An exploration of diaconal ministry in hospitality and liturgy

By Charlotte Hudd

Charlotte is a first-year deacon ordinand on the Portsmouth Pathway of training through Ripon College, Oxford.

The article is written for local people living in rural towns and villages across a benefice of 5 churches, with worshipping communities ranging from Anglo-Catholic practice to a more middle England traditional style. The community comprises of mostly older people, who also form much of the hidden congregation at home and in care homes. Introducing myself and my familial generations enables a connection, relaying my status and training locality as an ordinand provides rationale for my arrival. Sharing an example of worship and its impact then personalises the story. Explaining a little about who a deacon is informs the reader, as deacons remain an uncommon feature in local Anglican church life.

In ‘being’ a deacon, one is called to be a witness for Christ, who ‘came to serve and not to be served’ (Mark, 10:45). ‘It is from this being, that the ‘doing’ of diaconal ministry flows’. With service in mind, and excerpts from the article, the theme of this essay outlines the theology and history behind diaconal ministry and looks at the deacon at work in eucharistic celebration and liturgical practice.

A brief theology and history of the deacon

The Greek noun diakonia, verb diakoneo is translated into a variety of ministerial connotations, the table below shows how the word is very general and cannot be neatly translated into English. Jesus describes himself as ho diakonon, ‘one who serves’ (Luke 22:27). As disciples of Jesus were growing in number after his death, Acts 6 sees the beginning of what we know today as deacon ministry. Disciples, unable to be all things to everybody, had to look at how serving the Lord could be shared out. Acts 6: 1-6 sees seven people chosen to care for the poor and ensuring widows were not neglected. Stephen, one of these seven ‘deacons’ worked beyond attending the poor as he had a powerful voice and spiritual gifting of the word. Many misunderstood his preaching and speaking truth to power; about the Gospel and its lineage from the Old Testament. He was the first of Jesus’ disciples to give his life in witness to the Gospel, where he was martyred and stoned to death.

Some contextual meanings to the Greek word diakonia Acts 6:4 Diakonia tou logou Ministry of the word
Acts 6: 1 diakonia Daily distribution
Acts 6: 2 Diakonein trapezais Ministering at the table

Romans 16:1 sees women in diaconal ministry. Paul sends Phoebe to the Roman communities as a ‘delegate of the church at Cenchreae’. Collins would agree, that this suggests Phoebe to be a woman of standing and influence, thus illustrating women as part of the diaconate from very early on. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 3: 8-13 goes on to set a code of conduct and expectations which would qualify one to be a deacon. This now suggests diaconal ministry as becoming organised into an authorized workforce.

The early centuries saw deacons very much in the world and at the margins of society witnessing for Christ. Diaconal ministry soon became more structured, their liturgical role and placement as assistant to the priest, became more apparent in medieval times. By then, it had become more of a transitional stage to the priesthood. Being deacon as a transitional stage continued through the Reformation in Sixteenth century Europe. In the nineteenth century it remained transitional for men as their probationary year under the supervision of a priest. For women the development of deaconess orders raised possibilities of a distinctive professional identity.

In the UK at this time deaconesses were very much in the world and at the margins and in the absence of a welfare system, they were the church’s response to poor health and social conditions. Churches including the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Churches of Scotland and Ireland and the Church of England commissioned deaconesses into delivering education, nursing and social relief. The twentieth century saw much debate and polarised views in the Church of England, swinging between abolishing the diaconate and its renewal! Now, in the twenty-first century there is growth and collaboration across the UK, Europe and Scandinavia for the diaconate. Whilst global unity and collaboration is beneficial, such as with the Lutheran-Anglican partnership it must be spiritual and theological not just sociological and organisational.

Deacon in the Church of England

The Church of England recognises three ordained ministries; deacon, priest and bishop, these ministries have been established since second century, the Didache manuscript evidences this. Each ministry being unique but with all being ordained deacon first as the common element. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) used hierarchical language, referring to the Holy Order of the deacon as an inferior office. Today, deacons are found in many a Christian tradition; their work quite varied and by no means inferior. The early 2000s saw the Church of England review and re-establish the diaconate as a full ministry (rather than just a transitional one) to what we now know as, the Distinctive Diaconate. The most recent stage of development in the Church of England’s liturgical movement were the books of Common Worship and shortly afterward, the ordinal for the deacon being updated.

The in-church hospitality aspect of diaconal ministry holds a particular value to me. Understanding hospitality as an expression of love, care and welcome has been foremost in my mind when being ‘at the door’ of my own home and the church building. My knowledge of diaconal ministry in eucharistic celebration is merely theoretical at this time and I have little experience of seeing them in their liturgical role. The Ordinal for the Deacon tells us that they serve liturgically with the priest or Bishop. Furthermore, Brown goes on to state that they do ‘not have the focussed responsibility of a Reader for preaching, teaching and liturgical leadership’. This point is important because one must ensure that they are not duplicating the ministry of the Reader. Readers and deacons are predominantly self-supporting ministries. In college, with the exception of the president at the Eucharist, we are encouraged to organise worship ourselves and undertake various liturgical roles in order to enjoy the full expression of the shared ministry that is the whole body of Christ. This is essential, as the reality is, is that corporate worship is not only expressed in a wonderfully diverse manner across the whole church, but the people organising it are predominantly from the laity.

Today, diaconal ministry is found ‘in the church, in the world and at the margins’. Professional experiences as a Street Pastor and community nursing, has brought me into contact with people in these places, who may never step foot into a church and may find it difficult to cross the threshold into an unfamiliar territory. When this is the case, it is from here that the deacon brings the needs of the world to the church, to intercession.

Corporate worship: a summary of hospitality at The Eucharist

Before anything else, deacons are called to worship with authenticity, Jesus reminds us of this through the First Commandment (Mark 12: 28-30), Ramsay explains that worship by a non-worshipper would be a performance. Jesus provided servant hospitality at the last supper when he washed his disciples’ feet and broke bread with them, deacons are called to emulate this in service and worship to Him. In church it starts with a warm welcome at the door. During mass, it is through the reading of The Gospel, an invitation for people to share The Peace and bringing the needs of the world to prayer of intercession. Hospitality by the attentive setting up of the Eucharistic table, linens and cutlery as they are to be clean and inviting, ready for the celebration.

The Eucharist concludes by sending people away from the sanctuary of the church building, to reciprocate Christ’s hospitality, by way of eucharistic living in the world. In short, the deacon maybe viewed as a hospitable guide to the liturgy.

Conclusion

This essay has outlined diaconal ministry and its founding roots in scripture, this is the rationale behind the article. It explains where I may one day, be privileged to serve at the celebration of the Eucharist. My vocation is to respond to God’s call into diaconal ministry and although I have many experiences of being with people at the margins of society, I am learning through formation how God will shape me into His deacon to ‘be’ in these places. As this essay concludes and as a student for the Distinctive Diaconate, I feel it wholly appropriate to conclude this assignment as one would at the end of the church service, as I now send you the reader out, to ‘Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord’.

Retrieve Charlotte’s whole article, including an explanation for her parish, from this Dropbox link: 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/pw2jlbssl43p7b7/1207%2014%2010.%20001017737.%20Preparing%20to%20Learn.%20Resource%20for%20Others..pdf?dl=0

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