The Role of the Deacon

Deacons are the ordained members of the Body of Christ who are given special charge “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.” They are to be icons of the servant ministry of Christ both within and beyond the Church. Their task in ministry is to lead in equipping the laity for their own ministries, so that the Church may respond to the needs of the world in love and justice. Each of the three orders of ordained ministry works together to serve God’s Reign as it manifests itself in the world. Bishops oversee, teach, and bear the apostolic traditions of the Church. The Bishop ministers together with the presbyters (priests), who share his function of presiding, teaching, blessing and bearing the traditions of the institutional Church. Bishops and priests work in a collegium with each other, since the order of priest is an historical offshoot from that of bishop.

Deacons, by contrast are not designated as the tradition-bearers nor as the primary teachers of the Church, though some may have gifts to do so. Their ministry is, rather, prophetic. They are continually to present to the Church the concerns and agonies of the world, while also presenting to the world the wisdom and the faith of the Church. Theirs is a special community of servant leadership.

The discernment, training, and deployment of persons with diaconal vocation, therefore, need to be distinguished from that of priests. To discern a diaconal vocation is to find a person with a heart for the
dispossessed and the poor, a strong need to deliver the Church’s grace-filled ministry to those outside, and a strong impulse to keep the Church alive to the realities of secular people. Thus, deacon candidates need to learn:

  • how to tell the Church’s classic story
  • how to interpret life’s dilemmas in relation with the classic story
  • how to perform the practical tasks of ministry

The Church needs persons who are authorized to keep it honest by keeping it in touch. Deacons are those persons. They should be the most non-clerical of clerics, never seeking honorifics or preferment, but rather seeking the face of Christ in other human beings, especially in the faces of people on the margins. The School for Diaconal Formation seeks to evoke and equip such a “deacon-heart.” Throughout diaconal formation the question is constantly asked: “In your relationship of responsibility to the Church as a deacon, how should you respond? What needs to be said or done or prayed about with the heart and voice and action of a deacon?”

The School for Diaconal Formation is a program of formation in the Diocese of Southern Ohio for persons who are postulants or candidates for the diaconate in their diocese.