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Sacred Order of Deacons in Southwest Florida

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The Episcopal tradition calls every baptized person into ministry, responding to God’s love by living out Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. Our Prayer Book describes four orders of ministry — lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops.

The ministry of a deacon is summarized in the ordination rite in the Book of Common Prayer:

Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. 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 your 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.

A deacon is a bridge between the church and the world—bringing the concerns of the world to those in the pews and encouraging and helping parishioners to join God’s mission more boldly in the world.  Some deacons are passionate about addressing the needs of the marginalized; others are called to help their parish connect with other churches and social service agencies to serve the needs of their local community.  All deacons are called to work with their Bishop to proclaim the Gospel and encourage others for service and ministry.

The diaconate is an ancient order of ministry.  In the Acts of the Apostles we read that seven were chosen to take food to widows who were being neglected; almost from the beginning, the Christian community found it necessary to designate certain people to look after the poor and marginalized.  The selection of these servant ministers or “deacons” was taken very seriously—they had to be of good standing, full of the spirit and of wisdom—and their authority was transmitted to them through prayer and the laying on of hands.  Read more about the history of the Diaconate HERE.


Deacons in the Liturgy

The deacon’s liturgical ministry is highly symbolic of her or his ministry outside the church.  Deacons take the Gospel into the world, a role of proclamation; so the deacon proclaims the Gospel in the liturgy.  Deacons are engaged with feeding, both literally and figuratively; so the deacon sets the table for the Holy Eucharist.  Deacons are models and encouragers for the people of God as they live out their baptismal covenant; so the deacon dismisses the people from the liturgy, prompting them to go out and continue their Christian service.

Deacons must learn to be in the church and in the world as servants, and to energize and inspire servanthood in others – helping the Laity to discover places where they can connect with God in Christ beyond worship services in the church. Deacons, together with Laity and other clergy, are not expected to do the work alone but rather to lead, guide, encourage, inform, equip, and raise the awareness of all people.

Deacons in the World

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek meaning “servant” or “envoy.” The unique role of a Deacon among the ordained is to represent Jesus Christ and His redemptive love in the world – specifically by interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world outside the doors of the church. The role of a Deacon requires very special gifts as well as a serious formation process in order that the ordained person may serve as an “ordained messenger of the faith” outside the walls of the congregation and to raise awareness of these needs to the parish as a whole.

As ministers of the Episcopal Church, deacons are typically based in a parish, although their ministry is exercised both within and beyond the parish on behalf of all the baptized and for the sake of the world.  Many deacons are involved in hands-on ministries through parish outreach programs.  They also engage in parish-based ministry to support and empower the baptized in their ministries of serving others: education, preaching, and pastoral care.

Deacons in the Diocese of Southwest Florida are involved in a variety of ministries in their communities.

The Sacred Order of Deacons:  Discernment and Formation

The discernment of a particular vocation to which God is calling an individual is a process that may at times seem time consuming, complex, or frustrating. It is also replete with joy and hope that God’s Holy Spirit is doing something new and exciting in your life – whatever that may be. The Diocese of Southwest Florida – in prayer and with faith, trust and candor – is committed to assist you as you explore and “test” your call within your congregation, family, and larger community of the Diocese, where all people involved are led by God’s Holy Spirit to greater awareness and clarity. Awareness of this communal aspect will offer you strength, courage and calmness to remain open to tough questions and challenges along the way.

A sense of call—a sense that God is calling you to something new—may be very recent or something you’ve felt for years. It may be a private feeling or something you’ve verbalized to only one or two people. It may have come from within yourself or is something seen/felt by others who have shared their perceptions with you. It is important to stay in prayer during this time – as you rest and reflect on whether you should begin to seriously explore this sense of call.

If you feel that God may be calling you to be a deacon, your first step is to discuss this call with your rector or priest-in-charge. If together you decide that further exploration is appropriate, you should consult the diocesan Commission on Ministry’s Manual of Policies and Procedures, entitled The Discernment Journey, found HERE.  This document describes the steps in the discernment process at the individual, parish, and diocesan levels.

What follows is a brief overview of the discernment journey in the Diocese of Southwest Florida:

  • You and your rector/priest-in-charge will submit a Notice of Interest to the Commission on Ministry (COM); the purpose is simply to inform the diocesan office of your intention to begin formal discernment.
  • The next step is submission of an Application to Form a Discernment Group; this is a group of 4-6 persons from your congregation, selected by your rector/priest-in-charge and you following approval and assignment by the COM of a Liaison who will guide you through the process of formal discernment in community.
  • After your Discernment Group has completed its work, it will submit a report and recommendation to the Vestry of your parish.
  • If the Discernment Group has recommended you for continued discernment and formation towards ordination, and two-thirds of the Vestry concurs, the Vestry submits a Certificate of Nomination to the Bishop. Once you have submitted your acceptance of the nomination, you will be invited to attend the Bishop’s Advisory Panel.

The Deacon Process

In the diocesan phase of the discernment process, the applicant enters into conversations with the bishop and the Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP).  The BAP – consisting of the same membership as the COM – acts as an advisory group to the bishop as he makes decisions concerning persons seeking Postulancy. It remains the bishop’s decision to make someone a Postulant. Postulancy is an important time of deepening prayer life, spiritual formation, continued discernment, and academic and clinical preparation in the Diocesan School for Ministry.

Deacons must learn to be in the church and in the world as servants, and to energize and inspire servanthood in others – helping the Laity to discover places where they can connect with God in Christ beyond worship services in the church. Deacons, together with Laity and other clergy, are not expected to do the work alone but rather to lead, guide, encourage, inform, equip, and raise the awareness of all people.

Deacons must be academically trained in Holy Scriptures and be able to integrate scripture into their ministry and the liturgy – which may include preaching. They must be conversant in Christian ethics and societal/cultural issues. Deacons must also possess theological understandings of – and the ability to discuss – the Paschal Mystery, the Incarnation, Baptismal servanthood, and the Eucharistic community. Above all, they must possess a deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ.

The School for Ministry

The School for Ministry was created to help individuals and groups engage more deeply with their call to ministry by learning, building skills, and networking in order to live out those gifts in service to God and in partnership with others in their neighborhood. If you have discerned a call to ordained ministry as a Deacon or a Priest, you can find in the School for Ministry the preparation and the learning you need.

The School for Ministry program includes preparation in five general areas as prescribed in the Canons of the Episcopal Church:

  • Academic Studies (Holy Scripture, Theology, and the tradition of the Church)
  • Diakonia and the Diaconate
  • Human awareness and understanding
  • Spiritual development and discipline
  • Practical training and experience

This curriculum includes a 200-hour course/experience in Clinical Pastoral Training (CPT) and three semesters of field education.

You can find more information about the School for Ministry HERE.

If you are feeling called to Diaconal Ministry, it is of utmost importance that you understand how to maintain a balance in your life – especially if you intend to remain working in your current profession, care for family, and also serve as a Deacon in the Church. This is always a challenge when balancing spiritual, emotional, and physical health factors. It is important you understand that Deacons serve directly under the Bishop and may be assigned by the bishop to serve anywhere in this Diocese.

Deacons are expected to create and live a Rule of Life which includes: prayer, immersion in Scripture, ongoing self-examination, regular study, spiritual direction, and components of life that will strengthen your emotional and physical well-being.

Last Updated: 10-16-23