The Diaconate

Church of Scotland deacons preparing to head off to Chicago for the Diakonia 2017 World Assembly.

A deacon is someone who has pledged themselves to the service of Jesus Christ and His Church, and has been selected, trained, and ordained according to the doctrine and discipline of 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.

What is the role of a Deacon?

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.

Deacons tend to serve in areas of great need and scarce resources. They discern the gifts and the needs of the community; work with individuals and groups at grassroots level; nurture relationships; offer pastoral support, training, and education; build bridges between church and world; and contextualise the gospel in our daily lives.

In your ministry as a deacon ... 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.

Church of Scotland's Ordinal and Service Book

The Diaconate is a collaborative ministry: deacons expect to work as members of a team. Many deacons are graduates and have professional qualifications, and experience a calling to this ministry of Response to the Word.

Areas of service

Involvement in specific areas of need has led some deacons feel called by God to leave parish work or even church employment. As a next step within their lifelong ministry some have moved to other spheres such as chaplaincy work in hospitals, workplaces, prisons, the RAF, the deaf community, lodging house missions, and church houses. Some deacons move into professional counselling; working with asylum seekers; working in the Iona Community; in spiritual retreats (Key House, Falkland); and holiday and activity centres.

In all areas of service deacons are still part of the Diaconate of the Church of Scotland, whatever name they are known by at work. Even in retirement deacons are still deacons.

Diaconal identity

Deacons network with each other to provide support and fellowship. They have a system of local group meetings and meet in Diaconate Council twice a year. Deacons network with diaconal associations in other mainline churches in the UK. Church of Scotland deacons are members of World DIAKONIA and the DIAKONIA region of Africa/Europe.

Deacons are now expected to attend, accept offices within the Church as required, and serve on 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. Deacons are all free to preach and conduct worship, take funerals, and are licensed to conduct weddings.

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.

The Way Forward for the Diaconate

The Diaconate in the Church of Scotland has a Diaconal Council, a President, Vice-President, and Secretary. Deacons 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 is 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 remind themselves and others of their commitment to one another and to God's service.

Talking Ministry

In our Talking Ministry series, Deacon Claire Herbert DCS speaks about her role as the chaplain at the Lodging House Mission in Glasgow.