DEACONS came from around the UK to the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, at the end of October, for the first national conference for distinctive deacons for many years: “Deacons on the Move”.
The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, led the opening worship and blessed the conference. Several diocesan directors of ordinands also attended on behalf of their bishops, with diaconal ordinands and enquirers.
The keynote speaker, the Revd Dr Paul Avis, addressed the conference theme: the place of the deacon in the mission of the Church. The diaconate was a “flagship ministry”, he said, and underpinned all ordained ministry because it was the fundamental commissioning for ministry. Deacons were “heralds of the gospel”.
Canon David Hewlett, Principal of the Queen’s Foundation, which offers ecumenical ordination training for Anglicans, Methodists, and others, announced plans to offer flexible study courses tailored to diaconal formation, complementing and augmenting what is currently available for continuing ministerial development.
Dr Hewlett asked how theological education institutions can adequately prepare distinctive deacons when they are infrequent, when a TEI (Theological Education Institution) is unlikely to have a staff member who is a role-model, and when there is little guidance in terms of agreed learning outcomes for deacons.
He then joined a panel with Dr Avis, the Revd Liz Boughton, from the Ministry Division, and the deacons of the conference steering-group, to answer questions about topics such as the lack of stipends in the diaconate, and the historical bishop-deacon relationship.
Buzz-groups discussed diaconal presence in chaplaincy, the deacon speaking truth to power, the deacon connecting church and community, and sacramental storytelling. The director of ordinands for York diocese, the Revd David Mann, led a discussion about the way forward for the diaconate, and the Warden of the College of St Philip the Deacon, in Exeter diocese, and convener of the conference, the Revd Gill Kimber, spoke of her vision for a renewed diaconate that would take its proper place as the third order of ordained ministry.