An Overview of the Role of Diaconal Ministry

(Adapted from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts)

The deacon’s service is a sign or sacrament of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve.  The diaconate is one of three distinct orders of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church—there are deacons, priests and bishops—and an individual becomes a deacon by being ordained by a bishop after completing a course of study and formation

The charge at the ordination of a deacon
(The Book of Common Prayer, page 543):

"In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.  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 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, and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.  At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ's people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself."

Brief history

The word “deacon” comes from the Greek language and the biblical concept of diakonia.  Diakonos is commonly defined as servant ministry, particularly to the poor, the sick and the oppressed. 

Jesus is the model for the servant leadership, and a deacon is called to exercise servant leadership in a variety of ways, including encouraging and enabling others to serve.  A deacon has one foot in the world and one foot in the church.

The church has had deacons since New Testament days.  Deacons are referred to in 1 Timothy 3, and familiar deacons from history include Stephen, Vincent, Laurence, Alcuin, Francis of Assisi and Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding.  

The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire collaborates with other Dioceses in Province I to offer a three year program for the formation of Deacons.

Diaconal ministry is:
•  servant leadership
•  serving in the name of Jesus
•  serving under the direction of the bishop
•  serving those in need
•  being a student of Scripture
•  interpreting the Gospel to the world
•  telling and interpreting the needs of the world to the church
•  encouraging and enabling others to serve
•  a ministry of social care

The Book of Common Prayer provides roles for deacons within liturgies and defines the responsibility of deacons in serving others in the name of Christ and in leading and training lay people in such service.  Many deacons define their true ministry as being outside the four walls of the church itself, often at the ragged edges of society and our comfort zones.