‘The deacon is one of three orders in the church of England. It is important to see the orders as interconnected and complementary, not in opposition to each other. What are orders? For me, orders, or ordination is a gift from God – a gift not to me personally but to the church. Ordination – our orders - say something about how we as a church see God.
My story is rooted in a theology of ordination that says we are all Christian disciples through baptism and as Christians we have a duty and a joy to share in the ministry of Christ. Orders are there to help the Church understand itself. Orders reflect and focus the ministry of Christ in particular ways – diaconal, priestly and episcopal – serving, reconciling, overseeing and uniting.
2010 ordination at Ely Cathedral
Orders also reflect and focus the ministry of all the baptised – orders do not permit vicarious ministry but rather act as a focal point for all ministry.
The deacon is both model and enabler of the diakonia of the whole church.
The priest is model and enabler of the priesthood of all believers.
And the bishop either in person or as part of the college of bishops is the model and enabler of oversight and unity within our particular part of the church.
Understood in this way, orders and ordination do not lead to clericalism but to a flourishing of the ministry of the whole church, ordained and lay.
This may seem aspirational rather than reality - but we set our sights high!
Within the Anglican tradition, we have sequential ordination. You can’t be a priest without first having been a deacon. I find this both helpful – reflective priests and bishops value their diaconate as an undergirding their priestly ministry- and at the same time, it can be very unhelpful. It contributes to an hierarchical understanding of orders. Priests are sometimes considered more senior than deacons regardless of the length of time in orders; you can only be priested if you’ve completed the probationary year of deacon. It can also contribute to an invisibility of the diaconate. Although priests and bishops are deacons, they are not perceived as such by others.
The case for the diaconate as a ‘full and equal order’ has been eloquently made by James Barnett from the Episcopal Church in America in his book of that title. And my vision within my own church has been for three orders, each open to men and women.
In 2007 the Faith and Order Group of the Church of England produced an excellent report called the Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church. It calls for the distinctive diaconate to be actively encouraged both within the traditional parish boundaries and also as pioneer ministers reaching out to the unchurched.
Church reports are sometimes produced and shelved and I’m not certain how much influence it has had - but I do see a growing acceptance within the structures of the church that the diaconate is an order to which people are called, and that it is important for God’s mission in our world. This is shown through development of the guidelines at Ministry Division for Bishops Advisory Panels and the growing awareness of DDOs and bishops that the diaconate is more than a probationary year. There is even reference on the Ministry Division website to the Distinctive Diaconate.
Some of this is undoubtedly influenced by ecumenical relationships; in the UK through the Methodist Covenant; in Europe through the Porvoo treaty with the Nordic Lutheran churches which each have a diaconate, and in North America through the Anglican Communion – both the Episcopal church and the Church of Canada have an active diaconate.
So I’m hopeful about the future for the distinctive diaconate.’
(Taken from Rev Kathryn Fitzsimon’s talk at the conference for York deacons in Feb 2014)