History of Diaconate
Click on one of the following links for more information:
- The Three-fold Ministry
- The Diaconate
- The Deaconess Movement
- Accredited Lay Work
- Church Army
- Renewed Diaconate
- Extended history of the Diaconate
The Church of England inherited the three-fold order ministry: diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate. Bishops and Deacons were recorded as public ministers in the early church. Deacons were the 'eyes and ears' and envoys of the bishops. Over the following early centuries many deacons were appointed as bishop's representatives in his absence and began to preside at the Eucharist. As the priesthood developed the diaconate slowly declined into a nominal preparation year in the formation of priests.
Though the Church of England has become accustomed to the order of deacon being a 'transitional' state leading to ordination to the priesthood, this has never been formally set down. There have always been long-term and life-long deacons ministering in a distinctively diaconal way. Nicholas Ferrar is a well-known example (see pages on famous deacons).
During the challenging times of Victorian Britain, other diaconal ministries developed with the church selecting and training people for public ministry. The deaconess movement in Europe spread to the UK and provided a strong work force for social change.
St Andrew's House in London was the mother house of a community of deaconesses in England. Some deaconesses in this order still minister in the region, including Sister Teresa who has been a member of synod and is well-known internationally for her networking amongst diaconal communities and her contribution to church discussions on the diaconate.
The office of 'Accredited Lay Worker' (ALW) was also formed to allow women, originally unmarried, to train theologically and exercise public diaconal ministry in the community. The ALW ministry today is a public office open to both men and women.
Another response to the growing social needs was the founding of the Church Army which still selects and trains lay men and women for evangelism and social work in society. Church Army Officers are licensed as ALW's (see above).
During the process of acceptance of the ordination of women, a large number of women were deacons for ten years before synod opened the doors to them becoming priests. During that ten year period a great deal of significant diaconal work was initiated.
The Diaconal Association of the Church of England is committed to developing that spirit and focus of diaconal ministry into the challenging times the church faces in a 'post-modern' and secular society.
We have a lot more historical information and if you wish to read more then please continue to the next page, entitled Extended history of the diaconate.