In the bishops’ discussion of direct ordination Friday, I was struck by the professed ignorance of many bishops. The fact that many of our bishops have only a rudimentary understanding of the diaconate is profound. They are right to point out that diakonia is essential for priesthood, but many fail to understand that said diakonia is conferred at baptism. To say otherwise cheapens our baptismal vows and only further serves to diminish the diaconate. Their message to the Committee on Ministry was clear: as a governing body, the bishops of our church do not have a clear understanding of the diaconate and need more education, perhaps even an official study on the matter. Yet there is already plenty of literature on the subject and hundreds of deacons to learn from. Call me naive, but I am disappointed in the bishops.
However, there is a deeper issue in our church. Too many dioceses do not allow deacons to serve at all! Of course many of our bishops do not understand the diaconate, because if they did, the bishops would be tripping over themselves to develop diaconal programs in every diocese. Just imagine having a corps of trained, mobile servant leaders, who serve directly under you and truly know the meaning of diakonia and can help to foster it throughout the church. Moreover, imagine that these same leaders are for all practical purposes volunteers. Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Diakonia is essential to mature Christianity, and without it 20/20 will never happen. The presence of a deacon in every parish, mission and outreach of the Episcopal Church should be the “minimum” standard!