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Jul 08, 2016

The Diaconate is a Servant Ministry

By the Rev. Aston G. Brown

On Sunday, June 12, 2016, the Senior Class of the Iona School for Ministry, including yours truly, graduated after completing three years of academic, practical and liturgical studies. The class, (except one member from the Diocese of West Texas) joined graduates from several seminaries to be ordained as deacons by the iX Bishop of Texas, the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle on Saturday, June 25, 2016. Of the nine ordinants, eight were ordained as transitional deacons, which means that they will be ordained as priests within a short period. I was ordained as a vocational or permanent deacon, which means that I plan to remain a deacon throughout my ministry.

In the Anglican community, of which the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States America is a member, a deacon is the third member of the clergy after the bishop (the overseer) and the priest (the manager). Other Christian denominations utilize the office of deacon, but their methods of appointment, roles and functions may differ. 

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word “diaconia,” which means servant. It was first mentioned in the Bible in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. After the Pentecost, the Church began to grow exponentially, which made it hard for the disciples to meet the spiritual and material needs of new converts. Seven members of the group were chosen (by lot) to take over the “daily distribution” (Acts 6:1-7). Those selected included Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas. Of the group, only two were mentioned again--Philip, the Evangelist who converted/ baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch and Stephen who became the first Christian martyr.

Paul, writing to his protégée Timothy, outlined the qualities that a deacon should possess: reverence, blamelessness, faithfulness, respectability, soberness, hospitality, a good manager, of good standing and of great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus (Timothy 3:8-13).

Deacons work under the general supervision of the Bishop and are assigned to parishes/missions, where they are directly supervised by the local priest. They are charged to:

  • To take the message of salvation to the world--the under-served, the disadvantaged and the marginalized--and to interpret their concerns to the church
  • To assist the priest in administering the Sacraments of the Church
  • To proclaim the Gospel, assist in developing the Prayers of the People, assist at the Eucharistic Table by preparing the table and helping to distribute the elements of communion
  • The deacon also pronounces the benediction at the end of the service and may be asked to preach on occasions.

These duties may vary according to the needs of the congregation and community and any special gifts that the Deacon may have. Deacons may baptize, perform marriages and funerals, but may not do absolution, pronounce blessings or perform consecrations.

Deacons wear their stoles like a sash, draped over the left shoulder, across the chest and pinned over the right hip, distinguishing them from bishops and priests who wear their stoles over their shoulders, hanging in parallel bands in front of them.

The office of the deacon is non-stipendiary, which is the fancy way of saying we do not receive a salary. However, I feel that I have already been paid in full and I am trying to give back some of what I have received. To borrow from Andre Crouch’s My Tribute: “All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee; To God, be the glory for the things He has done.”

Congratulations are in order for my fellow newly ordained - Jane, Alan, Justin, Mark, Stephanie, Scott, Nandra, Paul (and Bonnie--West Texas). Jesus has called us into ministry as servants. “And whosoever of you will be chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 44-45).

One of his final acts, before his crucifixion, was washing his disciples’ feet, one of the ultimate acts of servant hood. He bids us “shine with a clear pure light, like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness, so we must shine; you in your small corner and I in mine.” 

I pray that God will prosper our respective ministries as we seek to do His will … Amen.