Vision for the Diaconate – Association for Episcopal Deacons
“A deacon is a baptized person called and empowered by God and the Church to be a model of Christ’s servant ministry for all people. As agents of God’s compassion and reconciling grace, deacons are missionaries to the world and messengers to the Church of the world’s needs, hopes and concerns. In the Church, deacons call forth, empower and inspire the baptized to respond to those needs. The role of the deacon in liturgy mirrors this role of the deacon in Church and world. Deacons are living symbols of Christ’s presence as they embody Christ’s servant ministry and point to the presence of Christ in those they serve.”
Purpose of Customary
This Customary is written to clarify the role of deacons as ordained ministers in service to the world and to the Church, and to communicate the ways in which deacons will function and be supported in The Diocese of West Missouri. These customs shall be regarded and observed in this diocese by lay persons, bishops, and presbyters, as well as deacons. The information herein was created by a team of deacons in the Diocese, with particular input from the Rt. Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, Bishop Provisional, and the Venerable Bruce E. Bower, Archdeacon; as a whole, it is guided by the vision statement of the Association for Episcopal Deacons incorporates ideas from the customaries of several other dioceses.
The Relationship between the Bishop and the Deacons
Deacons canonically resident in the Diocese constitute a Community of Deacons. All deacons serve under the immediate authority and the pastoral leadership of the Bishop or, in the absence of a bishop, the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese (Canon Title III.7.1). The Bishop assigns a deacon to a congregation after consultation with the deacon and the Archdeacon, and with the member of the clergy exercising oversight at the proposed assignment. For simplicity, in this document, the term “priest” is used for all priests leading parishes, whether considered a rector, vicar, or priest-in-charge. At a parish, the priest oversees and coordinates the day-to-day activities of the deacon’s parochial ministry. The Bishop may also assign a deacon to a non-parochial ministry (Title III, Canon 7.4). In these instances, deacons are still answerable to the Bishop, but oversight and coordination of particular responsibilities are governed by organization structure.
Diaconal Access to the Bishop
Though the Archdeacon is responsible for updating the Bishop on general activities of the diaconate, a deacon always has direct access to the Bishop on matters of confidential, personal, or parochial importance.
Reporting to the Bishop
Upon their annual anniversary of ordination, the renewal of their Letter of Agreement, and/or when leaving an assignment, deacons shall write a letter to the Bishop, summarizing their ministry, areas of growth and learning, and/or vision for the future. They should include major milestones and life changes, and any continuing education undertaken in the past year. The Archdeacon shall also be copied into these required correspondences.
The Bishop may assign a deacon (or deacons) to the position of archdeacon to share the duties and privileges of diocesan and diaconal administration. The Archdeacon(s) shall serve as the Bishop’s designee. Archdeacons work at the request of and on behalf of the Bishop, primarily in the areas of management, communication, deployment, education, and formation of the Community of Deacons.
Obligatory Attendance and Clergy Collegiality
Deacons are expected to attend Diocesan Convention, the Bishop/Archdeacon’s annual or occasional retreat with the Community of Deacons, Deanery Clericus, Diocesan Clericus, and other Deanery and Diocesan events as deemed necessary. Deacons are invited and strongly encouraged to attend all clergy events in the diocese, including periodic leadership events, clergy conferences, and the annual renewal of ordination vows. When deacons cannot attend a clergy event in the diocese, they are expected to write the Bishop and/or Archdeacon before the absence, explaining the reason for the absence. Expenses for diocesan clergy events should be paid by the deacon’s home parish, commensurate with other parish clergy. Deacons shall consult directly with the Bishop for any adjustments to this expectation. All deacons are also strongly encouraged to be involved in a regular rota to accompany the Bishop on ecclesiastical visits to congregations that do not have an assigned deacon.
Deacons and Diocesan Governance
Because deacons offer a prophetic voice wherever the Church makes decisions, deacons are also encouraged, if employment and geographic location permits, to have a voice in at least one decision-making body of the diocese. Deacons are eligible for appointment or election to clergy positions on all boards, committees, and commissions of the diocese.
Deacons in Service to the World: Social Service Ministries in the Community
The central focus of diaconal ministry is to mobilize and motivate the lay people of the Church into serving the community outside the boundaries of a local congregation. Given the call of The Episcopal Church to be a “Missional Church”, a deacon’s role in the world is particularly appropriate. The ministry of deacons varies widely, taking such forms as hospital or prison ministry; ministry to the elderly, poor, dying, homeless, hungry, or mentally ill; or advocacy for social justice and change.
Deacons in Service to the Church: The Parochial Assignment
Parishes and congregations wishing to have a deacon shall make their request known to the Bishop Diocesan, in writing, with a letter from the priest indicating the congregation’s needs and how those needs can be best met by a deacon. In addition to the gifts of the deacon and the needs of the congregation, the Bishop and the Archdeacon(s) will consider distance and geographic location of the church from the deacon’s home and place of employment.
Prior to entering into a formal agreement with a church, it is strongly advised that a deacon make several unofficial visits to that church during both liturgical and social events, and meet with the priest in a social capacity and then on an official basis.
Letter of Agreement
A Letter of Agreement from the Office of the Bishop is to be negotiated by the deacon and the priest, then signed by all parties and the Bishop, within one month of the deacon’s arrival at the assigned church. The duration of the Agreement is not to exceed three years. Upon expiration of the Letter of Agreement, the deacon and Bishop or designee will discuss an extension of the most recent placement or alternative/subsequent plans. Any new Letter of Agreement shall be signed by the Bishop, priest, and deacon.
The Priest-Deacon Relationship
While deacons minister as directed by their Bishop, the deacon-priest relationship has primary importance in the success of deacons’ assignments, and on every aspect of deacons’ ministries. Each works as a cooperative ministry partner with the other, and both understand the relevance of role distinction. Good communication cannot be emphasized enough. The priest-deacon team is encouraged to meet regularly for prayer, mutual review of the deacon’s ministry, and planning.
Liturgical Acknowledgement of a Deacon’s Service
Soon after arrival, and in the context of a Sunday liturgy, the priest and wardens shall introduce the deacon to the congregation, with prayers and tokens of welcome for the newly-assigned deacon. A letter from the Bishop acknowledging the assignment may be read.
The Deacon’s Time Commitment
The decision for hours covenanted between priest and deacon depends on both the deacon’s gifts and the priest’s vision for the parish/congregation. A general guideline is for the deacon to serve between 8 and 12 hour per week. A deacon’s regularly scheduled ministry time includes serving on Sundays at the altar as well as other diocesan ministries, including serving as chaplain for a bishop’s visitation. In addition to Sunday services and special liturgical occasions, deacons will work in concert with priests on social and outreach ministries, and the pastoral needs of the church. A deacon may also be in charge of training Eucharistic Ministers, Eucharistic Visitors, Lectors, and Intercessors.
A deacon is a non-voting member of the Vestry (having seat and voice, but no vote), and Vestry meeting hours should be included in the covenanted hours. Covenanted hours should also include any service on diocesan committees and for any diocesan events where clergy are expected to attend.
Other Covenant Hours
Deacons, insofar as possible, should be aware of the needs and assets of the surrounding community. Deacons may represent a congregation on interfaith clergy organizations, committees, and boards, or at events.
Family members are welcome to attend the church where the deacon is serving. As regular members, they may serve on parish/congregational committees, but are strongly discouraged from serving on the Vestry.
Deacons in the Liturgy
The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Canons, and the Bishop Diocesan’s expectations always guide the liturgical functioning of the deacon at the diocesan and the local level. Priests shall encourage deacons to function in all roles specific to the diaconal order, as well as in accordance with the local custom.
For a service of Holy Eucharist or Communion from the Reserved Sacrament, the deacon will usually carry the Gospel Book in the procession and place it on the altar, proclaim the Gospel, introduce and/or lead the Prayers of the People, bid the Confession of Sin, set the altar, receive the gifts, stand by the celebrant during the Great Thanksgiving, lift the cup at the Invitation to Communion, and dismiss the congregation at the end of the service.
Deacons may also bid/lead the Nicene Creed, assist the priest in breaking the bread following the Invitation to Communion, act as chalice bearer or assist in distribution of the bread, and clear the altar after communion. When it is the custom, deacons may cense the Gospel book. If deacons anticipate handling the consecrated elements, they should use hand sanitizer to cleanse their hands prior to that time. Deacons may also arrange the liturgical Sending Forth of Eucharistic Visitors following the Prayer of Thanksgiving (before the dismissal). At the Great Vigil of Easter, it is the prerogative of a deacon to carry the Paschal Candle to its place and to chant the Exsultet.
The priest is primarily responsible for preaching to the congregation. However, the deacon and the priest shall work out a preaching schedule that allows the deacon to preach on a regular or semi-regular basis during the liturgical year. In their sermons, deacons should employ their prophetic voice in identifying the needs of the world and calling the laity into living-out the Gospel through their actions and prayers.
Clerical attire (i.e., clergy shirt and collar) is usually reserved for when the deacon is performing functions on behalf of the Church. An alb and stole are the proper vesture for a deacon serving as a deacon in the Holy Eucharist. A dalmatic may also be worn. Choir dress (cassock and surplice with tippet or stole) is appropriate for non-Eucharistic services or when a deacon is participating in a Eucharistic liturgy but is not a member of the altar party.
Special Liturgical Occasions
Serving with the Bishop
When a bishop is the celebrant, a deacon should perform all functions reserved for a deacon. In addition, the bishop’s chaplain should be a deacon, if possible. In processions, deacons immediately precede the bishop. Deacons traditionally stand on the bishop’s right during the Eucharistic Prayer.
As the bishop’s chaplain, a deacon assists the bishop for all aspects of the visitation, including:
- assisting the bishop in arriving, setting up, and upon departure
- assuring things run smoothly
- offering to point the Celebrant’s (or Bishop’s) altar book
- setting and clearing the table
- Before the bishop moves, hand the crozier and miter as needed; when the bishop stops moving, take the crozier and miter
- At the conclusion of the Eucharist, retrieve the miter and crozier, bringing them to the bishop before pronouncement of the final blessing
When a deacon assists at baptism, their duties are outlined on pages 298 and 312 of the Book of Common Prayer. Deacons may read the prayers for the candidate; assist the celebrant by pouring the water into the font (but not saying the Blessing over the water); holding the towels, oil stock, and prayer book; and otherwise serving. Deacons are not ordinarily the sole officiant at baptisms and must have the Bishop’s permission to do so. A deacon may administer the water and the words of baptism, but does not make the sign of the cross on the forehead. In the absence of a priest, a deacon may provide the pre-baptismal counseling.
The guidelines for participation in Holy Matrimony are contained in the Book of Common Prayer, pages 422 and 437. Alongside the priest, a deacon may deliver the charge, ask for the Declaration of Consent, proclaim the Gospel, read the Prayers, and perform other assisting functions at the Eucharist.
In The Diocese of West Missouri, a deacon is permitted to officiate a marriage ceremony only with prior approval of the Bishop. Under no circumstance is a deacon permitted to offer the nuptial blessing, which is to be omitted if a deacon officiates at Holy Matrimony.
Ministration to the Sick
A deacon may lay hands on or anoint a sick person using oil previously blessed by a bishop or priest, and by substituting “us” for “you” and “our” for “your” in the concluding prayers.
Burial of the Dead
In the absence of a priest, a deacon may officiate the burial office, the committal, and the internment, but may not consecrate the grave.
The Daily Offices
A deacon may officiate at all Daily Offices, as may lay people.
Communion from the Reserved Sacrament
When a priest is unavailable for a scheduled Eucharist, due to pastoral emergency, illness, or similar reason, a deacon may conduct a service of Communion from the Reserved Sacrament, either following Morning Prayer, or following the Liturgy of the Word. With permission from the Bishop, deacons may also be allowed to hold such services for under-served parishes that do not have regular priest visitation. Before each service, the deacon shall present a short explanation to the congregation about the difference between a Eucharistic Service and Communion from the Reserved Sacrament. Refer to pages 396-399 of the Book of Common Prayer for details on “Communion under Special Circumstances”.
Deacons may lay hands upon the shoulder of an individual, or upon an object or space to be blessed; use plural pronouns such as “we”, “us” and “our”, acknowledging the Communion of Saints who stand as witnesses; and offer gratitude for the person’s gifts of ministry; or ask for Christ’s healing love, etc.
Words of petition, blessing or healing are preceded by the word “may” but without the sign of the cross on the forehead.
If appropriate, a deacon may also sprinkle holy water (already blessed by a priest, as in receiving the body in a burial office); or administer healing oil (already blessed by a bishop or priest) in a healing service or at the bedside of the sick or dying.
A deacon cannot pronounce a blessing on anyone or anything; nor can a deacon dedicate or consecrate any object or space; and a deacon may not give the sign of the cross over anyone or anything.
Most parochially assigned deacons are non-stipendiary, but there are expenses associated with serving as a deacon. Congregations served by a deacon are expected to pay their deacon’s registration fees, housing (hotel fees), and mileage for diocesan functions. These and any other expenses that the church agrees to pay shall be covered in the Letter of Agreement. Mileage from home to church is not reimbursed (but is generally tax-deductible).
A deacon is restricted from holding any additional paid positions in a church where they are assigned, except with written permission from the Bishop.
Other expenses relating to a deacon’s ministry for church (e.g., books, materials, tools) should be negotiated prior to a deacon’s assignment and be stated, including whether they are supported fully or partially by the church’s budget, in the Letter of Agreement.
The church should also provide a deacon’s discretionary fund, which is subject to annual audit and must be spent on alms.
There may be times when a deacon can be relieved from ministerial duties. An application for leave should be submitted to the Bishop Diocesan.
A sabbatical offers a deacon the opportunity to be renewed through an intentional time away from ministry. It includes identified components of spiritual and intellectual growth.
- All active assigned deacons who have served five (5) years in The Diocese of West Missouri are eligible to apply for a sabbatical.
- A sabbatical shall ordinarily be between three (3) and twelve (12) months in duration.
- It is recommended that a deacon will include spiritual direction during a sabbatical term, including at least one (1) retreat held for at least three (3) days.
- A written request for a sabbatical is submitted to the Bishop Diocesan, outlining the goals of the sabbatical and including components of both spiritual and intellectual growth. At the time of the sabbatical application, a deacon may request a grant from the diocese. If a deacon’s service has been continuous in a specific church/agency, and if that deacon plans to return to ministry in that church/agency, it may be appropriate to request financial support from that church/agency.
- During a sabbatical, a deacon shall not regularly attend services at their assigned parish.
- A deacon will ordinarily return to their previous assignment at the completion of a sabbatical.
Leave of Absence
A leave of absence offers a deacon the opportunity to be temporarily relieved from their duties. Leave may be granted for reasons of health, personal problems, family commitments, temporary transfers in occupation, or temporary dislocation from the diocese. An application for a leave of absence should be submitted to the priest and to the Office of the Bishop. During leave, a deacon should not attend services at their assigned parish, perform ministerial duties, or represent the Church.
The Bishop Diocesan may declare Inactive Status of a deacon due to special concerns or conditions. Deacons on Inactive Status are expected to stay in regular communication with the bishop, to attend clergy or diaconal events whenever possible, and to maintain collegiality with the clergy community while on Inactive Status.
Deacons Assigned to Congregations in Times of Transition
Diaconal ministry in a time of transition is a complex and challenging undertaking, with almost every situation having unique circumstances. When the priest of a congregation resigns or retires, a deacon serving the congregation, with the permission of the Bishop and in agreement with the wardens, may elect to remain. If this is the case, these special issues must be thoroughly explored and creatively addressed by the deacon with the bishop, the wardens, and if possible, with the former priest before departing. Such communication with the bishop and wardens should also take place on a continuing basis during the transition period.
Deacon Role During Transition
Unless mutually agreed upon, the role of a deacon during a transition remains unchanged. Within two months of the transition, a new Letter of Agreement should be negotiated between the deacon and wardens of the congregation, particularly to address any change in responsibilities.
The deacon may be consulted on certain aspects concerning diaconal responsibilities for the church profile (e.g., pastoral care, outreach, and community ministries) but may not serve on the search committee, be involved in the search process itself, or express any opinion regarding the candidates.
During the transition, no matter how extended, the deacon is never to be viewed by the church leaders, administrator, or congregation as a decision-maker or “supply priest”, but only as support for those in charge of various functions of the church, and to assist others in keeping ministries on track.
Responsibility of the Wardens
Wardens are responsible for finding supply priests for all liturgiesin which the Eucharist is required, and for weddings, baptisms, and funerals when Eucharist is desired. Marriage counseling should be conducted by the priest who is going to celebrate the service, or in the manner that is typical for that church. In the absence of an available priest, a deacon may provide baptismal counseling.
Assignment of Interim, Priest-in-Charge, or Rector
When an interim, priest-in-charge, vicar, or rector is called to a congregation, the bishop, in consultation with the deacon serving that congregation, will reassess the deacon’s transition assignment situation.
Practicing a Rule of Life
Deacon are to engage in regular worship and prayer practices, study Scripture, take an annual retreat, and receive spiritual direction.
As a matter of spiritual wellness, a deacon is expected to commit to donating a regular financial gift to the church to which they are assigned, to a social service ministry, or to a diocesan outreach ministry.
Deacons are expected to engage in lifelong formation through the regular study of Scripture and literature. This continuing education may include independent study, classes through the diocese or other resources, as well as clergy and leadership conferences.
When a deacon relocates to or from another diocese and wishes to continue in diaconal service, they must apply to both the former diocese and the new diocese for change of status before resuming the duties of a deacon.
The age for retirement set forth in the Canons is 72. A deacon is ordained for life but is expected to submit a letter to the Bishop at age 72, either retiring or requesting a one-year extension of service. The Bishop may offer additional one-year annual extensions should the deacon request to remain in active ministry. Unless the Bishop grants an annual extension in writing, a deacon will be retired from parish ministry at age 72.
Upon retirement, a deacon ceases leadership at any church. At the direct request of the priest, a deacon may occasionally function as a deacon in a liturgy. This is not designed to be regular or consistent.
Regardless of whether a deacon retires from active ministry, a deacon may request to continue diaconal community ministry after retirement. This ministry would involve wearing clericals or representing The Diocese of West Missouri in the world. This ministry endeavor should be detailed in the retirement letter to the Bishop. Nothing in this section is intended or designed to limit a retired deacon’s involvement in service ministries in the world, where no position of authority or representation of behalf of the Church is held. Nothing in this section is intended or designed to hinder or discourage a retired deacon from living out and into their baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all people.
In their retirement letter, a deacon should identify where they intend to worship. With the concurrence of the priest and bishop, retired deacons may continue to attend services at a church in which they served. A deacon cannot assume a position of leadership or offer to fill their former functions after retirement. Under some circumstances, a deacon maybe asked to worship at another church.
Expectations upon Retirement
Retired deacons may continue to wear clerical attire or may choose to dress in street clothes. Retired deacons are addressed as “The Reverend (deacon name here)” or as “Deacon (name).” If a parish so chooses, they may continue to list the deacon on the staff section of their publications as “The Rev. (deacon name here), Deacon Emeritus” or “Retired.”
Although retired deacons are welcome to attend Vestry meetings, upon retirement a deacon relinquishes both seat and voice at Vestry meetings. Attendance at clergy events and Diocesan Convention is still expected. Retired deacons who are unable to attend must request an excuse from the Bishop or Archdeacon in writing.
Retired deacons retain seat, voice, and vote at Diocesan Convention so long as they remain both canonically and physically present in the diocese. Retired deacons may volunteer or be asked participate in diocesan activities, commissions, and task forces. Any change of status must be formally requested of and approved by the Bishop. Retired deacons are requested to continue the practice of an annual letter to the Bishop, traditionally at ordination anniversary. Annual letters may update the Bishop on community and diocesan service, along with changes in church membership or place of worship.
A bishop is the pastor of retired clergy just as much as they are the pastor to active clergy. Retired deacons are asked to communicate with the bishop’s office when seeking pastoral care of any kind.
Forms of Clerical Address
|Full Title:||The Reverend (name), [Deacon] – (optional)|
|Abbreviated Title:||The Rev. (name), [Deacon] – (optional). To be used in all diocesan documents as per the diocesan style guide.|
|Letter Salutation:||Dear Deacon (name)|
|In Conversation:||Deacon (name)|
A Deacon’s Charge
“Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.” (Book of Common Prayer, Ordination of a Deacon)
“As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your work 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.” (Book of Common Prayer, Ordination of a Deacon).