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  • Writer's pictureLuigi Gioia

8 - The Diaconate

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them”. (Acts 6.1-6)

The word deacon is derived from the Greek word diákonos (διάκονος), which means "servant", "waiting-man", "minister", or "messenger".

One woman, Phoebe, is mentioned at Romans 16:1–2 as a deaconess (διάκονος diákonos) of the church in Cenchreae.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well”. (Romans 16:1–2)

The diaconate became one of the three historic orders of ministry in the Church: deacons, priests and bishops. Deacons today in many Christian denominations are women and men in holy orders, ministering under licence to their bishop in a designated parish or other setting, or with Permission to Officiate in the Diocese.

The defining charism of the order of deacon is that of service, reflecting the servanthood of Christ “who came, not to be served, but to serve”.

Deacons assist the priest of the parish in which they serve, undertaking liturgical, teaching and pastoral work, in the spirit and pattern of Christ’s servanthood and with all the particular responsibility and authority associated with ordained ministry.

The diaconate has often been regarded as a transitional order, pertaining typically to the first year of ordained ministry, and as an apprenticeship for the priesthood.

A renewed appreciation of the order’s ancient character and function, and the encouragement of vocations, means that there is a growth in the number of permanent or distinctive deacons in the diocese. Their calling is distinct from that of transitional deacons.

Liturgical role

The deacon’s ministry in the Eucharist is closely related to her or his teaching and pastoral ministry. The deacon’s functions may include:

- calling the community to confession of their sins;

- proclaiming the gospel;

- preaching;

- leading prayers of intercession;

- leading the community in sharing the sign of peace;

- receiving the gifts and preparing the altar or holy table for Communion;

- assisting the president at the consecration of the elements and with their distribution;

- and sending the community out in the service of the Lord.

Deacons may baptise, solemnise marriages and conduct funerals, at the discretion of the parish priest

They may also be expected to lead services of the word, including Morning and Evening Prayer.

When a priest is not available to preside at a Eucharist, a deacon may, with the permission of the Bishop, conduct a service with Communion by using pre-consecrated elements.

Pastoral ministry

Deacons have a special ministry of outreach and pastoral care, flowing from their historic role of caring for the poor, needy and sick, and seeking out the careless and indifferent. Arranging care for those in material or spiritual need is therefore at the heart of their ministry.

They are called to build bridges between the church and the local community, and to be an expression of God’s unconditional love overflowing from the church family.


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