‘set aside’ in Acts 6 are NOT designated Deacons)
  • The diakonia are rather ‘ones who act on behalf of another (Lumen gentium and draft CW: ‘Ambassadors’ and ‘heralds’ – angels are often shown in Diaconal vesture!)
  • The archetypal Deacon is therefore not Stephen, but Jesus Christ.
  • The 5 Marks of Mission (and particularly the final two) must be at the heart of their ministry. “Pastoral care of people with missional activity in the world.”
  • Also (later Speakers): ‘Speaking truth to power’ (and that power will not always be ‘the other’, politics etc. but Church and the ‘power’ in each of us).
  • This will be a ‘prophetic’ ministry.
    • That all shall be one -forgiven – Unity
    • – That all shall be welcomed at the table- Inclusivity
    • That all are forgiven – Forgiveness
  • Deacons are at their most diaconal when they engage in their ‘Door’ activity – not simply being at the door to welcome people into Church but outside on the steps assisting them to transition.
  • AND, the balance of this, sending the People of God out into the World again at the end of worship.

Women and the Diaconate  

A: Within the Orthodox Tradition:

Why should we be particularly interested?  Because this is an area which is being ‘mined’ at present by the RC (and the Orthodox) church as it works out its position on women and ordination.

  • See notes! This was a dense lecture (v. interesting but too much to take good jottings).  Two clear points arose…
  1. Ordination and Monastic life are intimately connected within the Orthodox tradition. Yes, there have been women who have acted as ‘deacons’ in the past but they have always been Religious.
  2. Each Orthodox tradition is unique and has its own theology; conflating the tradition and practices of each strand to show that there was a variety of ministries which women as deacons practiced is not true to Orthodoxy.

B: Icons meditation

My only comment would be to affirm the comment that where the Church suppressed the active role of women, other expressions of Faith and Order have sprung up (For an insight into this in Medieval times see From Virile Woman to WomanChrist by B. Newman).

C: The Witness of Sr. Gloria

Spoke passionately and with first hand experience of the journey to the current state of the RC Church’s exploration of the question of women and the Diaconate.

There is an obvious Ecumenical tie-in; the Diaconate is a less ‘explosive’ area of Ministry which it would be good to explore amongst Churches of different Traditions.

The Spirituality of a Deacon:

  • Rosalind Brown argued strongly for its Benedictine qualities of Hospitality and Attentiveness to the Actual.
  • A ‘butler’ awareness: Not to do everything oneself but to draw the best out of others so all may share in ministry.
  • A need to cultivate Prayerfulness in a Busyness ministry of the Liturgical Deacon…
  • An openness to the direction of the Holy Spirit, in responding to the ‘Now’ situation.
  • …The Deacon and ‘Communion by Extension’… such a thorny issue!

Diaconal Formation:

There was a lot of really good, really practical, input here.  I’m hoping we might receive the papers on these as my notes are inadequate.  In particular, I thought Alison Peden, Provincial Director of Ordinands, had interesting ideas on forming a learning/formational community across a large geographical area with a sparse number of differing vocations learning together.  Also Phina Borgeson on self-mentored learning using Grid/checklist.  The formational path of RC Deacons is impressive!

Frances Wilson 27th May 2018




We deacons often deplore the lack of interest, ignorance and indifference of our dioceses to the ministry of the diaconate.  It’s a constant frustration that we live with and battle with.  On Saturday at the  York conference, I said that it’s time to realise nobody is going to do things for us.  And York’s DDO David Mann reiterated, “we need to stop saying ‘we need’ … ‘they ought to’ …  and start saying ‘we can’, ‘we will'”.

Retired DDO Canon Deacon Ann Turner put it grandly.  ‘We deacons are the protagonists of our own calling’!

So how do we go about it?  Here are some starters for you:

1.  Respectfully challenge the negative narrative around us.

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Don’t let people get away with saying ‘what can’t you do?’  Say something like ‘I’d rather tell you  what I CAN do!’ – then make sure you have two or three clear positive points to make.  Chase those who flap a hand and announce that they don’t know who deacons are or how we’re different from other ministries.  Tell them!  A tip:  instead of saying ‘we can’t’ (preside at the Eucharist, pronounce absolution) say ‘we don’t’.  Try it out – it’s empowering!

2.  At parish level:  talk to your parish priest.  Ask if you can write a short article for the parish magazine about the diaconate.  Make sure you use accessible language.  Suggest you preach next Vocations Sunday, and major on the diaconate (what else?!)  Could you contribute to a study group?  If the parish is thinking about mission, offer to run a mission preparation course like this one written specially for deacons:  http://exeter.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/4-session-course-for-parishes-PREPARING-FOR-MISSION.pdf

3.  At deanery level:   talk to your Area Dean.  Could you have a slot to talk about the diaconate at a future deanery chapter and/or synod?

At diocesan level:  how clear is your diocese about the distinctiveness of the  diaconate?  Can you put that distinctiveness into two or three pithy phrases?   Talk to your DDO.  Would he/she welcome a leaflet that explains our distinctiveness in clear and simple terms, which they could use at vocations days?  Draft something.  Try it out on people – especially  enquirers.  Do they understand what you’re saying?  (Don’t use ‘churchy’ language that an enquirer might not be familiar with).  Ask for feedback.  Send it to your DDO and ask for feedback from them too.  If you want to see a couple of leaflets in order to give you some ideas, check out Salisbury http://www.salisbury.anglican.org/resources-library/ministry/vocations/God%20is%20Calling%20Deacon.pdf

and Exeter http://exeter.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/updated-deacon-vocation-leaflet-pdf.docx

4.    Discuss with your DDO the possibility of a page on the diocesan website dedicated to distinctive deacons.  Ask what information would be helpful to populate it.  Again, look at Salisbury http://www.salisbury.anglican.org/ministry/ordained-ministry/distinctive-diaconate

and compare it with Exeter http://exeter.anglican.org/ministry/vocations/diocesan-deacons

for ideas.  Make friends with the diocesan webmaster!

5.   Ask to see your director of training.  Find out what formation is in place specifically for deacons.  If there is nothing (normal!), be ready with some practical suggestions.  How could you support them? Can you contribute to a workshop on the diaconate?  Could you write something?  Could you mentor someone?    See the diaconal dispositions that Ministry Division is currently assessing https://deaconstories.wordpress.com/diaconal-selection-criteria-and-learning-outcomes-dispositions/

Then talk to your director of phase 2 training.  What is in place to help new deacon curates to reflect on their ministry?  Have a look at  http://exeter.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ministry-reflections-for-DDs.docx  Could you adapt it?

6.  With whom can you collaborate to pave the way for deacons?

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Who are the diocesan publicists?  Do they produce a newsletter?  Ask for some space in an upcoming issue to talk about what deacons are.  Chat to them about the type of thing they need, and the approach they have in mind.  Collaboration with others is in a deacon’s DNA!

7.  If social media scare you, it’s time to collar someone who could help you, or take a deep breath and decide you’re going to find out more about it and use it.  Are there other deacons in the diocese?  What about a Whatsapp group for you all to keep in touch with each other?  Does anyone have a list of the distinctive deacons?  (Bet they don’t!)  Can you pursue the information and compile one?  How about a Facebook page or group, just for deacons?  Celebrate your distinctiveness and your unity in Christ, and support each other in prayer.

It’s worth remembering that diocesan advisers are usually under huge pressure and struggle to find time for everything.  They may welcome an offer of help, and resources which you have drafted and are prepared to work on with their support.  Some will, and some won’t – but you won’t know unless you ask!

8.  And finally…  sing! –  the Aretha Franklin/Annie Lennox chorus ‘Sisters are doin’ it for themselves …’ but replace the word ‘sisters’ with ‘deacons’:

Deacons are doin’ it for themselves. 
Standin’ on their own two feet.
And ringin’ on their own bells.
Deacons are doin’ it for themselves.

OK, that one’s just for fun!  What other suggestions would you make?  Let me know via the comments or send them to deacons@tutanota.com