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Distinctive and transitional diaconate

The diaconate is one of the three historic orders of ministry in the Church: deacons, priests and bishops. Deacons are men and women in holy orders, ministering under licence to their bishop in a designated parish or other setting, or with Permission to Officiate in the Diocese.

1. The character and role of the diaconate

The defining charism of the order of deacon is that of service, reflecting the servanthood of Christ “who came, not to be served, but to serve”. Deacons assist the priest of the parish in which they serve, undertaking liturgical, teaching and pastoral work, in the spirit and pattern of Christ’s servanthood and with all the particular responsibility and authority associated with ordained ministry.

The diaconate has often been regarded as a transitional order, pertaining typically to the first year of ordained ministry, and as an apprenticeship for the priesthood. A renewed appreciation of the order’s ancient character and function, and the encouragement of vocations, means that there is a growth in the number of permanent or distinctive deacons in the diocese. Their calling is distinct from that of transitional deacons.

2. The Eucharist

The deacon’s ministry in the Eucharist is closely related to his or her teaching and pastoral ministry. The deacon’s functions may include: calling the community to confession of their sins; proclaiming the gospel; preaching; leading prayers of intercession; leading the community in sharing the sign of peace; receiving the gifts and preparing the altar or holy table for Communion; assisting the president at the consecration of the elements and with their distribution; and sending the community out in the service of the Lord. In general, where it is permissible for the president to delegate specifically diaconal functions to another minister (including Communion by Extension), these should be entrusted to the deacon where one is available.

3. Other services

Deacons may baptise, solemnise marriages and conduct funerals, at the discretion of the parish priest and in accordance with canonical provision. They may also be expected to lead services of the word, including Morning and Evening Prayer. When a priest is not available to preside at a Eucharist, a deacon may, with the permission of the Bishop, conduct a service with Communion by Extension using pre-consecrated elements.

4. Pastoral and prayer ministry

Deacons have a special ministry of outreach and pastoral care, flowing from their historic role of caring for the poor, needy and sick, and seeking out the careless and indifferent. Arranging care for those in material or spiritual need is therefore at the heart of their ministry. They are called to build bridges between the church and the local community, and to be an expression of God’s unconditional love overflowing from the church family.

They are to have a special awareness of the prayer needs of the community. This may be expressed through the co-ordination of public intercession, and the commending of individuals, groups and situations for other public and private prayer.

5. Relationship to other ministries

  1. Lay ministries:
    Preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and the care of those in need are diaconal ministries which may be shared with lay ministers and others who have been licensed or otherwise authorised to undertake them. Deacons are called to fulfil these shared roles with the distinctive gifts and responsibilities of those called to holy orders. They are also to have a particular regard for the development and exercise of lay ministries, and of the pastoral care of lay ministers.
  2. Ordained ministries:
    The relationships between bishop, priest and deacon are fundamental to the unity of the Church, and to the effective care of God’s people. Traditionally, there has been a particular relationship between bishop and deacon; and deacons should be ready to assist the bishop at his request.

In assisting the priest under whom he or she serves, the deacon is to complement the leadership ministry of the priest in the ways described. A priest is also a deacon, and it will be appropriate for a deacon to give special attention to the specifically diaconal ministries to which the priest, by virtue of his or her priestly responsibilities, has a need to share. Especially in situations where there is a distinctive deacon, this calls for a mutual respect for the distinctiveness of the other’s ministry, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities.

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