Alice Smith, Head of Mission for CAPuk, has recently been recommended for training as a #distinctivedeacon (diocese of Chelmsford).  Here’s her story.

Although it has been a two-year process, I still find myself surprised to be at this junction, this next step in my Christian life! I’ve been in church communities since the age of 14 and, in that time, lots of people have suggested to me that I should consider ordination. By ordination, most people mean ‘collar, cassock, christenings’ or being the main Church leader. That has never felt a comfortable fit for me – and I have definitely been of the view that one member of clergy is quite enough for any household!

What I did know, quite early on in my Christian life, is that I was called to work with young people and have been much more comfortable starting new things and being part of the messier aspects of church and community life! With Andy’s discernment journey and training towards ordination for the priesthood starting in 2011, we entered a period of significant change and upheaval, moving 3 times before landing, finally in Hutton in 2017. That settled-ness has given me the space to stop and consider again what God is doing in my life.

A number of helpful conversations with significant people introduced me to the Distinctive Diaconate and I was challenged to at least explore the possibility. The oldest ‘order’ of ministry in the Church, with St Stephen listed as the first appointed deacon (and martyr) in Acts 6, deacons were called to serve the wider community, bringing the needs and hopes of all the people into the Church, through relationship, prayer and active service.

The words of the ordination service itself were also really helpful, with Deacons being described in this way:

They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible.

A more outwardly focused and intentionally ‘edgy’ feature of this call is becoming a significant part of the conversation about how the church responds to and grows in our post-modern and highly complex world:

As those who cross boundaries, make connections and bring people together, deacons are well placed to move into the challenging new contexts, with their network of relationships, of mission and evangelisation. (Bishop James Newcome)

Distinctive Deacons have been part of the church forever, and yet majority of those who offer for, train and are ordained serve for just one year as a Deacon, an apprenticeship almost. It becomes a transitional year, learning the ropes with an experienced Priest and eventually going on to be ordained again, this time ‘priested’, at which point they are able to preside at the Eucharist, marry people and go on onto ‘Incumbent’ status or solo Church leadership.

So, what does this all mean for me now? Without wanting to describe these next steps in negative terms, it might be helpful to describe what I’m not going to be doing!

  • Firstly, I’m not going to be leaving my job – I’ve been selected to train as a Self-Supporting Ordinand so will continue to work 4 days a week as Head of Mission at Christians Against Poverty.

  • Secondly, I’ll not be doing any formal academic training, but will take part in a range of modules and formational training tailored to being a Distinctive Deacon. I’ll train at St Mellitus College at Chelmsford Cathedral on a Thursday evening for a year and will, God willing, be ordained in Autumn 2022.*

  • Thirdly, I’m not going to be stopping what I am already involved in within the Parish. Daily Prayer, Rooted Community, Children’s Ministry etc. will continue to be key areas for me, where I am standing on the threshold of church and community and being a bridge and connection between the two.

  • Fourthly, I’m very clear that, while I’ve discerned this particular path for my life, together with Andy and affirmed by the wider Church, this call is not just for me! As a Deacon, my role is to embody the church in mission and encourage all of you in this area too!

It is a releasing and empowering ministry, standing as a reminder and a demonstration to the wider church of their call to worship, proclamation and pastoral care too.  Rosalind Brown: Being a Deacon Today

Being part of this Parish, the friendship, faithfulness and encouragement that is so present here is a huge part of God’s call and I look forward to where this journey and the next few years will take us all. Thanks be to God and please pray for me!

(image of St Phoebe from Wikipedia)

*Alice has given me this explanation on Whatsapp as to why she is doing less training than is normally required, and I have permission to use it:

[17:53, 26/08/2021] Alice Smith (Chelmsford): I have an MA and PGCE so I’m not being asked to do any further accredited study.
[17:58, 26/08/2021] Alice Smith (Chelmsford): Probably also worth adding that, until June I also worked as a tutor at St Mellitus, involved in formation for ordinands and lecturing youth ministry BA student. My understanding is that DD training, under the new selection characteristics will be more bespoke in time but that will depend on institution and individual background etc. I’m expecting to do modules on sacramental theology, a research project, an alternative placement and probably some modules around mission and apologetics across the year.

With thanks to Alice.

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