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Out of the question

by
03 April 2007

Why does the C of E not restore a permanent diaconate?

The C of E does have distinctive (vocational) deacons, though not all dioceses encourage this voca-tion as a distinctive ministry, and few actively promote it. Reports to the General Synod on the importance of this foundational ministry have been confused by the wider debate about lay and ordained ministry.

At least 20 dioceses have licensed deacons, men and women (I am one), stipendiary and non-stipendiary, ministering in various contexts. London has a Company of Deacons, and Chichester has a College of Deacons.

The Diaconal Association of the Church of England, whose patron is the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, has a new website containing information about the diaconate at home and worldwide. This is still under construction at www.dace.org.
(The
Revd) Anne Marr
Newcastle

In the report For Such a Time as This (GS1407), a strong case was made for the permanent diaconate in the C of E, but it has failed to achieve its widespread restoration, owing to several factors that undermine the deployment of permanent deacons.

Their profile is reduced both by the demand for a priestly ordained ministry, and also by the perception of overlap with the ministries of Reader and lay pastoral assistant.

Furthermore, “permanence” often poses problems: pilot schemes indicate constant progression towards the priesthood. Many deacons in the scheme discover a further sense of vocation, or it is discerned for them by the Church.

Another factor — encouraged, indeed, by the language of the 1662 Ordinal — is the idea that deacons serve in an “inferior ministry” from which to look foward to “higher ministries”, priesthood being the ultimate goal. This viewpoint lingers on in many places and militates against full commitment to a permanent diaconate.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

First, priests and bishops are still deacons by virtue of their ordination to that office. It might be better if we remembered this more often. Second, in the sense implied by the question, there are in fact a few “permanent deacons” who exercise a recognised ministry. But a longer answer is that we have no idea what a deacon as “just” a deacon is for.

In the Early Church, the deacon is described as one who had mainly administrative duties, dealing with finance. I think this underestimates the deacon’s role. In those happier times, congregations did not raise money for the Quota or to maintain buildings. Collections were mainly for poor relief, and the deacon was responsible for its distribution — a task needing much local knowledge.

Local knowledge is, I believe, the key, and underlies many of the functions the deacon acquired at the eucharist. He called the congregation to order at the beginning, supervised the prayers of the faithful and the collection of the offerings, directed the unbaptised and catechumens to leave after the antecommunion, and dismissed the congregation at the finish. His other liturgical tasks — reading the Gospel and helping to distribute communion — testify to the respect given to this ministry.

The various ordination services used through the centuries by the C of E still imply that this ministry is based on local knowledge, requiring a trusted local person — to seek out the sick and the lapsed, for example. The priest is “sent by the bishop” to represent the whole Church.

It may seem today that, with so many lay ministries, there is no need for a permanent diaconate. I think I disagree. Indeed, I suggest that an OLM’s true ministry is diaconal, based on local knowledge, while ordination as a priest may still follow, if that is thought right.

At present, the only task that separates a newly ordained deacon from, say, a Reader or pastoral assistant is that he or she has a duty to join in the daily Divine Office. Perhaps this could be one form a permanent diaconate could take.
(The Revd) Harold Webb
West Wittering, West Sussex


Your questions

At present, the only task that separates a newly ordained deacon from, say, a Reader or pastoral assistant is that he or she has a duty to join in the daily Divine Office. Perhaps this could be one form a permanent diaconate could take.
(The Revd) Harold Webb
West Wittering, West Sussex


Your questions

I have never seen a painting of the Last Supper that shows anyone apart from Jesus and the Twelve. Yet the Passover Meal was and is a family meal. And are not most paintings of the crucifixion also inaccurate, since Jesus and the two criminals are usually shown wearing loincloths? Can someone clarify this for me? P. M.

questions@churchtimes.co.uk

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