In May this year there was a major international conference on the diaconate in Canada.

Rev Frances Wilson, Bishop’s Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Lichfield, attended and has kindly shared with us her reflections.  They make fascinating reading and provide much food for thought especially as we consider our national conference this October.  Many thanks, Frances, and we look forward to seeing you in October!

Frances Wilson

Reflections on the International Conference on the Diaconate

Regina, Canada, May 2018 

Diaconate: Transitional v. Distinctive

There was a lot of passion in the assembly, particularly from some delegates, about transitional diaconate which seemed to demean some Distinctive Deacons.

  • Candidates for priesting follow a formation path for this ministry, yet then are ordained into a different ministry, that of the deacon.
  • Although ‘inferior’ language has been removed from Anglican Prayer books, a priest who is a deacon first seems to show that they ‘move on to higher things’ when ordained priest.
  • Suggestion that priests who do diaconal tasks do so, not as ordained deacons but answering the diakonia calling of all the baptised.
  • From an RC perspective, D. deacons are valued because they are more likely to share the lived experience of the congregation (married/working etc.)
  • A huge negative reaction was expressed at priests acting out their diaconal role at the Eucharist in the liturgy and wearing a diaconal stole (‘cross-dressing’!). The depth of feeling about this was shocking.

Some Questions:

  • Does this affect the position of the Bishop – an arch-priest? Or should we ordain directly to the Episcopate also!

Also – does the Bishop, if never a deacon, have a relation to deacons?

  • Does a diminished place in society for priests in a more-professional world makes priests hold on more closely to their ‘privileges ‘? – This came from ‘the floor’.*

*A strong impression that D Deacons thought their parish priests held on to too much and didn’t give them space to articulate their specific ministry.

– Later, on speaking to priests (after the Conference), a suggestion that many Deacons were not used because they were not well selected or trained.

NOTE:  Selection and Training in the Episcopal Church is Canada is local and variable.  Eileen Scully is working with the National Church to set guidelines (my [priest] sources say these are minimal but this is a starting point).  Min Div. of the CofE does have Criteria for Selection for Distinctive Deacons but it might be worth seeing how Canada’s consultation is going.  On speaking to one TEI this month, I found that they had no teaching/formation pathway for Distinctive Deacons; perhaps Canada might have suggestions here too.

The Essence of a Deacon 

How should one answer the question, “How does Deacon differ from a priest or lay person?”  Usually the response is one of power: Deacons can… (baptise….) but the list isn’t that different from that of a lay person.

So perhaps the essence is more about the ‘being’ conveyed by a Deacon than the ‘doing’.

  • ‘Servant ministry’ is only a partial answer (those who were ‘set aside’ in Acts 6 are NOT designated Deacons)
  • The diakonia are rather ‘ones who act on behalf of another (Lumen gentium and draft CW: ‘Ambassadors’ and ‘heralds’ – angels are often shown in Diaconal vesture!)
  • The archetypal Deacon is therefore not Stephen, but Jesus Christ.
  • The 5 Marks of Mission (and particularly the final two) must be at the heart of their ministry. “Pastoral care of people with missional activity in the world.”
  • Also (later Speakers): ‘Speaking truth to power’ (and that power will not always be ‘the other’, politics etc. but Church and the ‘power’ in each of us).
  • This will be a ‘prophetic’ ministry.
    • That all shall be one -forgiven – Unity
    • – That all shall be welcomed at the table- Inclusivity
    • That all are forgiven – Forgiveness
  • Deacons are at their most diaconal when they engage in their ‘Door’ activity – not simply being at the door to welcome people into Church but outside on the steps assisting them to transition.
  • AND, the balance of this, sending the People of God out into the World again at the end of worship.

Women and the Diaconate  

A: Within the Orthodox Tradition:

Why should we be particularly interested?  Because this is an area which is being ‘mined’ at present by the RC (and the Orthodox) church as it works out its position on women and ordination.

  • See notes! This was a dense lecture (v. interesting but too much to take good jottings).  Two clear points arose…
  1. Ordination and Monastic life are intimately connected within the Orthodox tradition. Yes, there have been women who have acted as ‘deacons’ in the past but they have always been Religious.
  2. Each Orthodox tradition is unique and has its own theology; conflating the tradition and practices of each strand to show that there was a variety of ministries which women as deacons practiced is not true to Orthodoxy.

B: Icons meditation

My only comment would be to affirm the comment that where the Church suppressed the active role of women, other expressions of Faith and Order have sprung up (For an insight into this in Medieval times see From Virile Woman to WomanChrist by B. Newman).

C: The Witness of Sr. Gloria

Spoke passionately and with first hand experience of the journey to the current state of the RC Church’s exploration of the question of women and the Diaconate.

There is an obvious Ecumenical tie-in; the Diaconate is a less ‘explosive’ area of Ministry which it would be good to explore amongst Churches of different Traditions.

The Spirituality of a Deacon:

  • Rosalind Brown argued strongly for its Benedictine qualities of Hospitality and Attentiveness to the Actual.
  • A ‘butler’ awareness: Not to do everything oneself but to draw the best out of others so all may share in ministry.
  • A need to cultivate Prayerfulness in a Busyness ministry of the Liturgical Deacon…
  • An openness to the direction of the Holy Spirit, in responding to the ‘Now’ situation.
  • …The Deacon and ‘Communion by Extension’… such a thorny issue!

Diaconal Formation:

There was a lot of really good, really practical, input here.  I’m hoping we might receive the papers on these as my notes are inadequate.  In particular, I thought Alison Peden, Provincial Director of Ordinands, had interesting ideas on forming a learning/formational community across a large geographical area with a sparse number of differing vocations learning together.  Also Phina Borgeson on self-mentored learning using Grid/checklist.  The formational path of RC Deacons is impressive!

Frances Wilson 27th May 2018




  1. I am delighted that Frances was able to go to the Regina gathering and much appreciate her report. One or two things seem to me very relevant to us in the UK. First, that the churches of North America seem to be way ahead of us here – not only in the large number of deacons they are ordaining but in taking seriously reflection on the nature and potential of the diaconate for the renewal of mission and ministry across the whole church. In the UK no church seems to have grasped that the diaconal church and the diaconate, as embodying key features of that church (not least servant leadership and equipping the laity for mission), must be a hall-mark of any ‘church to come’. Thus the current scheme for the inter-changeability of presbyteral ‘ministries’ between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, misguidedly shelves any consideration of where the diaconate fits into that picture. In reality, until both churches begin to take the role of the diaconate far more seriously and explore its radical implications for the leadership of the people of God in the world, the ‘church to come’ will not see the light of day. The casuistic arrangements for inter-changeability proposed in the Anglican-Methodist scheme are simply re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.
    Secondly, Frances mentions the passion deacons at the Regina conference felt about the anomaly of the a transitional diaconate. Such passion is misguided if it is simply about personal status. The real issue is that the transitional diaconate, as many perceptive church leaders argue (Deacon Michael Jackson of the Anglican Church of Canada, Deacon William Ditewig of the Roman Catholic Church in the USA, and, recently, John Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle), has become a major hindrance to the emergence of a genuinely renewed diaconate nationally and worldwide. This is a massive blockage to the need to break the mould of Christendom and enable a diaconal church and a full and equal three-fold form of servant leadership to emerge.
    Thanks Frances for helping to get the debate moving over here before it is too little too late!
    David Clark (Methodist Diaconal Order)

    Liked by 1 person

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