New report: deacons should be seen as more distinctive
Posted: 30 Aug 2007 @ 00:00
DEACONS, even those impatient to be priests, may be required by their bishop to spend longer than one year in the diaconate, “in order to live more fully into that calling”, if the General Synod welcomes a new report from the Church of England’s Faith and Order Advisory Group.
It could also lead to some Readers’ being encouraged to test their vocations as deacons. “A pro-active discernment of the vocation of some Readers, by bishops and diocesan staff, could lead to a significant harvest of ordinands, especially for the distinctive diaconate,” the group finds.
Some Readers are experiencing a crisis of morale, says the report, The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church. They feel squeezed between the clergy and “the upsurge of expressions of lay ministry”. Although some Readers would see the ministry of distinctive deacons as too close to their own for comfort, the group would prefer to see suitable Readers prepared for the diaconate rather than enlarge the duties attached to the office of Reader.
“For some, diaconal ministry would be an ongoing commitment: their ministry would find its fulfilment in the distinctive diaconate. For others, the diaconate would lead, perhaps after a period of several years, to ordination to the presbyterate,” it says.
It is the second report since the Millennium to recommend that the diaconate be taken “much more seriously”. It says: “We need to locate the diaconate more centrally in the overall mission of the Church and thus to correct the prevailing assumption that the diaconate is merely a transitional year before priesting, an apprenticeship for the priesthood, and that it is the latter that really matters.”
The report, which reconstructs a theology of the diaconate on a reading of the New Testament, says that “some modern English translations of the New Testament have concealed, rather than revealed, the force of what Paul and Luke are saying about diakonia as a responsible stewardship, involving proclamation, of the mystery of God’s revelation in Christ, the heart of the apostolic commission.”
Diakonia, it says, is “a commissioned activity, role or task, in which the diakonos is the responsible agent of the one who sends or who gives the mandate. This insight informed the development of the diaconate in the early Church, where the deacon often carried out duties on behalf of the bishop, but it has been eclipsed in recent decades by a rhetorical appeal to ‘humble service’ on the part of deacons.
“It has not always been clear that, while deacons, like all Christians and all ministers, are indeed servants, they are servants first of the Lord who sends, then of the Church through whom he sends, but not servants in the sense of being at the disposal of all and sundry, simply a function of the needs of those around them.”
The report recommends that the distinctive diaconate should be encouraged, and that selection at diocesan and national levels, as well as training, should focus more than it generally does on the calling of a deacon and ordination to that order rather than taking for granted the diaconal period and focusing almost entirely on the priesthood.
The theological framework is already in place, but “it has gone largely unrecognised,” says the report.
The group also reflected on the ministry of churchwardens. “Perhaps, if churchwardens received greater appreciation and support, their office would become as sought-after as that of Reader,” the report suggests.
The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church: Biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives GS Misc 854 (General Synod, £12; available from Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN).
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