DYNAMIC OF THE DIACONATE: report on York conference


Deacons in York 17th November 2019

Thirty of us met at St Edwards Church for a reflection on ‘The Dynamic of the Diaconate’ in what has become an annual meeting of distinctive deacons and enquirers from the diocese of York and beyond. We were led by the Rt. Rev Alison White, Bishop of Hull. Before she spoke, David Mann, Diocesan Director of Ordinands, whose steady encouragement has meant a growth in this ministry witnessed by the size of this group, interviewed Abi Davison and Dave Hobman.

Abi spoke about her curacy at York Minster and how her liturgical role inspired her work in the community.”I read the gospel and the gospel goes with me all week”.  Abi is involved with young people  in the Scouting movement and has become its first Faith Adviser.

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Abi in a wet field with the scouts

Dave worked with alcoholics and the homeless. He raised £2,000 to rent the Spurriergate  Centre in York on Sundays where he served 50 to 60 breakfasts and this has led to his work in combating loneliness amongst older people. Hospitality soon leads to questions of spiritual welfare. Dave provides a ministry of listening and presence in the city’s coffee shops.

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Dave as chaplain to the punk community

Bishop Alison centred her talks on the Christ of the margins, the servant Lord, the ministry of the threshold and the Christ who said “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. The word ‘as’ here means   not ‘because’ but ‘in the same way’, in the pattern of Jesus.  She paused to let these awesome words sink in. Disciples of Jesus are called to responsibility, totality, vulnerability, and authority through the breath of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Alison asked “Whose language do you use; that of the church or the language of life?”

She characterised the diaconate as a ‘well worn path of ministry’ and deacons as those who strike a balance between reacting to need and proactively supporting and encouraging the release of gifts in others. As a result communities should look more diaconal.

There was time to reflect on questions such as  “Who am I and what am I for? What is going on inside of me and how do I express it? Where do I seek and choose to spend time?” For deacons the answer is often ‘on the edge’ where the gospel is most clearly 3D. How can we be transformative at the centre, she asked us, as we live on the growing edges. The centre moves more slowly.

Insisting on a horizontal and a vertical model of ministry (not always the reality in practice) she won us over by her personal warmth and stirring message and left us with a suggestion. Put a text in your pocket, sit somewhere unusual, and wait and see what happens.

With many thanks to Deacon Liz Carrington and Methodist deacon Cedric May

It’s worth reporting that, as a result of this day, at least one person is now seriously considering a vocation to the distinctive diaconate!



Some people have asked for these as you were not able to attend.  Here’s the full script, the powerpoint that goes with it, and the discussion questions we used in the afternoon:



script for York pp

york discussion questions

I’d be interested in your feedback! – either via the comments on this blog or send to deacons@tutanota.com


What’s your ‘mantra’? discussion


York’s brilliant DDO David Mann conducting the plenary

With thanks to Layla Ellis for these excellent photos.


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