As warden of the college of St Philip the Deacon in Exeter diocese, I work to a diocesan steering group who recently asked me to provide a short paper on how long people who have been ordained distinctive deacon should spend in the diaconate, before they could start candidating for priesthood.

Most deacons will be aware of the steady trickle (and it is a trickle, not a stream) of people moving from one to the other, for reasons we know well (mentioned in paper). Of course it goes without saying that if someone is being called by God into priesthood, then they should heed that call.

However, concerns are raised every so often as to the speed that some people do this:  they are only DDs for a few months before they start exploring priesthood.  My steering group wanted to think through the issues. This very short paper has been approved by them, and I thought it would be of wider interest.  Do let me have your reflections.




The Church of England has always subscribed to the threefold ordained ministry of bishop, priest and deacon.  Although the diaconate was originally understood as a ministry in its own right, over time it gradually lost its emphasis on caring for the needs of the poor until it was seen merely as a necessary stepping-stone to priesthood. This is how most people in the church understand the diaconate today.


Although the focus and trajectory of the distinctive diaconate is now much clearer than it used to be, the waters are still muddied by the dual aspect of this ministry, in that it is seen both as a preparation for priesthood for some, while being the goal and fulfilment for distinctive deacons. This is a particular issue for those who see the diaconate as primarily a liturgical role, in which case priesthood can be understood as a short step towards liturgical fulfilment. The outcome of this and other considerations is that some who candidate and are ordained as distinctive deacons start exploring priesthood very early in their curacy.


Since the revival of the social aspect of the diaconate in the nineteenth century, there have always been people who believe that God’s calling to them was to diaconal ministry in its own right, the so-called ‘distinctive’ diaconate. Distinctive deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking, community-minded ministry with the hallmark of mission through service. They prefer to be out and about, making contacts, building relationships, identifying and meeting needs, creating stepping-stones between God and the world. They often have a particular concern for issues of poverty and justice.  Although the deacon’s ministry is fed by and returns to the Eucharist, the primary focus for distinctive deacons is always outward-facing, located on the margins of church and community and committed to enabling the diakonia of the whole church.  This is the ambassadorial understanding of the diaconate in the diocese of Exeter in use by the DDO and vocations advisers when meeting diaconal enquirers.


Although a personal call to priesthood is always to be respected, diaconal vocation is not just about an individual calling but also about the ministry itself. There is a continuing need to educate the church that the diaconate is not an inferior order or a waiting room for priesthood but a robust and vigorous ministry in its own right.

This indicates that deacons who have been through several years of discernment and have been ordained with a clear diaconal call should be encouraged to take some responsibility for a decision which has been made prayerfully and communally and publicly witnessed in ordination.  Time is needed for distinctive deacon curates to explore the diaconate. The facets noted in our diocesan diaconal dispositions include relationship-building, pioneering, the meaning of servanthood, community networking, trust-building, starting new projects, teambuilding etc as well as poverty and justice issues. Beginning to inhabit the diaconate in this way cannot be rushed.


There is precedent in the Nordic church as well as in the diocese of York for a minimum term in the diaconate (seven years) for those ordained as distinctive. The diocesan steering group for the College of St Philip the Deacon considers that the three years of curacy is a minimum length of time for those who have been ordained as distinctive deacons to do justice to some of these areas of diaconal ministry.   As a result, it recommends that it should be made clear to distinctive deacons that no exploration of priesthood will be considered until these three years have been satisfactorily completed as ministers with a primarily diaconal calling.  If after three years they are of a mind to consider priesthood, they would be free to raise it with their bishop in their end-of-curacy interview.  This would help to ensure that such priesthood candidates understand more fully the differences between diaconate and priesthood, and can show that they have taken this ministry seriously.  It would also help to safeguard the integrity and uniqueness of the distinctive diaconate and contribute to the clarity of the whole church on this much-misunderstood vocation.

Rev Deacon Gill Kimber




Please note that the date for this event has been changed to 6 July.


6 JULY 2019



Free to members of The College of St Philip the Deacon.  We’d be glad of a £10 donation from everyone else to cover expenses.  Coffee and lunch available at the Grange restaurant in the abbey grounds.

The date for our Exeter annual Deacons’ Day of Reflection has been CHANGED to 6 July. All are welcome to the morning, to hear Rev David Runcorn speak on ‘Christ’s servanthood and ours’ and you are also welcome to invite others eg your incumbent.  If you’re an enquirer or an ordinand, doubly welcome!  People from other dioceses are welcome too.

Please let me know if you’re coming:  write to

Afternoons are for deacons only, as we do every year. Details on the deacons’ Facebook page

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We’re very blessed to have David, who is a well-known and highly-regarded speaker and writer and indeed you may already know his books.

More about David here:

There is hotel accommodation at Buckfast Abbey:



A special day today, 11 October, for the College of St Philip the Deacon in Exeter diocese, as this St Philip (not Philip the Apostle)  has newly become our patron saint, as suggested by our Bishop.  Today Exeter Cathedral will hold an inaugural Sung Evensong to celebrate, with Bishop Martin Shaw.  If you’re in the vicinity you’re welcome – cake and deaconversation in the cathedral cafe from 4pm, Evensong at 5.30!

You may like to use our little liturgy, approved by +Robert Atwell, as part of your private devotions today.  And don’t be surprised if ‘circumstances’ (or, as St Philip would say, the Holy Spirit) put you in a situation where you find you’re just the right person in the right place at the right time to help someone draw closer to God in Christ.

approved liturgy of St Philip the Deacon


FROM READER TO DEACON: Christopher Whinney

Chris Whinney (Diocese of Exeter) muses on the difference in his ministry from when he was a Reader compared with now, when he has been an ordained Deacon for eight years.


Being a deacon as opposed to a Reader has given me a deeper sense of responsibility and commitment. This in turn I think gives me the authority of the collar, which gives more assurance to the public and particularly in home visits, for a funeral for instance.

This illustrates my reason for making this move, namely that I wanted a closer connection to the altar which would help me to do a better job. A Reader is a (much-valued) lay member of the congregation, albeit with some training;   for me, being a deacon demands greater commitment.

I did not want to get bogged down in a vicar’s role, but rather, support him/her in providing extra help.  I like the idea of the servant deacon as part of the community who pops up, like Philip (St Philip the Deacon Acts 6:1-7), where needed.

It’s interesting to compare Chris’s approach with the now widely-accepted view of the diaconate not being located primarily at the altar, but at the door, looking out into the community.  It’s also interesting that he still considers the diaconal role to be a corollary of the priest’s ministry, rather than a ‘full and equal order’ in its own right.

In actual fact Chris spends most of his time ‘popping-up’ in the community, building bridges and reaching out pastorally.



This year Exeter deacons and diaconal enquirers met at Buckfast Abbey for our annual day of reflection.

Image result for buckfast abbey

Our theme for the day was ‘The Praying Heart of the Deacon’. It was a very blessed time, not only because of our beautiful surroundings, but also because of the wisdom and grace that RC Deacon Ed Channing shared with us in his talks.  We’re always enriched by our speakers, but I particularly wanted a deacon to address us this year, because nobody can speak to a deacon’s heart as another deacon can.  Ed is from the RC diocese of Plymouth, where he is a spiritual director.  He has kindly given me permission to share his talks with you.  Take time to read and savour them.

Deacon Ed




The Praying Heart of the Deacon 26 May 2018

Speaker:  Rev Deacon Ed Channing, RC diocese of Plymouth

Called and empowered to serve:  Talk one

Somewhere out there exists an ideal deacon, a platonic idea. That deacon lives in the pages of prayer books, canon laws, scripture, liturgies.  I have yet to meet the person who totally fits this ideal, It’s certainly not me.  But there is something beautiful in it, a call and an inner response, a desire, which comes to me from those words about him or her, that ideal deacon and which I do recognise. It’s something which illuminates patchily who I am, as a deacon. So I will engage with this ideal deacon before sharing the real one with you!  The title of this day is “The praying heart of the deacon.” This does suggest that we have a shape, with a centre or heart, and that prayer is of the essence of it. But we are all different, unique, first-born beloved children of the Father, delighted in as we are. Holy Wisdom, the Christ, delights to be with us,” always at play with the children of men” as we hear in Proverbs 8. For each one of us, our prayer will also be our unique, different response to the living Spirit of love. Everything we do is really, or could be, ceaseless prayer: “rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess 5:16 …this is the will of God in Christ Jesus in you. Our prayer is the work of God, in Christ, in our hearts before it is our activity. God is always there first. Christ is “the ground of our beseeching” as Julian of Norwich wrote 600 years ago. We can only pray because the Spirit of Christ already prays in us to the Father. Our life as baptised disciples is really His life. “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, or rather it is Christ lives in me.!” Gal 2:20

We can pray as deacons because Christ calls us to this life and mission, for which he has made us, from before time began. And also because the Church recognises and affirms that particular call. There is a common dimension to our prayer because of that Ecclesial dimension of our call. We are not exactly our own men or women. We belong to Christ in the Church.  Jesus Emmanuel, God become incarnate, is sometimes called the sacrament of God … He shows and makes present among people the eternal God.  The Church, in turn, is the sacrament of Christ, for by her words and deeds, prayer, proclamation and service she makes Christ present and available in the human world. The sacrament of the diaconate is to make visible among people the servant Christ.

The Sacrament of Orders is a special gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, which is the royal priesthood of the faithful, Christ’s body. “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 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 must they wash the feet of others.”  Those words from the Common Worship ordinal of my tradition are the nub of the particular spirituality of deacons. You and I are given by God, to the royal priesthood of God’s people, to serve them, in visible self-giving, washing their sore and dirty feet, and so helping them to make Christ known where they are. We belong to God, we belong to each other, we belong to the whole people of God. Our spirituality will be most clearly shown in how our relationships as deacons, as clergy, as Christians, mirror and make present the love of Christ.  The whole Christian life is summed up by the Lord as love of God and of neighbour, and it is love as shown by Christ, self-forgetting love.

From NT times the Church has recognised this call of Christ to servanthood in women such as Phoebe in Romans, and in the deacons described in 1 Timothy; people who are respectable, not double-tongued, moderate in drinking and  not greedy for money, who hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience, not prone to gossip and able to manage their affairs and duties well.  And following Phil.2 the Church has tried to discern the call of Christ in people who will be moved by Christ’s love and fellowship, full of warmth and sympathy , of a single mind, one in love, one in mind who make their own the mind of Christ Jesus, who though in the form of God emptied himself taking the form of a slave, becoming in every way human, and humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross.

You are the people the Church has discerned as exhibiting these dispositions of Christ.   You are the people called and empowered to wash the feet of the poor, by accepting the new commandment of love given by Christ at the Last Supper table.  You are the people described by the psalmist as having your eyes fixed on the hand of the Lord like a slave on the hand of master or mistress, and you are the people who are called to recognise the hand of the Lord when you touch the hand of any of the least of His brethren, and by serving them, serve Him.

Deacons see ourselves as successors to the Levites who served the liturgy in the tent of meeting, of the first covenant, but also needing to beware of a tendency of liturgical ministers to walk by on the other side, as did the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan.  So we need also to be the Samaritan outsider who sees and helps the wounded.  We look back, also, to the Seven commissioned by the apostles to deal with community dissension and ensure justice in the distribution of goods to the widows of the different communities. Notice how differently they actually turn out, since the Holy Spirit is involved.  Stephen the protomartyr who died as Jesus had died in forgiveness of his executioners, helping to convert Saul to Paul by that.  Philip who converted to and baptised in Christ the Ethiopian eunuch, and who evangelised new communities. We should gain vision and strength from the examples of the deacons before us.  Deacon Athanasius, theologian;  deacon Gregory who still in deacon’s orders was elected Pope and who, as Gregory the Great, evangelised this country by sending Augustine to us. And deacon Francis of Assisi who shows us how to re-build Christ’s church in poverty and respect for creation.

And we may be inspired by the Roman deacon Lawrence, who, when commanded to surrender the riches of the Church, brought the poor and the lame to the magistrate as the true riches of the Church, earning himself his martyrdom. And who was distressed because he had to wait a few days rather than being martyred WITH his Bishop, Pope Sixtus. (We should be bishop’s people, the heart, hands and eyes and ears of the bishop, even now.)

Traditionally deacons divide their ministry into three areas, which are three aspects of the mystery of the ministry of Christ himself. The ministry of the Word, the ministry of the altar and the ministry of Charity. These correspond to, and make present in the world, the prophetic, priestly and ruling offices of Christ. I will reflect more on the second of these in the next talk.

The ministry of the Word is about making the Word of God your own, by continually internalising it in prayer, so that what we do can be seen by all to issue from the Word.  “You proclaim the gospel in word and deed as agents of God’s purposes of love” (Ordinal). It is in the scriptures that we meet Christ first. We need to be people who pray the scriptures. Unless we have met Christ in the pages of scripture in our prayer we won’t be able to proclaim his presence to others.  Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ (St Jerome).  We do need to study scripture, and commentaries, but even more so we need to meet Christ for ourself in praying scripture. The model for this is the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus who felt their hearts burning within them as the stranger who was Christ explained everything in the scriptures which was about himself. They were converted from depressed apathy to having burning hearts and boundless energy by hearing Christ in the scriptures. So are we! In particular, I think, the Gospel narratives of Christ are the privileged place of encounter. All the sick, disfigured, deaf, blind, lame, mad and even dead people Jesus meets are substitutes for ourselves. If we enter into their meetings with Christ, we will be transformed just as they were.  As disciples of Christ we walk alongside the apostles who were first called by him. We are no better than they. Especially in Mark we find them totally failing to get the point time after time, as do we. In Mark 10 Jesus is trying to tell them of his coming crucifixion, and all they can do is argue about their own seats at his right hand. As professional disciples we are likely, too, to find ourselves ruefully with the rich young man who so wanted to follow, but who couldn’t give up his own stuff, to truly make Jesus the centre.

But in praying with Christ in the scriptures we may find ourselves with Peter too, whose despair at his cockcrow betrayals was obliterated by Christ’s three fold question “Do you love me” and who was given the care of Christ’s flock as a result. We may find ourselves with Thomas, who was so distraught and angry that he wasn’t even with the others on the morning of the resurrection when Christ brought them his greeting of peace, but then a week later found his angry refusal to believe transformed into his acclamation “My Lord and my God” on seeing Jesus’ wounds .

I believe that this repeated encounter with Jesus in praying the scriptures is what enlivens our preaching with the power of the Spirit, in a way no amount of academic study could begin to do.

The ministry of charity, of love, is the sacrament of the presence of Christ in us accompanying human need. “Deacons are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, so that the love of God may be made visible.” (Ordinal) And the famous opening words to the 2nd Vatican Council on the Church in the modern world apply especially to deacons. “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially of the poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed nothing truly human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

Pope Francis has said he wants a church dirty and hurting with those who are dirty and hurting. A church which is like a field hospital bringing healing right in the middle of battle. He wants a church where everything, all our settled habits, timetables, priorities can be overturned in turning from being self satisfied, comfortable and respectable to being with and for those on the margins. It is the deacons who are supposed to be the shock troops of this revolution. We are to be the self-emptying service of Christ sacramentalised. We have been described as living icons of Christ the servant. The point is that our spirituality is to be co-operative, Trinitarian, with and for others. Icons are written in an authorised way, but each one is unique. They are made in fasting and prayer, they are received and blessed by a Bishop, signed with the name, not of themselves but of the mystery which they signify. As Living icons we are placed within our church as windows into the mystery of Christ the servant of all. But that only works if we have truly met Christ. If we have had a personal encounter with him, and if, like the written icon we are formed in prayer and fasting, according to the right pattern, but with our own uniqueness.  And having been received and blessed by the Bishop, everyone should see the sign of Christ, in our way of living, serving and praying.

This is all a very big ask! and for all of us even the approaching of it is possible only as grace, as gift. We are “gloriously imperfect human beings” brought near by God out of love. In our praying we need to ask to be placed with Christ, God’s son, and we need to ask to truly desire to find him in serving the poorest and the most different from us.

To finish this talk I just refer to the giving of the gospel book to the new deacon at ordination by the Bishop. In the Roman rite the book is placed into his hands with the words “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practise what you teach.”   It is all gift, all grace! No way can we make ourselves rightly believe, read  teach and live. It is the Spirit’s work of grace.

May we, by this grace, imitate Jesus, God’s Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and so one day, come to reign with him in heaven.


Jobs for deacons in the C of E are so few and far between they are like hen’s  teeth. 

Image result for hen's teeth

However, there are two part-time vacancies in the Diocese of Exeter available now, which would welcome a deacon.  They are for Mission and Ministry Development Advisors:

The Revd Jon Marlow, Mission and Ministry Development Team Leader, writes:

If you do come across colleagues who might be interested in applying then please do encourage them to have a chat with me. We’re looking for a range of people across the four archdeaconries, so it would be great to have a deacon in the mix.

Best wishes,


He also thanks me for my ‘really useful’ course ‘Preparing for Mission’, created with deacons in mind and on this blog:

It would be wonderful to see a deacon in this sort of post.  Might that be you?

(image from Malaphors)


The Diocese of Exeter celebrates new deacons, ordained by the Rt Rev Robert Atwell

10 September 2017 in Exeter Cathedral.

One of them, Andy Farmer, was ordained into the distinctive diaconate.

The Ordination Eucharist was deaconed by two distinctive deacons, Bev Cree and David Watson.

A gently liturgical Hurray is in order!Ordination joy