Some suggestions made in the paper are obviously beyond our control, particularly the issue of Stipends for Distinctive Deacons. Whilst I appreciate that in today’s financially challenged world we are unlikely to see a move by the national church on this subject, I remain convinced that to see a truly flourishing Diaconate we should have a mix of Stipendiary and Non-Stipendiary Deacons. I also wonder how the Church of England finds it appropriate to fund Pioneer Ministers but not us. However that is a discussion for another time.The following points are however within our control – at least to some extent.1. The number of Distinctive Deacons in our Diocese.If Deacons are to fulfill the pivotal role suggested by the paper we need to swell our ranks. I believe that the limited number of candidates coming forward for selection has nothing to do with God not calling people to this ministry but more to do with so little being known about the Diaconate by the laity, and sadly by some vicars. We talked about addressing this when we met and I hope that we will be able to pick this up again after lockdown.2. TrainingI still remain convinced that St Hild offers some of the best training for Distinctive Deacons in the country. This is in no small way due to the fact that they offer individual pathways, designed to equip people for the ministry God has called them to.They are to be thanked and congratulated. I think we still have some work to do with IME. Hopefully this can be discussed once we see how things develop nationally.3. Roles within the ParishI feel truly blessed with the opportunities and support I have received in my parish. The paper references Rosalind’s Brown work on the Diaconate. I love her description of our litugical role as “a ministry of hospitality”, where we welcome people to church, reassure them, are involved in reading scripture, preaching, leading intercessions, preparing the table for Holy Communion and then sending people out to embody the worship they have experienced. This has been my experience, but I am aware that others are not so blessed. Much of this is about education of Deacons, TI’s and congregations. All Distinctive Deacons are called to work towards building Kingdom communities beyond the gathered church, However I feel strongly that our “Sunday morning role” should not be neglected as it is a time when we can equip and encourage the whole of the church to be missional.As previously stated, I have some concerns about the use of Distinctive Deacons as Focal Ministers. Whatever the theory is about Focal Ministers, the reality is that congregations will see the DD acting as a focal minister as some sort of “stand-in vicar”. Of course this would have little to do with their vocation and I would hope the Diocese would support any DD who asks to follow their vocation rather than taking on this sort of role.4. A sense of belonging.The paper suggests that DD’s should belong to a religious community as a counter-balance to an individualistic type of ministry, This really rings a bell for me. Deacons find themselves called to very different types of ministry. I know DDs who are called to a funeral and bereavement ministry, to chaplaincy, to working with refugees and to running foodbanks, to name just a few. Their ministries are, I suggest, likely to be far more focused than that of a parish priest. I recall from previous discussions we have had that you find it hard to believe that some Dioceses still do not value or encourage the Diaconate. Sadly first-hand accounts show this is the case. All this can leave DDs feeling isolated and unsupported. I thank God this is not the case in Sheffield, but I would ask that you speak up for us if ever you have the opportunity.Meanwhile there are things we can and are doing to support each other. The National Focus group is in the process of setting up Regional networks to provide support and encouragement. Encouraged by Bishop James (of Carlisle), we would have launched this endeavour at our conference, which should have been taking place this coming Saturday. We are ploughing ahead without an official launch and I have been asked to be the Regioanal Coordinator for the North East of England. I hope to bring together DDs from Durham, Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield Dioceses. We have decided for the moment to exclude York from the group as they are a large cohort who already have support systems in place. The plan is to offer a platform to share ideas, encourage different ministries and to pray for each other. If nothing else, lockdown has taught us all the benefits of zoom!I’m sure we will learn much from each other including new ways to build Kingdom Communities. Exciting times!
Deacon Gerrie has given permission for extracts from her correspondence with her bishop to be posted here. The paper she refers to is one circulated by Bishop Pete Wilcox (Sheffield).