The Diaconate

Deacons in the Diocese of Maryland

“We are engaged in the exciting holy adventure of leading the People of God out to transform the world,” said one Deacon when asked about the role of Deacons in the Diocese of Maryland. Ordained as a separate, distinct and equal order of ministry directly responsible to the Bishop, Deacons are called to focus the Church on service, especially to
marginalized and disadvantaged people – the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. While Priests are tasked with the care of the people of the flock gathered around the altar, Deacons are the bridge between the Church and the greater community, bringing the needs of the community to the Church and the assets of the Church to the community –
leading the flock out the doors of the Church into a ministry of serving.

The Diaconate in History

The Greek “Diakonia,” from which the word Deacon springs, refers to serving those in need. Reference to Deacons has deep roots in scripture. In Acts 6:1-6, the early Church instituted the Order of Deacons by blessing seven holy men as Deacons, to organize for the Church’s care of Greek-speaking widows and orphans. Paul goes on to describe the ministry of Deacons in letters to the Philippians and to Timothy. The ever-changing story of the Diaconate is woven throughout the long history of the Church. In the earliest years the Church viewed the Diaconate as a permanent and separate Order of ministry. In the Middle Ages, the role shifted, and the Diaconate became primarily a stepping stone
by men to ordination to the Priesthood in the Roman Church. The Diaconate was generally abandoned as a separate Order until the 20th Century. With Vatican II in the 1960s, the Diaconate was revived as a separate permanent Order. The Episcopal Church renewed the Order in 1970 and at the same time permitted women to be ordained as Deacons.
Today the Diaconate is alive and well in the Episcopal Church where there are both “transitional” Deacons, who must be ordained as Deacons before their ordination to the Priesthood, and permanent or “vocational” Deacons who will not become Priests, but rather have a life-long commitment to leading the Church outside its walls. The Canons of the Episcopal Church (Title III, Canon 7) specifically regulate the role of vocational Deacons in the life of the Church.

The Charge and Role of Deacons

Inspiring people to love and serve others is the hallmark to which Deacons are uniquely called. Deacons are also charged to study, to be nourished by and model their lives on the Holy Scriptures, and to proclaim Christ and his redemptive love by both word and example to those among whom they live, work and worship. Deacons interpret to
the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of world, and assist Bishops and Priests in public worship and in the ministration of God’s Word and Sacraments (see the Book of Common Prayer, page 543). Deacons at all times, by the example of their lives and teachings, are to demonstrate to others that in serving the marginalized, disadvantaged and vulnerable, they are indeed serving Christ himself.

Role of Deacons “In the Church” and “In the World”:

“In the Church” Deacons have significant responsibility in liturgy – proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, facilitating the Prayers of the People, bidding the Confession, serving at the Table for the Holy Eucharist, and announcing the Dismissal to send the church out into the world, individually and collectively, to serve. Deacons exercise their primary focus of servanthood “In the World.” In bringing the world and the community to the
church and taking the church out into the world and community, Deacons inspire action — guiding the People of God to come together to tackle the meaningful issues they find outside the walls of the church. Actions may take many forms, including direct service, program development, advocacy, community organizing, coalition building, education and
training, volunteer and leadership development, faith formation and research. What can be done “In the World” is only bounded by the imaginations and dedication of the People of God to whom Deacons reflect the example of Christ’s life and love in service of others.