Distinctive Deacons: making the body of Christ whole again

A Written Reflection

Rob Taverner

From my very first meeting with the Diocesan Vocation Advisory, the calling to the Distinctive Diaconate has been loud and clear. I read Terry Drummond’s paper ‘Distinctive Deacons:  Ministry in the Public Square’ (from the Deacons’ Tool Kit*) and knew this ministry was for me. The Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Rev James Newcome, in his recent article, ‘The Case for the Distinctive Diaconate’, says the time is ripe for the Diaconate’s renewal and revitalization. This year the House of Bishops has approved and commended a shared discernment process for Priests and Distinctive Deacons, which highlight the special and varied gifts that the different callings require.

So why this groundswell of support for the Diaconate? Because of the world’s pressing social and environmental problems, the world needs Jesus and his radical views like never before. With fewer people regularly going to Church, deacons can take the Church to the people and through their ministry show Jesus to the world and explain how his message can change lives.

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For the body of Christ to be complete it needs a revitalized Diaconate with a distinct and focused ministry, working in harmony with bishops, priests, readers and laity. As Ephesians 4 16 says: ‘He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps others to grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.’ For the Church to be healthy, it needs a vibrant Diaconate.

As part of my preparation, I talked to Anne Tomlinson, principal of the Scottish Theological Institute, where Distinctive Deacons are selected to work with their parish and in the wider diocese in a range of mission fields most suited to their abilities and talent. They have a working agreement with their bishop to be placed in a specific area so their impact can be measured. Anne put me in touch with Deacon Sue Ward, whose ministry in Edinburgh is split three ways. In addition to her liturgical duties, her time is divided equally between dementia ministry with one parish, the Hope Street Soul Food project in another, and travelling around the diocese with her sponsoring bishop being visible as a Distinctive Deacon and explaining how her distinctive role can make a difference in the world outside the church building. This is targeted ministry that helps local needs and is tailored to the deacon’s skills.

I have found that the more this work is visible, hearts are changed and more people want to join in with diaconal ministry. Encouraging and enabling others in their diakonia is simply wonderful. Doing the work of Jesus can only bring you closer to him and transform your life and those around you.

Today’s world greatly needs the Church and the five marks of mission. Report after report highlight how the poor are getting poorer and welfare reforms are having a disastrous effect on the society as a whole. The Children’s Commissioner recently published a report saying that 200,000 children in England do not have a permanent home.

My particular mission calling is working with the homeless community and tackling food poverty. Working with the homeless is a privilege and getting to know and helping many of its community is humbling. I have seen lives transformed, lives lost and most just stay the same, but the best way to help them is to get to know them as a friend and brother. You learn to laugh with them, pray with them, and cry with them.

Deacons have always been prophetic. A prophet reviews the past and may share a word about the future, but fundamentally sheds light on the present. There has never been a more crucial time for deacons to speak out about injustice, look after the weak and challenge the powerful and the wealthy. Deacons are the hands and feet of Jesus, going about our Father’s business by urgently putting into action the Good News of the Christ where it is most needed. 

*Deacons’ Tool Kit:  https://exeter.anglican.org/ministry/vocations/diocesan-deacons/

(More on Rob Taverner, his farm and his amazing ice cream! https://www.tavernersfarm.co.uk/)

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