by the Rt. Rev. Wayne Smith
May, 2013

PageLines- bishopsmithpreaching_opt.jpgIn the ordination service for deacons, there comes a point when the candidate stands facing the bishop, who addresses him or her with these words:

My brother, every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. (BCP, 543)

This is an important paragraph for the life and ministry of deacons, and indeed, for the whole Church. Any appearances to the contrary, a deacon’s ministry is not primarily a parish ministry, even when the parish provides the venue for his or her work. The diaconate is first of all a diocesan ministry and, specifically, it comes directly under the bishop’s purview. This understanding of the diaconate aligns with the deep tradition of the Church and with our own Church’s canons. One ancient document describes a deacon as the ear, mouth, heart, and soul of the bishop. Elsewhere in antiquity, the community of deacons is described as if a sort of “special forces,” answerable directly to the bishop and responsive to the needs for ministry wherever needed.

My practice of appointing deacons, to this point, has allowed deacons, once ordained, the possibility of returning to their communities of origin. Most deacons, in fact, serve in their home parishes. With increasing numbers in our community of deacons, and with an eye to what the ordination rite and the tradition suggest, I thought it time to consider expanding the options. So just before Holy Week I met with the community of deacons to discuss the matter with them. They uniformly supported the idea, and many were eager to explore the possibilities.

The geographical realities (no other parish close by) or the presence of specialized ministries will mean that some will continue to serve the parish which identified them for ordained ministry in the first place. And I have no intention of appointing or reappointing a deacon to any venue without consulting the deacon involved and the rector or priest in charge. That being said, I do intend to appoint some deacons outside home parishes. This, it seems to me, is a next step in developing the robust and flexible servant leadership which our Diocese deserves from our deacons.

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