Convergence and Divergence – Reflections on the Ecumenical Diaconate

CCS staff Lori Stewart and David Lappano attended the International Anglican-Roman Catholic-Ukrainian Catholic Conference on the Diaconate,  Regina, May 10 – 13.

As one lone United Church person at a conference of Anglicans and Roman Catholics, I might have been lost in the crowd but the fact that the focus was on the diaconate and on ecumenical understanding meant that I had a lot in common with the other participants. There was the additional benefit of meeting people who are influential in the diaconal world: Maylanne Maybee, Phina Borgeson, Rosalind Brown, Brian Butcher, Fritz Bauerschmidt, Gloria Marie Jones, Michael Jackson, Susanne Watson Epting, and Alison Peden, each looking at “the points of convergence as well as divergence” in the understanding of the diaconate in the Anglican and Roman Catholic Communions. The Conference was a joint venture of both churches, the result of a successful, long-term ecumenical collaboration and dialogue in those Saskatchewan dioceses.

The format was presentations followed by question and answer, with the days and evenings rich and full. Significant moments and ideas for me included:

  • An eastern rite worship service, where the deacons lead the singing in the liturgy

  • In the Scottish Episcopal School where deacons, lay readers, and priests learn together, the first task of the diaconal students is developing a “Godly habitus” which will shape further learning and reflect the values and virtues of the church.

  • The value of reflection on experience as part of scholarly discussion

  • The primacy of baptismal identity

  • In discernment the goal is to discover the person within—“who you are in God”

  • A deacon is flexible, turning their hand to any ministry that emerges or is revealed, to which they are called

  • It’s important to examine the theological basis of the diaconate as well as the historical basis

  • A question: How would the world change if each parish had seven deacons (as were appointed in the early church) all ensuring God’s kin-dom is promoted and justice is done?

  • The diaconate exists so people are better equipped to make Christ known. Incarnation is key.

  • Deacons exist in a diaconal way and from that flows their activity.”

I came away with the following thoughts for further action:

  1. There is a need for continued research and papers on:

  • Diakonia
  • The role(s) of deacons/diaconal ministers
  • How deaconesses fit in diaconal history
  • What can we learn from each other concerning the diversity of roles.
  1. The importance of taking part in ecumenical conversations about the diaconate.

  2. Making a greater effort to gather members of the diaconate ecumenically to build relationships and have conversations that will deepen diakonia.

Lori Stewart is the Development Coordinator at CCS. 

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