What is a Deacon?
A Deacon is a man or woman who, under a call from God, has pledged himself or herself to the service of Jesus Christ and His Church, and has been selected, trained and ordained according to the doctrine and discipline the Church of Scotland.
The office of Deacon is recognised by the Church to be a distinctive, life-long Office within the ministry of the Church, and to be agreeable to the Word of God. (Act of General Assembly, 1998)
What Deacons do...
Deacons have been ministering within the Church of Scotland for more than 120 years. At present there are 58 deacons in active service, the majority of whom work in parishes. The face of our Church in the public eye is normally that of minister and elder. Although usually part of a parish ministry team, we are neither of these, though some may have been ordained as elders prior to entering full-time ministry. Many Scots know nothing of our often hidden ministry that seeks to enable others, and to build bridges between church and community. We tend to serve in areas of great need and scarce resources. We “grow here we’re planted”, discerning the gifts and the needs of the community; working with individuals and groups at grassroots level, nurturing relationships, offering pastoral support, training and education; aiming at all times to equip people with the skills that gifts may be shared to the benefit of each, to build bridges between church and world, to minister to one another; contextualising the gospel in our day to day living.
Ours is a collaborative ministry: we expect to work as members of a team. However, we are not an inferior, second class ministry, folks who didn’t quite make the grade as ministers of word and sacrament. Many of us are graduates and have professional qualifications; all of us feel called to this particular ministry of Response to the Word.
Best practice demands regular team meetings, prayerful support, a common aim, and a recognition of each other’s interest, strengths and abilities. Each ministry should seek to complement the other within its individual setting. Involvement in specific areas of need has led some of us into feeling called by God to leave parish work or even church employment. As a next step within our lifelong ministry some have moved to other spheres where distinctively diaconal service is required, and where our training, experience or giftedness has equipped us to serve:
- Chaplaincies: HospitalWorkplace, Prison, RAF, Deaf Community, Lodging House Mission, Church House
- Professional counselling and lecturing Crossreach and work with Asylum seekers
- Iona Community, spiritual retreats (Key House, Falkland), holiday and activity centres (eg. in the past Stroove in Skelmorlie)
- Creative arts: encouraging Priority area charges to enhance their worship by thinking “out of the box” using colour, symbols and imagination.
In all areas of service we are still part of the Diaconate of the Church of Scotland, whatever name we are known by at work. Even in retirement we are still Deacons. We have a corporate identity with other deacons, and this aspect is rarely known by others in the church.
- We network with each other to provide support and fellowship.
- We have our own newsletter.
- We have a system of local group meetings and meet in Diaconate Council twice a year.
- We relate to and network with diaconal associations in other mainline churches in the UK, welcoming their delegates to our Council meetings and sending our representatives to theirs.
- We are members of World DIAKONIA where until recent times a number of our Deacons have served on the Executive Committee as well as the DIAKONIA Region of Africa/Europe.
- We send delegates to a variety of Ecumenical Conferences, and regularly contribute financially to the needs of the work of deacons in the poorest areas of the world.
Some years ago our change of status with ordination and admission to the Courts of the church along with Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Elders confirmed our value to the Church. With privilege comes responsibility:
Deacons are now expected to contribute officially in the courts from our experience and wisdom. We are expected to attend, accept office within them as required, and serve on their committees. Several deacons have been appointed as Moderator to their respective presbyteries, hold seats of office on Ministries’ Council committees and task groups, and are acting as locums to longstanding vacant charges. We are all free to preach and conductworship as we desire or as is necessary, take funerals and are licensed to conduct weddings. More recently two experienced deacons have been appointed to peripatetic ministries.
The concepts of “Emerging Church” and “Church without Walls” are not new to deacons. The inception of “Parish Nurse” is a revival of an old idea: Deaconess Hospital in Edinburgh. For years by standing alongside the marginalised, responding to need, encouraging growth and allowing the gospel to seep out from the local roots of community, deacons have been exercising that very ministry without giving name to it. Freed from many of the constraints that beset ministers of word and sacrament (especially administration) it is a joy and a privilege to journey with people of faith and none in the communities in which we serve.
"We, your brothers and sisters of the Presbytery of … rejoice with you that through the mercy and love of God your ministry has been recognised and embraced as central to the very being of the Church. You are called by the Church to lead and enable the service that is an integral part of its ministry in the world. Work and pray therefore not only for the increase of your own gifts but for the release also of the gifts of compassion and love amongst all Christ’s disciples.In your ministry as a deacon, as well as exercising pastoral care both within and beyond the church, be ready to be a pioneer, revealing needs not fully acknowledged, bringing to light injustices easy to overlook, pointing to tasks most avoid. May your work encourage and enable the church to discover new patterns of service, and challenge it to raise a prophetic voice against those things that destroy community and deaden the spirit. Build bridges between church and world, that gifts may be shared to the benefit of each, and that people in all situations may know that the Gospel speaks to them. Seek not only to serve but to celebrate,enabling the voice of thanksgiving to rise wherever people gather. And may God, who is the ground of hope, fill you with all joy and peace as you lead the life of faith until, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you overflow with hope."
(Romans 15:13) Church of Scotland’s Ordinal and Service Book
The Way Forward
Within the church structures we retain the privilege of being funded to meet in Diaconal Council. We have our own President, Vice-President and Secretary. We meet in local associations and endeavour to attend retreat days. We enjoy strong ecumenical links with diaconal associations in the Church of England, the Methodist church, the Roman Catholic church and with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and are strongly committed to DIAKONIA worldwide. However as more and more Presbytery and Parish Workers are employed by Ministries Council, it’s difficult to differentiate between PPWs and Deacons. To that end, deacons have written and agreed a Rule of Life, similar to that held by other diaconal groups and associations to remindourselves and others of our commitment to one another and to God’s service.
Training for the Diaconate
Training for the Diaconate is currently being reviewed. From the days of residential training with stress on our formation as deacons, it has moved towards university education as for ordained full-time ministry of word and sacrament. While bringing us more into line with other professions, this provides less opportunity to form a corporate diaconal identity. As deacons it is therefore our responsibility and pleasure to welcome and befriend candidates in training, to offer encouragement and fellowship, prayerful support and direction; to rejoice in our common calling and together to eagerly accept opportunities to explore, celebrate and share in God’s purpose and plan.