The Diaconate: Then and Now (Part II)

The Diaconate: Then and Now (Part II)
by The Rev'd Michael Bordelon

This week we are continuing our study of the diaconate.  Previously we looked at the formation of the diaconate and how it came about in caring for the early Christian community.  Now, we will look at how the deacon’s ministry is expressed today.

The ministry of the deacon remains a shared ministry with the other orders of ordained ministry.  The main difference between the deacon then and now is that the Church has become more structured, but for the most part the deacon remains the primary missioner to the poor and helpless in the community.  At the ordination of a deacon the Bishop says, “You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship.  You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.  You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God’s Word and Sacraments…. At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.” (BCP p543)  Deacons have long been attached to larger churches and metropolitan areas because of their ministry to the poor and helpless.  There has been a missional movement in recent years attempting to place a deacon in all congregations recognizing that the poor and helpless exist in all our communities. 

The deacon’s primary role has been and continues to be in service to the community.  Even within the context of the Eucharist we see this ministry expressed by the deacon leading the confession of sin and dismissing the congregation to “Go forth into the world.”  The deacon is also the principal reader of the Gospel.  The person chiefly responsible with making Christs redemptive love known to those with whom they live, work, and worship; a direct fulfilment of the deacon’s ordination vows. The prayer book also says the deacon may lead the Prayers of the People, again highlighting service to the community.

The deacon’s ministry is also noticeable through the ministration of sacraments.  The prayer book says the deacon is to “serve at the Lord’s Table, preparing and placing on it the offerings of bread and wine, and assisting in the ministration of the Sacrament to the people.” (BCP p354)  Serving the table and administering the sacraments has been a continual ministry of the deacon since the beginning.  This is why the deacon, or the priest who is serving as the deacon, sets the table on Sunday morning; it is a primary function of the diaconal ministry.

I think the Church needs deacons now more than ever.  The Church needs the deacon out and about, always pushing the bounds of outreach, revealing new opportunities for ministry and mission.  The Church needs the deacon in the world reminding people that in ministering to the poor and helpless, you are ministering to Christ.