Creativity, innovation, and the role of the Deacon

In the revised text for the Ordination of Deacons currently under discussion in the SEC, the Bishop’s Charge reads thus:

In the name of the Church, deacons are sent to declare the kingdom of God and to care for those in need, serving God and the world after the pattern of Christ . . . (They are) committed to outreach and witness, advocacy and prophecy, flowing from their historic ministry of caring for the poor, the needy, and the sick in the name of Christ and the Church, and of seeking out all who know their need of God. With their bishop, they are called to build bridges between the Church and the world, and to be an expression of the unconditional love of God.

‘Sent’. ‘Seek out’. The missional imperative inherent in this Order of ministry is further underlined by the criteria for selection which detail the primacy of mission, evangelism and discipleship. Indeed there is a clear expectation that innovative, creative and entrepreneurial initiative will shape the ministry of Deacons, with a deep focus on contextual priorities.

You have only to read the accounts of the ministries being undertaken by our current two diaconal candidates to realise this; or look at the recently published Diaconal Prayer Cycle created by the SEC’s Chapter of Deacons, led by Norma Higgott, Chaplain at Highland Hospice; Sue Ward’s work as Chaplain at the Kersiebank Community Project (pictured above) working with those suffering from food poverty; Val Cameron’s ministry tackling environmental issues both locally and provincially; Katrina O’Neill’s involvement with the inSpires community outreach project at Inverness Cathedral – to name but a few. Each one in different ways reaching out to where people are, meeting them on their own turf rather than expecting them to ‘come to us’, and setting up entrepreneurial projects which allow the shape of the local community to form the outcomes.

In the Winter 2020 edition of the SEI Journal, Rev Dr Richard Tiplady, SEI’s Director of Mixed Mode Training, explored the Vocational Diaconate as a vehicle for pioneer ministry. He notes that pioneer ministry aims to engage with people where they are, to build community and explore what it means to follow Jesus in their own context rather than inviting them to come to us, and that a firm connection can be established between the vocational diaconate and the creative and fluid vision of pioneer ministry.

Richard will be exploring this further as the keynote speaker at the National Conference of the Church of England Network of Distinctive Deacons, to be held in Birmingham on Saturday 21st October 2023. Attendance will be possible in-person or via Zoom. His topic will be ‘Breaking New Ground: Creativity, Innovation, and the Role of the Deacon’. He notes that the selection criteria for Vocational Deacons in the Scottish Episcopal Church say that they must be able to ‘take the initiative and have a creative, entrepreneurial approach’. The Church of England’s Formation Framework for the Ordained Distinctive Diaconate looks for evidence of imagination and agility, and requires that they have shown ‘initiative, drive and creativity’. But

  • what does that look like and how do we get it?
  • what kind of people do we need to be?
  • what kinds of things should we do?
  • what are the helps and hindrances to such practices within the Church?

Richard will be sharing from his PhD research findings to help answer these questions, both for Vocational Deacons themselves and so that they might pave the way for others to feel free to live and serve in the same way.

SEI diaconal candidate Enza Gibson (Diocese of Brechin) hopes to be at the Conference, so we look forward to sharing reflections from both her and Richard on this website later in the year.

The photo above shows from left: Deacons Susan Ward, Anne Tomlinson, Norma Higgott and Ann Wren with Bishop John

Photos courtesy of Susan Ward and Anne Tomlinson