Diaconal Ministries Canada has an excellent website with many good resources for their deacons.  Although it’s not an Anglican church, they have a very well-worked-out understanding of diaconal ministry under 4 headings:  compassion, justice, stewardship and community ministry.

The following comes from their series of 12 devotions for deacons,  concerning the nuts and bolts of community ministry.  This devotion focuses on partnership.

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

In Acts 16, Paul is on a journey visiting churches he has established and firing people up for the gospel. He has probably mapped out a route already and set his course –until the Spirit of the Lord tells him differently, that is. Paul wants to go to Asia. The Spirit says no. Paul wants to go to Bithynia. The Spirit says no again. And then Paul receives a vision, sending him to the outer reaches of where the Jews had scattered: a Roman colony with no temple, no place of worship or gathering. Yet Paul obeys.


Without a temple in which to preach, Paul goes down to the river to speak to the Gentile women there. This isn’t necessarily a promising start, by the standards of the day. But, because he listens to the Spirit, Paul’s conversation with the women by the river eventually leads to a church plant – the Philippian church, a church that becomes Paul’s “partner in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5).


Partnerships are important for ministry. At its heart, ministry is relational. Paul understood this and depended on the blessings of partnership to help and encourage him.

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Partnerships are Spirit-given: before arriving in Philippi and establishing the church, Paul is redirected by the Spirit away from other places of ministry. He is given a vision that will lead him to Philippi. The Spirit guides Paul into this important partnership.


Partnerships begin with commonality: partnerships work well when there is a fundamental understanding of what is shared. For Paul and the church in Philippi, they “share in God’s grace” (vs. 7). It is a basic place to start. Sin is a great equalizer; everyone is equally in need of grace and each person is equally made in God’s image.


Partnerships focus on strengths: in strong partnerships, each partner has something important to contribute. Paul knows that the church in Philippi supports him through prayer (vs. 19), and will also “stand firm” (vs. 27) for the gospel. Paul realizes that his encouragement and teaching are also important to the church (vs. 24). Together, as partners, Paul and the church encourage and pray for each other and work from their strengths to advance the gospel together.


Partnerships give joy: encouragement is critical to ministry and to partnership. Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians from prison, and, as he prays for the church in Philippi and is being prayed for, God gives him joy.  Joy transcends experience and energizes mission.


Deacons, you need partners, like Paul, who will serve with you in your church and community. By the grace of God, however, you will form many partnerships as you live out God’s call on your life. Your partners may be members of your church who are equipped and called to serve with you. Your partners may also be your neighbours whom you serve and through whom you receive blessing. There are others such as community agencies and churches.


Seek out the Spirit’s leading as you seek out partnerships. Pray! Allow God’s Spirit to humble you and work through you. Open your heart as you partner and serve alongside those to whom the Spirit will lead you. Look for, and be blessed by each others’ strengths. Never lose sight of the fact that we are all in need of grace: from the deacon sitting next to you to the members of your congregation, to your neighbour in need who might just bless you in surprising ways.


And, last of all, expect joy.

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A lively discussion has sprung up on our Facebook page about the indifference of the Church of England, by and large, to its deacons (an ongoing topic!) and the necessity of constantly explaining who we are.

I’m relieved that we now have several places where people can find out about ‘distinctive’ deacons, but what’s clear is that we deacons just have to toil on, constantly answering questions and making clear statements about our ministry in the hope that eventually our church will catch on.

So it’s uplifting to discover this explanation on the United Methodist site Deacons Hold the Bowl.  It’s closely allied to our Anglican understanding.  In fact, next time you find yourself in the middle of an annoying conversation on this topic, you could just refer people to this …

Wait! What’s a Deacon?

This was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate. The focus of this issue was the 20th Anniversary of the Order of Deacon. 

A group of church leaders had gathered for a meeting. The district superintendent mentioned the possibility of hiring a deacon to help the congregation reach beyond the church walls. A woman sitting across the table looked back at the DS with a quizzical expression. “Wait,” she said, “What’s a deacon?”

It’s not the first time that question has been asked. For twenty years, the United Methodist Church has been struggling to articulate the answer, “What’s a deacon?”

I welcome these questions. When I first experienced my call to ministry and I was told about the ministry of the deacon, that was my response. I had never heard of an ordained deacon. While I felt a strong call to ordained ministry, it did not look like the pastor of a church. But, I had no words to express what it did look like.


I felt called to be with those whom society had turned away. I felt a call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. The call I was experiencing was to something beyond the church walls.

My mentor at the time, the Rev. Mary Sue Swann, and I spent a lot of time discussing this. She recommended to me the book A Deacon’s Heart. It would be a year before I would read the book. Once I did, the words of Margaret Ann Crain and Jack Seymour were telling me who I was in a way I had never experienced. I finished the book and knew that I was a deacon. These words affirmed my call to ordained ministry as a servant leader in the life of the church, being a bridge between the Word and the world and connecting the needs of the world to the resources of the church.

Mary Sue showed me that the image of clergy that I had – the solo pastor who preached every Sunday and “ran” the church – was not the only image the church had of the clergy. I learned that I have a deacon’s heart, longing for the healing of creation, plus mutual and connecting ministries that reach the poor and the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned, the lost and the lonely.

The question is not, “What is a Deacon?” The question is, “Who is a deacon?”

The Order of Deacon is a permanent order of persons ordained to a lifetime of ministry of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice, drawing on a long tradition of deacons in the church. The earliest deacons were Stephen and the seven in Acts 6, who were commissioned to see the needs of those in the community who were without.

The Rev. Margaret Ann Crain, an ordained deacon, and professor of Christian Education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, writes in her book The United Methodist Deacon, “The identity of a deacon, fundamentally, is that of one who has experienced a call to lead ministries of compassion and justice. Deacons are passionate about the particular area of service to which they are called. They seek to lead and equip the church for that service.”

Whether the deacon is serving in the local church or outside the church, the deacon equips, empowers and encourages the church in going beyond its own walls to connect the church to the world. They help the community identify its needs and the church to identify the resources it has to meet those needs.


This connecting effort is done in partnership with the elder and the laity. Even if a deacon’s primary appointment is outside the church, he or she has a secondary appointment in a local church. One of the ways in which this connection is made is through the worship leadership of the deacon. In assisting the elder in administering the sacraments, the deacon models what this connection looks like.

The work of the deacon is grounded in compassion and justice. It is more than just a Band-Aid fix for a problem. It is working with others to seek long-lasting solutions to racism, poverty, hunger, etc. A deacon whose work is centered around the compassionate care of children, for example, is also concerned with advocating for the rights of children. To show compassion is to offer hope and love to the marginalized among us. To show justice is to call attention to injustices in our society and world. This can be done through teaching and preaching, hands-on service, telling the stories of those on the margins and advocating for justice.

The ministry of the deacon calls to mind the compassionate and just acts of Jesus. From touching the lepers to healing them, to washing the disciples’ dirty, dusty feet, Jesus’ acts exemplified what servant leadership looks like. The deacon is called to extend those acts to the least of these among us; to extend the Table of hospitality and reconciliation in a way that builds community within our communities.