A Diversity of Deacons

In recent years, both the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England have been working to define the particular role of the office of Vocational Deacon (or Distinctive Deacon, as they are called in England). No small part was played in this by the former Principal of SEI, Rev Dr Anne Tomlinson, herself a Vocational Deacon. Both she and Rev Dr Richard Tiplady, SEI’s Director of Mixed Mode Training, contributed articles to the Winter 2020 (Vol 4.4) issue of the SEI Journal, which looked at questions around the ministry and formation of deacons. SEI has recently trained a number of vocational deacons for their own specific ministries in Scotland, and continues to do so.

Dr Tiplady (feature image above) was the speaker at a conference organised by the Church of England Network of Distinctive Deacons, held at The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, on Saturday 21st October 2023. With around 40 deacons in attendance and another 25 participating via Zoom (including three SEI students), this was the CENDD’s first conference since 2018. Richard’s talk, “Breaking New Ground: Innovation, Creativity, and the role of the Deacon”, drew from both his doctoral thesis and his earlier paper on the parallels between pioneer ministry and the role of the diaconate. He explored the characteristics and behaviours of those who lead creative and innovative approaches to mission and ministry, and identified a number of factors that both enable and hinder its emergence in churches. This was followed by presentations and a panel of four distinctive deacons from across England, which explored the diversity of ministries represented by the diaconal calling.

Third year SEI student Ross Stirling-Young commented after the conference, “As an ordinand towards priestly ministry, I found today extremely important. Not only because I believe my first year as a deacon to be extremely important but, more importantly, I’ll be working alongside deacons the rest of my entire vocation and how good is it to know that we ‘get one another’ and value all ministry. It would do many priests or ordinands good to have attended today”.

Second year SEI student Enza Gibson, who is training for ordination as a Vocational Deacon, replied, “I agree. It was so lovely to have you there today. I think that there should be more information given to all in ministry about the Diaconate so that we can all work harmoniously alongside each other to share the Gospel of God’s unconditional love”.

Mutual respect and appreciation of difference, whether of churchmanship, ministry or vocation, is at the heart of what SEI does throughout its formational programmes. Whether we are involved in maintaining and growing existing churches or trying to pioneer new approaches in response to our changing culture (a task in which Vocational – or Distinctive – Deacons will play a key role), mutual affirmation and understanding is essential.

Photos courtesy of Dr Tiplady