Ministry in the Episcopal Church
“I think the deacon is positioned to summon the church to actually follow Jesus in that way of radical servanthood”
~ Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
Who are Deacons?
Today’s vocational* deacons are from diverse backgrounds. Many have day jobs as lawyers, nurses, marketing executives, teachers, administrators, and counselors.
We follow a long line of those who have been called to serve, all the way back to the book of Acts (Acts 6: 1-4), when the first nine deacons were called to pastoral ministries in the early church. Deacons became table waiters at the Eucharist, assistants in the church, and envoys for the bishop. Throughout the history of the church, deacons have lived out their ordination vow to “interpret to the church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world”.
Diaconal Ministry takes many forms: We serve in jails, hospitals, care facilities, connecting those who are homeless to resources; we are on both sides of the border caring for immigrants, and those who are undocumented. We serve in transitional and recovery homes while advocating for justice at city council meetings, state houses and in congress. Every diaconal ministry touches not only the lives of the people we serve, but also the congregations that serve along with us.
*In addition to those ordained vocational, permanent deacons, there are also “transitional deacons” who are ordained deacon as a preliminary step toward ordination as a priest. This practice is required by the canons of the Episcopal Church,
Why are we Deacons?
We serve as deacons because we are called specifically to that “in between place” that links the church and the world. We do it because we are passionate about showing the world the healing power of Christ and our understanding of justice that Jesus calls all of us to. Deacons have an unquenchable hunger for justice.
We know that it is easy to disconnect the beauty of our worship from following the way of Jesus. A deacon is someone who not only serves our neighbors, but also invites the church to leave the pews and serve alongside us. Today’s deacon serves much as the original nine did in the early church.
While engaging the community, deacons hear the stories and aspirations of the poor, the unseen, the sick, and the lonely. We find ourselves on the streets, and in the kitchens that feed people, and in the board rooms that offer funding for ministry, and at the altars of our congregations. We invite the community of believers to join us in ministry.
How do we Participate in Worship?
Within the Eucharist, the role of the deacon is meant to be symbolic of our call to ministry:
We proclaim the gospel, write the prayers of the people, set the table for the Eucharist, and dismiss the congregation into the world. Our preaching invites the congregation into the world to serve the needs, hopes and concerns of God’s people. Finally, we ask challenging questions: Who is not at the table? How does God ask us to care for others? Where is God calling us?
“The deacon is at the intersection of world and church if you will. Which is why the deacon reads the Gospel. I mean it’s not because it’s an honorific position. The deacon is reading the Gospel because it is the teachings and the life and the spirit of Jesus, who was God incarnate, who bridged Heaven and Earth. You see what I mean? Who is our bridge to church, our faith in the world. And so, the deacon is that person, at the intersection. That’s a unique charism and calling for the deacon. It’s not the same for priests. It’s different for a priest. It’s not the same for a bishop. Though, the irony is bishops and deacons have the most in common.”
~ Interview with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for the Episcopal Cafe