As we all look back on 2021 I’m sure most of us have mixed feelings. The lockdown lifted, but is descending slowly again as we battle with the Omicron variant. We had some freedom, and now, necessarily, it’s being curtailed once more.
But God is at work in and through all our circumstances. Although the frustrations and sometimes the depressions have been many and various, there are unexpected blessings which have come our way, moments when we have become wonderfully aware of God’s presence. It is part of the call of distinctive deacons to be ‘expectant and watchful for the signs of God’s presence’, and to have the freedom to respond to those signs, to reflect and adapt.
Some of those signs can be seen in our activity over this year. Lockdown has certainly not curtailed all our plans and activities, and in some ways has indeed given us a broader canvas on which to work.
Regional meetings continue. If you don’t yet belong to your regional group, and would like to be in touch through zoom with other deacons in your episcopal area, please send me an email at email@example.com
Specialist zooms were created: one for deacon curates, one for town centre deacons, and one for healthcare chaplain deacons. These have been appreciated for the opportunity to connect with other deacons working in a similar ministry, to share experience, joys, challenges, and good practice.
Much connection takes place through the GoDeacons Whatsapp group. Again, if you’d like to join, and are a DD, an ordinand or an enquirer, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org, with your mobile number and your diocese. You will of course need the free Whatsapp app on your phone.
Or you can follow all things diaconal on our Facebook page
and Tweets on subjects of diaconal interest, like justice and poverty, @WardenGill
Our national conference on 17 April took place on zoom with the Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. He spoke on ‘Towards a Flourishing Diaconate: Theological, Pastoral and Formational Perspectives’. We were joined by deacons from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and The Episcopal Church.
Our second national conference, Deacons Interrupted, also on zoom, was held on 10 November. The speakers were Al Barrett and Ruth Harley, drawing out diaconal themes from their book ‘Being Interrupted’. It gave us much food for thought, and again we were delighted to welcome our fellow Anglican deacons in other countries. (Please see ‘Links’ section on the right hand side of this page)
Behind the scenes, we received episcopal permission to create the CofE Network of Distinctive Deacons, with our patron the Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle. We’re also delighted to announce that Archbishop Justin has asked +James to be ‘deacons’ champion‘ in the House of Bishops.
We have had a number of zoom meetings with Bishop Chris Goldsmith, head of the National Ministry Team. He is enormously helpful and supportive, and describes the distinctive diaconate as ‘an open door’.
Deacon Liz Carrington and I zoomed a number of times with the Rev Dr Ian McIntosh, outgoing Head of Formation in the National MInistry Team. We worked with him on developing the new Qualities and Evidences for Distinctive Deacons. We arrived rather late in the day – too late to have much input into the Qualities – but it’s great to have something which is diaconally-focused. The Six Qualities are now in use in the Church of England for the discernment of diaconal vocation. For IME2 (curacy) the Evidences can now be found on the Church of England website and will be rolled out in the autumn of 2022.
Really important to note, is that the Qualities were sent out by the National Ministry Team in the same document as those for priesthood, thus (possibly for the first time) sending a strong message to diocesan vocation teams that the distinctive diaconate is an ordained ministry in its own right, which works alongside priesthood. This is a huge step forward.
While working with Ian, we raised with him the frequent absence of specifically vocational training for DDs. Most theological colleges and training programmes assume that their deacons are all heading for priesthood. This causes both frustration and heartache for DDs in training, and makes it more difficult to grow into the diaconal vocation of our ordination Declarations. However, we were well-aware that the difficulty for theological trainers is the small number of DD ordinands at present. We asked about the possibility of putting some training online so that this could be accessed by DDs from any diocese, complementing their foundational ordinand training.
After a couple of smaller zoom meetings, David Hanson (National MInistry Team) last week organised a zoom with the heads of ten theological institutes, in which there was much good will and willingness to try this out by putting courses on a theological education hub, which would then be accessible to all. The NMT agreed to move this work forward.
It is difficult to establish accurate statistics for DDs in the Church of England, but currently, including ordinands, it is around 200. There are 18 DDs in training nationally.
So our ministry, first ordained by the apostles, and sustained throughout the years by the Holy Spirit, has been given much-needed encouragement in 2021. We thank God for opening doors and creating open minds. We finish this year, and come to Christmas, with great gratitude in our hearts, and hope for the future. Please continue to hold us in your prayers as we move forward into the new year. Much done, much still to do!
May the Lord who came to earth to feed the hungry, heal the sick, bind up the broken-hearted and wash our feet, fill you with joy, peace and courage as we celebrate his birth.
In His holy name
Deacon Gill Kimber and the National Steering Group for the CofE Network of Distinctive Deacons.