It belongs to the office of a Deacon to share in the humility and service of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the strengthening of the Church, which is his body. You are to read the Gospel and proclaim Christ at all times through your service, to instruct both young and old in the Catechism, and, at the direction of the Bishop or Priest, to baptize and preach.
pp. 477-478, Book of Common Prayer 2019
The above words are part of the Bishop’s exhortation to the person about to be ordained during the liturgy for “Ordaining Deacons.” While our Anglican Way teaches that all members of the church share in Christ’s ministry to the world and to one another, from the first centuries of the church there have been three “holy orders” of ordained ministers: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. According to our catechism, “Serving Christ under their bishops, deacons care for those in need, assist in public worship, and instruct both young and old in the catechism” (p. 61, To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism).
The ministry of deacons dates to the New Testament, to Acts 6, where the disciples appointed “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” to the ministry of service in the nascent church. Deacons are addressed in the writings of Paul, the Didache and St. Clement, and by other Church Fathers. The word deacon (diakonos) simply means “servant,” and the deacon ministers on the border between the church and the world—bringing the needs of the world to the church, and taking the ministrations of the church to the world. The deacon’s function in the world reflects his or her role in the church’s liturgy, where the deacon’s liturgical role is to read the gospel, bid the Creed and the confession, prepare the altar, and dismiss the faithful into the world to exercise their own ministries of service. The deacon’s stole (reminiscent of a towel for wiping) is worn over the left shoulder to keep ends out of the way, leaving the hands always free for acts of service.
For a good, modern-day example of a Deacon, look no further than our own Deacon Sallie Rathbone.
This Sunday, while I’m away on retreat with the Immanuel men, Deacon Sallie will be leading our service in what is commonly known as a “Deacon’s Mass.” Since deacons have not received the authority to absolve, bless, or consecrate, you will notice several differences in our service: a different prayer after the confession; the absence of “The Prayer of Consecration”; Holy Communion served from bread and wine consecrated the previous Sunday; the absence of a blessing at the end of the service.
What you will also notice is the unfettered presence of God as his people come together to worship through the gift of our ancient-future liturgy. The Greek roots of the word “liturgy,” as you may know, speak of “the work of the people”—together we engage in the work of worship by the Holy Spirit in response to the generous grace of our Father through Jesus.
I look forward to being with you again next week!
Your Pastor in Christ,
P.S. My thanks to my friend and once-upon-a-time boss Fr. Sammy Wood for allowing me to borrow liberally from his article “What is a Deacon?”. For a uniquely beautiful understanding of the role of deacons, I recommend you read the article “Never Enough: The Beautiful Insufficiency of the Diaconate” by Deacon Tara Jernigan.