The role of a deacon in The Episcopal Church (TEC) is not always understood. To help clarify this for our readers, we talked with Tracie Middleton, President of the Association of Episcopal Deacons (AED), about what’s different and unique about the role of deacons in TEC. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
Tracie: Most Episcopalians know there are four orders of ministry in TEC: laypersons, deacons, priests, and bishops. What is not always known is that these orders have distinct contexts for living out their roles and ministries. Sometimes people think of the orders like rungs on a ladder, where moving from one order to another might be like getting a promotion. In recent decades, I think more people consider the orders as a mutually collaborative structure.
[EPF]: Would it be accurate to say that each order participates in the one mission and ministry of the Church and responds to God’s call to a distinct part of that mission and ministry?
Tracie: Yes, exactly.
[EPF]: And what is distinctive about the order of deacons – and about deacons’ preaching?
Tracie: I had the opportunity to reflect on this precise question at the preaching conference conducted by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation
(EPF) for the deacons of Province VIII held by Zoom on October 22-24, 2021. As I mulled over that word “distinctive,” my mind went to my ordination to the Diaconate, and those powerful words addressed to me: “You are to interpret to the Church the needs, hopes, and concerns of the world.” One thing is clear: as a deacon, I’m called to be a bridge between the Church and the world. Deacons help create access between the two; we help the world see and understand the Church better and help the Church see and understand the world better.
EPF: It sounds like part of what deacons do is connect their workplaces, their circles of friends, their communities, and the Church. And that makes the deacon into a doorway for sharing experiences, needs, aspirations, and hope.
Tracie: Yes, absolutely. At ordination, deacons are also told, “You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship.” And, we are charged that “all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless, they are serving Christ himself.”
EPF: How do these “charges” at the ordination of a deacon impact the way you preach? Do you, for instance, ask yourself, “How does my preaching reflect the distinctive voice of a deacon?”
Tracie: As I prepare a sermon, I think about questions like “What will be the focus of my message, how do I organize the text, what images do I use, am I conscious of the most effective delivery?” I also consider how best to bridge my world and the congregation by asking a question like, “Am I just telling them what I see, or am I inviting them to come and see with me?
EPF: Would you leave the reader of KERYGMA™ with a final thought you took away from the conference on what is distinctive in deacons’ preaching?
Tracie: My time at the preaching conference was wonderful. It encouraged me to celebrate the gifts deacons’ voices bring to the Church. I will just suggest that the next time your deacon is preaching, expect to hear a slightly different message about how our faith connects to what’s going on “Out There” and how we as a community can live up to the challenge to take the spirit of Christ into our daily lives.