I’m being ordained in less than a week.
From then on, you can call me Rev if you want to and I’ll wear a dog collar a lot of the time. I’ll spend six days a week working with and for the Church, doing almost everything you’d expect a vicar to do. But I won’t be a vicar yet, nor a rector. I won’t be a priest quite yet either. The different roles and titles and jobs that make up the life of a member of Church of England clergy can be pretty confusing, so here’s a very quick run down:
There are three ‘orders’ of ministry: deacon, priest, bishop. They are cumulative, so everyone is ordained a deacon first, most are ordained priest a year later, and a few will eventually become bishops too. But they don’t replace one another: a priest is still a deacon, and a bishop is also a deacon and a priest. These are not job titles. Once I’m ordained deacon next week, I will always be a deacon, whether I’m working in a church or chaplaincy, staying at home, or doing something else completely. They’re about God calling, and the Church setting apart, a person to be a minister – whatever context they find themselves in.
Then there’s the job roles, which function a bit differently: next Friday, I will also become a Curate – an assistant role where I carry on my training on the job for the next three to four years. It’s how everyone starts their ordained life, and my curacy will overlap the time I’m a deacon and then, God willing, a priest.
After curacy, you’re set free into the Church job market, and can apply for all manner of roles, from chaplains in hospitals and schools, to particular specialisms in a team of ministers, to roles in diocesan offices. But for many (most?), this stage means moving on to the job of Rector, Vicar, or Priest-in-Charge. There are technical historical differences between these titles, but they all describe an Incumbent, who is the one legally in charge of a Church. Anyway, that’s a long way off for me.
So for now, and in fact for always, I’ll be a deacon.
This is what the ordination service says about what a deacon is:
Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known. Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others.
Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and the priests with whom they serve as heralds of Christ’s kingdom. They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love. They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.
Deacons share in the pastoral ministry of the Church and in leading God’s people in worship. They preach the word and bring the needs of the world before the Church in intercession. They accompany those searching for faith and bring them to baptism. They assist in administering the sacraments; they distribute communion and minister to the sick and housebound.
Deacons are to seek nourishment from the Scriptures; they are to study them with God’s people, that the whole Church may be equipped to live out the gospel in the world. They are to be faithful in prayer, expectant and watchful for the signs of God’s presence, as he reveals his kingdom among us.
I’m glad it’s a life-long task, because I think I’ll be figuring out what this looks like for many years to come. I’ll be watching and learning from those who been Christians and ministers – whether in a formal role or not – for much longer than me. To be honest, I’m scared at the enormity of the task. I’m nervous about the strangeness of this new identity. I’m worried I’ll get things wrong. I’m afraid of letting people down.
But it’s not rocket science: that description above, it just seems to be about serving.
Proclaim good news.
Search out the vulnerable.
Take on oppression.
Reach forgotten corners.
Walk with seekers.
Be a living, speaking, walking, helping, hosting embodiment of the love of God.
That, at least, is something I do know about. I know how God loves me: as a Father he scoops me up when I’m overwhelmed; as a Shepherd he comes out to find me when I’m wandering off; as an Advocate he lifts me up when I’m slumped down in shame; as a Friend, he comes close in my loneliness; as a Judge he pays every debt I owe and hands me a clean slate. I know how he went to the greatest of all lengths to find me, to forgive me, to free me. If I know nothing else in the world, I know how he loves me.
And I think being a deacon means doing whatever it takes to make that love visible to each person and each community I come across, and especially those who are usually forgotten.
With God’s help (a lot of God’s help!) that’s what I’ll be trying to do – for now, and for the rest of my life!
Please pray for all those being ordained in this next week or so – Rose and I among them. Our ordination as deacons will be at Truro Cathedral at 7.30pm on Friday 28 June.