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A Deacon's Ministry

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A Deacon's Ministry

A deacon’s ministry is often difficult to confine, to put boundaries around or identify a set of guiding criteria that could constitute a deacon job description. ‘What does a deacon do?’ and ‘How is a deacon’s ministry different to the ministry of a priest?’ are questions I frequently field.

A commonly used metaphor for diaconal ministry is the image of a bridge joining the world and the church and it is the deacon who traverses the bridge – ministering to those in the wider community and bringing the needs and concerns of the world back into the conscious collective of the gathered faithful.

To my mind there is a problem in this metaphor in that a bridge implies that there exists a chasm or something non-traversable (bridges a gap) between the world and the church. The notion that the bridge is somehow the pathway for the deacon between these two realms further consolidates the notion that ministry to the wider world is the purview of the deacon.

Certainly, a deacon’s ministry is, and should be, directed toward the many challenging and varied needs that exist in our fractured communities across the globe, but that ministry should grow out of and be informed by faithful and intentional worship with the body of Christ.

A deacon’s presence in the celebration of the sacraments is a visible and powerful reflection to the baptised body of Christ of the call to be Christ’s disciples in the world. Who we are as deacons and the ministry we are called to exercise among the least of God’s children are a clarion call to all the baptised to recognise and develop their own sense of call and be encouraged and enabled to express their ministries in the world.

The Right Revd Tom Ray of the North American Association of Deacons describes deacons as those who illuminate the servant ministry that is embedded in each of us that is often unrecognised or unappreciated. The deacon acts as a prism where vague notions or ideas coalesce into a clarity of awareness and understanding that diaconal ministry is an expression of Christ’s ministry that all the baptised are called to.

So, instead of a bridge as a metaphor, I prefer to imagine that the path – not bridge - between the world and the church is straight and smooth and well-worn with the footprints of people coming and going. There is a reason why the font is always placed at the rear of the church between the sanctuary and the doorway.

We are called into the church through our baptism and by virtue of our baptism are sent out into the world to minister to God’s anawim. From the nurture and nourishment of our worship, we take our faith and compassion to the fringes where Jesus dwells with the least and the unloveliest, and through that ministry draw the outcast into the encircling warmth of the body of Christ.

And among that great throng of people on this sacred highway, the deacon goes – creating connections, engaging with the lonely and the fearful, seeking the lost and overlooked, recognising need and resonating with the mourning, seeing Christ in the midst of the human condition and heralding his presence to his faithful ones.

Published in Messenger, October 2019

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