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




Distinctive Deacons: making the body of Christ whole again

A Written Reflection

Rob Taverner

From my very first meeting with the Diocesan Vocation Advisory, the calling to the Distinctive Diaconate has been loud and clear. I read Terry Drummond’s paper ‘Distinctive Deacons:  Ministry in the Public Square’ (from the Deacons’ Tool Kit*) and knew this ministry was for me. The Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Rev James Newcome, in his recent article, ‘The Case for the Distinctive Diaconate’, says the time is ripe for the Diaconate’s renewal and revitalization. This year the House of Bishops has approved and commended a shared discernment process for Priests and Distinctive Deacons, which highlight the special and varied gifts that the different callings require.

So why this groundswell of support for the Diaconate? Because of the world’s pressing social and environmental problems, the world needs Jesus and his radical views like never before. With fewer people regularly going to Church, deacons can take the Church to the people and through their ministry show Jesus to the world and explain how his message can change lives.

yr deacon shd be here comment195-20160511162445276_web-001

For the body of Christ to be complete it needs a revitalized Diaconate with a distinct and focused ministry, working in harmony with bishops, priests, readers and laity. As Ephesians 4 16 says: ‘He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps others to grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.’ For the Church to be healthy, it needs a vibrant Diaconate.

As part of my preparation, I talked to Anne Tomlinson, principal of the Scottish Theological Institute, where Distinctive Deacons are selected to work with their parish and in the wider diocese in a range of mission fields most suited to their abilities and talent. They have a working agreement with their bishop to be placed in a specific area so their impact can be measured. Anne put me in touch with Deacon Sue Ward, whose ministry in Edinburgh is split three ways. In addition to her liturgical duties, her time is divided equally between dementia ministry with one parish, the Hope Street Soul Food project in another, and travelling around the diocese with her sponsoring bishop being visible as a Distinctive Deacon and explaining how her distinctive role can make a difference in the world outside the church building. This is targeted ministry that helps local needs and is tailored to the deacon’s skills.

I have found that the more this work is visible, hearts are changed and more people want to join in with diaconal ministry. Encouraging and enabling others in their diakonia is simply wonderful. Doing the work of Jesus can only bring you closer to him and transform your life and those around you.

Today’s world greatly needs the Church and the five marks of mission. Report after report highlight how the poor are getting poorer and welfare reforms are having a disastrous effect on the society as a whole. The Children’s Commissioner recently published a report saying that 200,000 children in England do not have a permanent home.

My particular mission calling is working with the homeless community and tackling food poverty. Working with the homeless is a privilege and getting to know and helping many of its community is humbling. I have seen lives transformed, lives lost and most just stay the same, but the best way to help them is to get to know them as a friend and brother. You learn to laugh with them, pray with them, and cry with them.

Deacons have always been prophetic. A prophet reviews the past and may share a word about the future, but fundamentally sheds light on the present. There has never been a more crucial time for deacons to speak out about injustice, look after the weak and challenge the powerful and the wealthy. Deacons are the hands and feet of Jesus, going about our Father’s business by urgently putting into action the Good News of the Christ where it is most needed. 

*Deacons’ Tool Kit:

(More on Rob Taverner, his farm and his amazing ice cream!

FIRST DEACON PODCAST: the deacon as angel

I am absolutely delighted  to offer our first-ever Deacon podcast!  Last weekend, Canon David Kennedy from Durham was main speaker at the deacons’ annual conference at Wydale Hall.  His three talks took the themes of the deacon as groundbreaker, as angel and as icon, and the second two talks were recorded.

Enjoy listening to his second talk here:  the deacon as angel:

His third talk, the deacon as icon, will be posted next week.

Many thanks to the Diocese of York which set this up and made it more widely available.



Image result for diaconal vocation

I am delighted to announce that the new Church of England vocations webpage now offers a brief description of the Distinctive Diaconate that does reasonable justice to our unique vocation and ministry.  It is the fruit of much inter-diocesan discussion amongst deacons and the short text reflects the remarkable unity of vocational understanding in deacons around the country and in Europe, and from all shades of churchmanship.

Distinctive deacons

Building bridges between church and society     

What do deacons do?