- The Program
The recovery of the diaconate as a "full and equal order" of ministry has come a long way, with still much more to be done. Misconceptions still hover around the idea of the diaconate. These misconceptions are due to the early Church's failure to clearly define the distinction in roles between deacon and priest. Likewise, the experiment of the "perpetual" diaconate of the 1950's (ended in the 1970's) further blurred the boundary between deacons and priests. Prior to the existence of Lay Eucharistic Ministers, deacons tended to function almost exclusively as liturgical assistants, often chosen by the Rector, which led to a misconception that deacons were "junior" priests.
The current rebirth of the order of deacon must be clearly distinguished from most persons' experience of the diaconate prior to the 1970's. Today, we more clearly see the priest as the one who stands at the center of the gathered community, leads its sacramental worship, and ministers to its needs. The current diaconate is the restoration of the ancient, full, and equal order of ministry, based on the call to imitate Christ in service to the poor and needy. The deacon stands at the edge of the gathered community as a bridge to the world, "to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world . . . and to show Christ's people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself." [BCP p. 543] This is quite different from the ministry of transitional deacons as well as the short-lived experience of perpetual deacons. Perhaps most important, the current renaissance of the diaconate is part of the church's recovering its own sense of diakonia, of being called and sent into the world to serve. Education continues to be needed to ease the tensions and concerns of presbyters and bishops, and to inform the laity of the varied and distinct ministries of deacons. To move ahead in the third millennium, the church will need scores of called, dedicated, well-trained and passionate deacons to bring the word of Christ to all people, to interpret to the church the needs of the world, and to restore the early church's understanding of diakonia to all the baptized.