The Process of Becoming a Deacon

By the Reverend Deacon Rod McDowell

For some time now, readers of this paper have seen a column called “The Deacons Bench.” Through this space, deacons from across this diocese have told stories of their ministries to help you understand some of the ways in which we seek to live out our calling.

One might now ask who are these people and how did they become deacons? 

Well, to start, these faithful people are all members of the order of clergy, ordained by a bishop. There are two types of deacons: those with a license and those with a bishop’s permission. The articles you have read through this column are about the latter type of deacons also known as permanent or vocational deacons.

On page 631 of the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), under the title of Preface to the Ordination Rites, the following sentence appears:

Thirdly there are deacons who, in addition to assisting bishops and priests in all their work, have a special responsibility to minister in Christ’s name to the poor, the sick, the suffering, and the helpless.

Our diocesan ‘Guidelines for Deacons’ booklet emphasizes the servant role of this ministry. The guidelines go on to state that the task of a deacon includes “holding before the Church the needs of the world, interpreting those needs to the Church, and enabling baptized persons to discern, exercise and collaborate in the ministry of Christ in the world.”

The principal ministry of the deacon is outside the walls of a parish church. In fact, normally about 80 % of a deacon’s ministry is there and only about 20% is undertaken inside the parish church.

The journey towards becoming a deacon begins in prayer. A person must understand that they have had a call from God to ordained diaconal ministry. If a person believes that this is indeed happening, then the next step is to speak to their rector for further discernment. 

One of the recent innovations in the process is that the bishop now meets with an inquirer and their rector very early in their discernment. If the Bishop is satisfied that there is a call to this ministry (and not to the priesthood or continued lay ministry) then the person is encouraged to make a formal application. The annual deadline is March 1 each year. 

There are multiple levels of discernment in the diaconate process: application; recommendation of the parochial committee; interviews with the diocesan Diaconal Discernment Committee; and affirmation by the parish through a parish commendation, which includes a formal vestry motion.

While it is ultimately the Bishop who will make the final decision about ordination, this cannot happen unless the parish and wider diocesan community affirms the person’s initial call to ordained diaconal ministry. 

The entire diaconal discernment process described in detail on our diocesan website. 

Once a candidate, the person must then complete education requirements equivalent to a Certificate in Christian Studies, which will include courses in Old Testament, New Testament, theology, Anglican church history, and pastoral care/counseling/active listening. Other courses may be recommended by the Director of Human Resources with the advice of the Director of the College of Deacons. 

However, it is critical to understand that anyone who aspires to be a deacon must have already been involved in some form of ministry to those on the margins of society, including the poor, the sick and the helpless. My own involvement was as a lawyer who had worked in a poverty law clinic and assisted hundreds of refugees to obtain immigration status. Some of my colleagues have been involved in working with the homeless, assisting in grief counselling, helping with issues of food insufficiency, or working with the Mission to Seafarers.

The entire process can take 3 to 5 years. After the candidate has passed through the first diocesan interview, an experienced deacon is assigned as a mentor. After a second diocesan interview, the bishop makes the final decision about whether they are to proceed to ordination.

Throughout the process the director of deacons for the diocese, Jean Ruttan Yates or myself as deputy director are involved. We are both available to speak to anyone who might be interested in pursuing the process. This also includes rectors who play a critical role in the discernment of a call to this vocation.

In summary, the most important advice I can give is to follow the wish of the Holy Spirit.

For more information about the diaconate, visit: https://niagaraanglican.ca/ministry/vocations/diaconate