When I was first made warden for the diocesan College of St Philip the Deacon, I worked on a document with the DDO and the bishop of Plymouth outlining not only my own job description but also an introduction to the college. That was seven years ago.
Since then my diocesan steering group, to whom I’m accountable, has made various decisions and I decided to update the document. So ‘An Introduction to the College of St Philip the Deacon’ has gone through various revisions and has been discussed and endorsed by the bishop of Exeter’s staff meeting.
It’s a very practical document, outlining the identity and ministry of the distinctive deacon as we understand it in Exeter, and includes the fact that we’re not only responsible to each other for mutual support, but also that we have a responsibility to raise the profile of our ministry in our areas. There are lots of ideas which have now become practices here in Exeter.
So here it is, with the hope that you’ll find it useful, and that it might even offer some inspiration if you’re in a position to think about getting your own DDs together. Feel free to share it with your diocesan officers.
An Introduction to the College of St Philip the Deacon
The Church of England recognises three orders of ordained ministry: bishop, priest and deacon. Those called to priesthood spend an initial period of time in ordained ministry as deacons before becoming priests. Others are called most strongly to remain in the diaconate as deacons. The diaconate exists as a ministry in its own right throughout the Church of England, often called the ‘distinctive’ diaconate. Distinctive Deacons in Exeter belong to the College of St Philip the Deacon.
Scope of ministry of Distinctive Deacons
Distinctive deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking, community-minded ministry with the hallmark of mission through service according to their gifts and inclinations. They prefer to be out and about, making contacts, building relationships, identifying and meeting needs, creating stepping-stones between God and the world. Deacons are pioneers, radical in their outlook and ready to try new ways of serving God in the community. They often have a particular concern for issues of poverty and justice and many minister to those on the margins of church and society.
Distinctive deacons serve under the bishop’s authority, usually alongside their parish priest with whom they minister as an ‘ambassador for Christ’. They proclaim the gospel as Christ’s heralds in their life and work, encouraging congregations to share the good news of God’s love with the community. Deacons have a recognised role in church services which reflects the hallmarks of their ministry, such as reading the Gospel, encouraging intercessory prayer and sending the congregation out at the end of the service to play their part in God’s mission.
A distinctive deacon is at present a self-supporting minister, and many deacons continue in secular employment, their vocation deeply influencing the way they do their job and develop their ministry. Their diaconate encourages all baptised Christians to glorify God by reaching out to others.
Setting God’s People Free
This report by the Archbishops’ Council asserts ‘Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.’ Part of the calling of the Distinctive Deacon is to encourage the diakonia of all the laity, and this includes enabling and inspiring the whole church to reach out to their communities with gospel love. The ministry of the distinctive diaconate offers a vital bridge between the gathered congregation and those outside the church and so is in pole position to assist with the challenging task of setting God’s people free to evangelise the nation.
The College of St Philip the Deacon
The college comprises all those in the diocese who are ordained to the Distinctive Diaconate and DD ordinands. The patron saint of the college is St Philip the Deacon, whose feast day falls on 11 October. The bishop of Exeter invites DDs to make this a day of special intention.
The warden of the college to be a Distinctive Deacon, accountable to a bishop and the diocesan deacons’ steering group. The bishop to convene the college annually, building on the historic relationship between bishops and deacons.
The purpose of the College of Deacons
- The College exists for the encouragement, prayer and support of all those who share the Distinctive Diaconate calling.
- To share good practice between Distinctive Deacons, between incumbents of Distinctive Deacons, and between the two by
- offering training to deacon curates and their incumbents on the focus and trajectory of a distinctive diaconal ministry, making use of the resources endorsed by the bishop of Exeter. https://exeter.anglican.org/ministry/vocations/diocesan-deacons/ Delivered by college warden.
- To share the vocation in the diocese of the identity, role, ministry and deployment of Distinctive Deacons by
- including mention of any Distinctive Deacons in ordination services and in the diocesan website coverage of such ordinations
- playing a liturgical role at diocesan Eucharists
- contributing to vocations days
- hosting enquirers/ordinands as mentors/buddies: ‘deacon for a day’
- continuing to use, develop and encourage the use of the resources on the deacon page of the diocesan website
- requesting regular articles in the diocesan magazine
a. For Clergy – raising both theological and missional understanding of the deacon:
- Opportunities to be sought at deanery chapter and deanery synod levels to present the meaning of the distinctive diaconate
- opportunity to preach about the distinctive diaconate at an annual vocations Sunday and/or at other times
b. For Congregations – especially but not exclusively where a Distinctive Deacon is deployed
- the incumbent to explain to the congregations the focus of the DD ministry
- article in parish magazine
- explanation and modelling by DD of collaborative nature of ministry in meeting needs in community
c. For Ordinands (Distinctive Deacons) in training – to work with courses and colleges to contribute to the training of Distinctive Deacons currentlyin IME Phase 1 as they meet with those in IME Phase 2 and beyond by:
- inviting a Distinctive Deacon each year to attend and contribute to a training event
- raising awareness of and using resource papers as developed by the warden and diocesan deacons’ steering group, endorsed by the bishop of Exeter: see deacons’ web page on the diocesan website https://exeter.anglican.org/ministry/vocations/diocesan-deacons/
- using learning/working agreements for deacon curates and training incumbents
- using the ministry reflections for DD curates included in Phase 2 portfolios
- To encourage vocations to the Diaconate
- Member of the college to be a vocations adviser
- Resources on the distinctive diaconate to be sent to vocations advisers and updated when necessary
- To be a support and advisory group to help shape strategy with regard to the development of the ministry of the Distinctive Diaconate in this diocese, and with regard to deployment of Distinctive Deacons.
Length of training licences: three years. The end of the Distinctive Deacon’s curacy to be marked, like all curates, with an interview with the bishop and a special service in the parish.
Distinctive Deacons and Occasional Offices in the diocese of Exeter: After their first year in Deacon’s orders, Distinctive Deacons may baptise as a regular part of their missional brief. They may also conduct weddings with the permission of the Bishop, in the absence and with the agreement of their incumbent. This should be the exception rather than the norm so that wedding ministry does not distract from their primary role. They should, however, be fully involved in marriage preparation and in the wedding service where appropriate. Distinctive Deacons should also be invited to act as one of the liturgical deacons at services in a mission community where the Bishop is presiding.
Distinctive Deacons to remain as DDs during the three years of their curacy, whilst being free to explore priesthood if wished.
After completion of training, the future ministry of the Distinctive Deacon will be explored with the bishop.