I was interested to come across this, a publication of The Episcopal School for Deacons, diocese of Louisiana. It’s by the Dean for the School, Roderick Dugliss, called Seeing the Deacon in Our Midst: An Aid for the Discerning Community. I can’t find a date for it.
Having read Susanne Epting’s book, the important fundamental to note is that the Episcopal Church started by looking at the whole of the ministry of the baptised. It was from this wide-ranging work that their understandings of lay and ordained ministries emerged.
On our side of the pond, we should be so lucky … ! See what you think of this – the emphases in bold are mostly my editing. I welcome comments.
‘When you begin looking for the deacon(s) in the midst of your congregation it is very important to note that you will not see persons fully formed and realized as deacons. An intentional process of formation and development will be essential in order to fulfill the promise of the deacon within them. Only then does the church ordain them. The School for Deacons meets the church’s requirement for formation and development.
You are looking for inclinations toward diaconal ministry and the potential for leadership in ministry in a person that can be called forward in preparation for ordination.
Bear in mind that a potential deacon is an active participant in the life of a congregation—a person who is regular in weekly worship and in “working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God.” Canons Title I, No. 17, Sec. 3.
Once you have done your background work, several images or metaphors for the deacon will help your discernment.
Begin to look for—
The Deacon as Servant
This is not someone who is servile! It is servanthood as proclaimed by Jesus who “came not to be served but to serve.” This is servanthood modeled by a Jesus who took towel and bowl to wash the feet of those he challenged to follow him. A servant instinctively reaches out to the other.
The Deacon as Servant Leader
We all promise to ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self.’ Deacons have the willingness and skills to guide, direct, coax, and coach all of us both in both seeking (and seeing) Christ where we may not want to or be able to. The deacon then invites and supports us in our serving. Deacons don’t, and can’t, do it all themselves. They lead us all so that the world is served in Christ and in the name of Christ.
The Deacon as Icon of Service
Deacons have a limited yet powerful role in liturgy where they act out for the congregation in symbolic ways the concrete ministry of service in action. Each element of the deacon in liturgy links to or expresses an element of diakonia as a reminder and an inspiration to a gathered congregation.
We look, then, for persons who can inhabit this role with confidence and competence as they proclaim the Good News for the world on our behalf, help us pray for the world’s deepest needs, model hospitality and welcome in setting a table for the feast, and standing in the doorway to dismiss us “to do the work God has given us to do.”
Deacon as Animator
We look for people who cheerfully cajole, inspire, invite, support, encourage, celebrate, and sustain the impulses to ministry in and of all the people of a congregation.
Deacon as Advocate
We look for people who can and do speak up for those who have no voice, no agency and who go unheard. We look for people who can articulate the Good News both for us in the faith community and for those with whom we seek to ally outside the church to engage in compassionate action and ministries of justice.
Deacon as Entrepreneur
We look for people who can see an unmet need in a hurting and unjust world and can marshal the resources and the people to respond to it. We look for people who can start up ministry by initiating, innovating, and then delegating so that God’s people carry on, grow, and expand what was started.
Deacon as Prophet
The heart of the deacons ministry is compassion and justice. The prophet sees the gap between what is and what God wishes for us and calls us to see it and act. The prophetic deacon is not partisan, strident, nor offensive but rather compassionate, clear, and insistent. We look for people who can speak Good News as a call to act for reconciliation, recompense, and restoration.
Deacon as Interpreter
The ordination rite enjoins the deacon “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” (emphasis supplied) We look for persons who are drawn to represent to us the situations of the last, the least, the lost, and to invite us as community to respond to the causes of privation, oppression, and marginalization.
And to repeat . . .
It is important to remember that in all of this discernment we are looking for signs and hints of possibility, not perfected saints. And, no one deacon will embody all these traits.’
I think we can all agree there’s no such thing as a perfected saint …