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. At a recent conference, I said that it’s time to realise nobody is going to do things for us. And York’s former 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. 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?
4. 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
5. 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 your diocesan webmaster!
6. 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 new Qualities and Evidences for distinctive deacons: https://cofedeacons.org/formation/current-formation-and-selection-criteria-for-distinctive-deacons-2020/
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?
7. With whom can you collaborate to pave the way for deacons?
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!
8. 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 9for 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!
9. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org