Sydney plans a new diaconate

02 November 2006

SYDNEY DIOCESAN SYNOD has supported diocesan plans to create a permanent diaconate, with a view to increasing significantly the number of deacons. Numbers of men and women now working as stipendiary lay ministers would become eligible for the expanded order.

The resolution, presented by an assistant bishop in Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, recommends that permanent deacons be selected and trained according to different criteria than that for priests. The current nexus between deacon and priest would be dispensed with.

Under the new arrangements, the priesthood would be restricted to incumbents. "For us, priesthood is connected with incumbency rather than with eucharist," Bishop Davies explained.

Bishop Davies said that the new form of diaconate would be a better option for women deacons in the diocese, who cannot be ordained to the priesthood. Currently women deacons were in a permanent diaconate "by default", he said.

The move also recommends that permanent deacons should be able "to resign their orders when no longer licensed as deacons", which would also be an attractive option for women, according to the Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry, the Ven. Narelle Jarrett. The possibility of relinquishing their orders for a time would be helpful for women who wanted to enter full-time ministry, but also wanted to get married and have children, she said.

Bishop Davies said that he expected the new arrangements would start next year, and that the first permanent deacons would be ordained in 2006 or 2007.

One critic, Professor Michael Horsburgh, has drawn attention to the impact an increased diaconate would have on Sydney’s voting power at the Australian General Synod; diocesan representation is based on the number of clergy in the diocese, both deacons and priests.

The Sydney synod also called for a report on the "practicality of replacing the word ‘priest’ with words such as ‘presbyter’ or ‘senior minister’ in all our legislation and formularies". A Sydney rector, the Revd Chris Clerke, said that the term "priest" was confusing. It was a dangerous term because people could look to a person labelled "priest" "to do things he cannot do, to fix things up with God".

Sydney’s also became the first diocesan synod to adopt all the standards and protocols relating to child protection adopted by the meeting of the General Synod, held earlier in October. The standards relate to both ordained and lay church workers, either paid or unpaid.

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read up to twelve articles for free. (You will need to register.)