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Deacons at Your Service by Alison White & Di Williams

May 25, 2015

DAYSThe 1958 Lambeth Conference recommended that ‘Each Province of the Anglican Communion shall consider whether the office of deacon shall be restored to its primitive place as a distinctive order in the Church, instead of being regarded as a probationary period for the priesthood.’

A lot of discussion has happened since the but we haven’t resolved the issue yet. One working party, chaired by the former Bishop of Bristol, Barry Rogerson, concluded that the three-fold ministry was virtually a mistake and there are just ‘ministers’.

In the second century, Ignatius of Antioch pointed to two strands of ministry for the deacon, as servant of the mysteries of Jesus Christ and as minister for the poor.

In the third century, Hippolytus records that, although the functions of the deacon remain the same, the three-fold order of ministry had developed a more hierarchical character. The distinctiveness of the offices became centred not so much on their function as on the honour and power attributed to them in different degrees. The diaconate was to become the first step, where few wished to remain, on the ‘clerical ladder’.

If the deacon is to specialise in service, does that not take away the work of the laity? The Tiller Report said that “Shared ministry” has been interpreted, not as a way of rallying to the aid of the clergy, but as a response to the calling of all who are baptized into Christ to act as his Body in the world.’

The authors say that the renewal of the diaconate is not an attempt to muscle in on the proper ministry of the laity and take it over. The deacon’s role is not so much to do the serving as to work alongside God’s people and encourage and facilitate their implementing ‘the mandate from Jesus Christ’ to be servants.

However, I am not convinced, since the examples they give at the end of the book seem to do just that. You don’t have to be ordained to be a social worker or teacher.

Indeed, it goes on to say that It would be natural to expect that most existing licensed ministers, other than priests, would want to be admitted to such a revived diaconate (e.g., deaconesses, lay workers, Church Army officers, social workers.)’ .

Why? Why not let deacons become Readers?!

It strikes me that we only had deacons because Anglicans see a pattern of three-fold ministry in the New Testament and so say that we need it now at all costs, even if we don’t know what deacons are.

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