The ministry of deacon in the Church of England is still not well known nor understood.. Most people assume that being a deacon is simply a stepping stone on the way to the priesthood. It is true that priests must first be ordained deacon but the diaconate is also a distinctive ministry, to which people are called, and part of the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon that Anglicans teach as being characteristic of minstry in the Holy Catholic Church.
The Lambeth Conference as early as 1958 made an attempt to renew the understanding of the diaconate as a distinctive ministry and recommended that "each province of the Anglican Communion...consider whether the office of Deacon shall be restored to its primitive place as a distinctive order in the Church, instead of being regarded as a probationary period for the priesthood". The distinctive diaconate, in my view, still needs to be taken more seriously as a vocational opportnity, within the Church of England.
|Deacon Giampaolo Pancetti (Florence)|
Some ask what is the difference between a deacon and a (lay) Reader. Indeed deacons and Readers in the Church of England do many similar tasks - preaching, teaching and praying for instance. But a deacon is something, not simply someone who does certain things. Deacons are ordained to hold up before the Church and the world, diakonia, the distinctive ministry of Christ the Servant, as being central to all Christian ministry.
Some ask how a deacon is different from a priest; is a deacon not simply a junior priest? Well, no. A priest’s focus is on the parish community and sacrament. They are pastors/shepherds of the community, feeding them and leading them. The deacon’s focus is on outreach, service, and supporting the ministry of the faithful in the world.
Being an icon of Christ's servant ministry does not mean that a deacon is simply a servant, mind you. A 2001 Church of England report on the ministry of deacons, For Such A Time As This, emphasised that the deacon is a person on a mission, an ambassador or messenger, making connections, building bridges, faithfully delivering a mandate”.
I believe that it is the ambassadorial role which marks out the ministry of the deacon most clearly. And as an ambassador is sent as an envoy, so a deacon is an envoy between the Church and the world. This is manifest in the traditional role of the deacon in the liturgy (although the deacon's ministry is far from confined to the liturgy!). So the deacon travels from the sanctuary into the midst of the people to proclaim the Good News, and at the end of the mass sends the people out into the world to spread Christ's peace. The deacon as envoy also brings the the needs of the world into the assembled Church in the intercessions, and in the offertory presents the gifts of ordinary human life and labour, bread and wine, on the altar to be transformed in the Eucharistic prayer led by the priest.
Last 30 June was a historic occasion for this diocese. For the first time, in the same place, were to be found three distinctive deacons. Deacon Julia Bradshaw (above centre) was ordained to this order to serve in St Thomas' Church in Crete, in the Greater Athens Chaplaincy. The preacher for the ordination was Deacon Christine Saccali (above left), who is also licenced to Greater Athens. The Deacon of the mass was Frances Hiller.
If you would like to explore a possible vocation to the diaconate, have a conversation with your priest.