Vocational Deacons

Household of Deacons – Anglican Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand

Deacons in the Diocese of Christchurch.


What does the word ‘deacon’ mean?

The word deacon derives from the Greek diakonos meaning servant or minister.  Diakonia in the New Testament is a central idea which is used to refer to the general duty to love and care for our neighbours, the ministry of care and support within the Church and also the apostolic work of leadership and nurture within the Church.  In fact diakonia is to be a characteristic of all Christians.


How long has the Church had deacons?

Since New Testament days.  At first deacons remained deacons since this was a distinct office alongside bishops and priests.  Later, through much of church history, deacons were seen more as ‘apprentice priests’ and the main work of deacons was done by other people. Since the 1960s, the Church has taken steps to return to having deacons do the distinct work of deacons and treated as a distinct equal order.  These deacons recognise their ministry as a lifelong vocation as do people called to the priesthood.  They are often known as permanent or vocational or distinctive deacons.


Is it true that licensed lay people can do anything that a deacon can do?

Yes and No.  Most people, including priests and bishops, spend most of their time doing things that others can or might do.  This means, amongst other things, that the primary significance of the orders of priest,  bishop and deacon is said to be found in what they represent and not in the functions their members perform.  A deacon is sacramentally dedicated to a Christian ministry of service with the entire authority of the church; a deacon is ordained to be a sign and model of servant-hood. Since diakonia is to be characteristic of all Christians, the significance of the order of deacons lies in its capacity to  provide a focus for what is proper to the Church as a whole.  Furthermore, diakonia as it emerges in the teaching of Jesus is not just another term for service or ministry.  Wherever true diakonia is to be found, there God’s Kingdom is making its presence felt.  Deacons are to live and work as servants of the Church, servants of God’s Kingdom, servants of the poor.  


From Lambeth 1988:

“A deacon is to focus or be a sign of the ministry of servant-hood in the Church and in the world.  The diaconate is to remind the whole Church that the essence of ministry is service.  The ministry of servant-hood is particularly directed to those in need.  So service to the poor and troubled, the outcasts and voiceless ones, the sick and the destitute within the Church and in the world is especially signified in the deacon’s ministry.”


What do deacons do?

When deacons in New Zealand are ordained they are given a  special responsibility to ensure that people in need are ‘cared for with Christ-like compassion and humility’.    In practice this means that most deacons have a concern for a particular group of people who are disadvantaged or isolated in our society.  Thus deacons can be found working with the poor, the elderly, the socially isolated, the homeless, the refugee, the lonely and others.  More often than not, deacons provide their own financial support (employment tends to be in caring professions of all kinds) and offer parish ministry in whatever time is available.


Deacons are licensed to parishes with responsibilities which can include making sure Communion is taken to the Sick, Christian education (particularly of the young), and, most importantly, encouraging outreach activities or local mission programmes.  Sometimes deacons are involved with diocesan organisations such as social justice committees or Anglican Care. Deacons have liturgical responsibilities which are usually worked out with the parish but would normally include proclaiming the Gospel, serving at  the eucharistic table, leading prayer for people in need, distributing the bread and wine of Communion and leading the worshipping congregation back into the community with the Dismissal.   Most deacons would share their liturgical roles with others as appropriate.