The Scriptures and the ancient Christian writers make it clear that there have been different ministries within the church since the time of the Apostles. An early reference to Deacons can be found in Phillipians when Paul addresses “all the saints in Christ Jesus together with the bishops and deacons.”
The early period of the Christian Church has been described as the Golden Age of the diaconate. Deacons were agents of God and the Church. They oversaw the pastoral care of the church, carrying food and reserved Sacrament to the hungry and those who could not be present at the Eucharist; administered the charities of the Church; assisted the Bishops of the Church, whom they often succeeded; and had a major role in the liturgies of the Church. Deacons were a living symbol of the servant ministry to which all Christians are called in Baptism.
Over the ensuing centuries, what had been the ministry to the marginalized of the world and the Church became the ministry of the marginalized. Those seen as not being “fit” for the priesthood, but with some sense of calling, such as aboriginals and women, were ordained to the “lesser” order of Deacon. Paralleling this movement of the diaconate to the margins of the Church was the gradual changing of the diaconate into a different office, the “transitional diaconate”, where those called to the priesthood are first ordained Deacon.
Among the many changes we have seen in the church in recent years is a world-wide movement to restore the diaconate to its original role in the Church and in the world. There are now 24 active deacons in the Diocese of New Westminster and over 200 Deacons in the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishop Michael Ingham has emphasized the importance of the diaconate in the diocese by appointing the Director of Deacons as an Archdeacon.
Deacons generally earn their living outside the church, with all of the challenges that that entails, while at the same time serve at the Altar as one called to holy orders and in doing so, bridge the material and spiritual worlds.
Simply put, we need deacons. We need to be reminded in a real flesh and blood kind of way that life and the church are not about power, pomp and preferment, but all about service. It’s easy to forget, as our Lord said of himself, we have been put on this world “not to be served, but to serve”.