Deaconess in Anglican Province of America
There are many women called to service in the church. They work tirelessly in schools, Altar Guilds, offices, missions and in a wide variety of other church activities.
These women are most needed and valuable to the clergy who are responsible for administering Christ’s Church.
The woman who seeks to be a Deaconess, however, is different. She is specifically and rigorously trained for a life-long commitment to service in the church.
While she remains in a lay ministry, she seeks a much deeper commitment than the normal parishioner.
IN THE PAST: It is believed that women have served the church in the role of Deaconess (Diakonos) as early as the Apostolic period (Romans 16:1). A Deaconess cared for the poor, women and children, had special duties during the Baptism of women and in the women’s galleries during the Eucharist. The role of the Deaconess remained strong until the Middle Ages when it went into disuse. It was revived again in England and Europe as part of the Reformation because there was a great need for the services provided by a Deaconess. The role of Deaconess remained an important lay vocation until 1976 when the Episcopal Church began to ordain women to Holy Orders. The Traditional Anglican church however continued to follow the teachings of the ancient Church and did not ordain women to Holy Orders. She remains a valuable assistant to the ordained clergy.
IN TODAY’S WORLD: Today’s Deaconess in the Traditional Anglican church is a lay woman who has answered a calling to work for Christ and His Church. She works under the direction of her Rector or her Bishop and her duties can be on the parish, Diocesan, Provincial or community level.
What Does a Deaconess Do?
A Deaconess is a woman who has made a long-term commitment to Christ and His church. She brings her God-given abilities to its use. Just as Paul describes the church as a group of people with many different talents so also will a group of Deaconesses have many different capabilities. The Rector of her parish will decide how a Deaconess’s talents are to be best used in his congregation. Almost all Deaconesses, however, will teach at some point either formally or informally. Almost all will be involved in assisting parish families, women and children in particular. She will help care for the poor and the sick. She will assume other non-liturgical duties based on her unique talents and the needs of her parish.
Who Should Consider Becoming a Deaconess?
A woman should consider becoming a Deaconess if she has already experienced working for her parish in several capacities, yet she finds she desires an even deeper spiritual life and a more permanent commitment. She feels called by God to commit herself to furthering His work on earth and she wants to answer that call. This decision is best made over several months and with the counsel of her Priest.
What Is Required?
AGE: She must be at least 23 years of age.
MATURITY AND MENTAL STABILITY: Because a Deaconess is in the role of helping others, she herself must be a person of mental stability and maturity. She should be a woman who exhibits good judgment and who is not inhibited by excessive personal stress or depression.
CERTAIN SKILLS: There are many duties all Deaconesses are asked to do regardless of personal talent. Each candidate, however, must have a particular skill or training in teaching, social work or pastoral care.
ACADEMIC ABILITY: Academic ability is necessary because a Deaconess embarks on a life-long study to improve her ability to teach and represent correctly the history, doctrine and current policies of the church. Often this knowledge must be gained through persistent reading and self-instruction.
A TRUE CALLING: A valid candidate is responding to a calling by God to set her life apart from the normal material world and to turn instead to a life that is dedicated to the Lord and His Church. A candidate should feel that her calling is for life even though in unusual circumstances the church will allow a Deaconess to leave her duties. This should never be a burden of obligation but instead a voluntary and joyful giving.
What Is the Process?
First, seek God’s advice and listen to your heart to determine whether you have a true calling. Do not be surprised if a certain amount of fear or confusion occurs at this point. That can happen. In some cases a woman might feel a calling but resist it for any number of reasons. When this happens it is best not to commit too quickly. A true calling will be persistent and eventually overcome any uncertainty. Certain personal reasons, however, may be serious enough to prohibit consideration for the present. Their subsequent resolution may make a later commitment possible. A woman who is married needs to have the full unconditional support of her family, particularly her husband. The preparation and the life of a Deaconess take significant time away from the family so its members need to be in agreement with her decision. The Provincial Canons require that the preparations to become a Deaconess take at least two years. Each Diocese, by canon or policy, sets out how the process proceeds from this point. What follows are the steps generally outlining how the process flows in the Diocese of the Eastern United States, which is similar to the process in the rest of the APA. Always check with the Diocesan authorities to ensure you are following the proper path.
~ Discuss your perceived vocation with your priest
~If you both believe you may be called to this ministry, write to the Bishop Ordinary requesting to begin a Year of Discernment and send a copy of this letter to the Chairman of the Board of Examining Chaplains.
~The Board of Examining Chaplains (BEC) will then assign readings and written work to assist you in fully discerning your call.
~Meet with your priest on a regular basis. The Year of Discernment is a time when you and your Priest know that you are considering a life as a Deaconess but normally you do not tell others. It is a quiet time that will last for usually a year as you begin to do some of the duties of a Deaconess and evaluate its appropriateness for you. This is also the time for you to decide on a personal Rule of Life. A basic Rule of Life includes saying daily personal and intercessory prayers as well as Morning and Evening Prayer, regular attendance at church services and on-going Scriptural study. This is a personal discipline which lasts for as long as a woman remains a Deaconess. Faithfully adhering to your Rule of Life not only improves your spiritual life but also strengthens your personal self-discipline.
This step is important because a Deaconess often is in situations where she is trying to help others strengthen their self-discipline and having been through the process herself improves her ability to help others. Also, in keeping her own Rule of Life faithfully, a Deaconess becomes a role model for others. Your Rule of Life should be approved by the Rector or the Mentor.
~~After the completion of the one-year Discernment Period and if the Board of Examining Chaplains determines that you are ready to begin the Formation Period and you desire to continue, you may then complete the “Application for the Ministry of Deaconess” and submit it, along with a Testimonial of Fitness, to the Diocesan Office. This application is similar to that required of the clergy. The process checklist on the Application spells out the specific details of each step in the Application process.
~~Once the Application is fully completed the Examining Chaplains shall begin to superintend your progress.
~~When you are approved by the Board of Examining Chaplains to begin your Formation Period you are officially a Deaconess Candidate and will be assigned a BEC Mentor.
~~Deaconess candidates in DEUS have almost the same requirements as men studying for the Perpetual Diaconate. You can expect to take many of the same courses. You will be required to write Ember Letters to the Bishop Ordinary each Ember Season to describe your progress and activities during the Formation Period.
Additionally, you will meet with the BEC as requested for progress meetings.
~~The Deaconess studies track at Logos House of Theological Studies must be completed.
~~Studies for Deaconess Candidates shall not take less than two years.
~~Canonical examinations, both verbal and written, shall be completed.
~~There will be final interviews with the Standing Committee and Bishop Ordinary to determine your fitness for this ministry once all studies are complete.
~~The Bishop Ordinary always has the final say in whether or not a woman will be Set Apart as a Deaconess in Christ’s Church. Once he receives the advice and consent of the Standing Committee, and he himself approves, a date and location for Setting Apart shall be set.
The Setting Apart service is conducted by the Bishop. He formally sets you apart for the Lord’s work and welcomes you into the church as a Deaconess. During the service you will receive the Deaconess Cross and you may officially begin to wear the Deaconess light blue jacket as an outward sign of your commitment.
If you have further questions about becoming a Deaconess, ask your Rector. If he requires additional information, he may contact the Chairman of the Board of Examining Chaplains.
Some Suggestions To Consider During your Discernment and Formation:
* All Deaconesses must be prepared to teach. Whether she will teach Sunday school, adult classes, confirmation classes, retreats or informal instruction, she is bound to find some form of teaching in her future. She can study through formal class work, personal reading or a combination of the two. Scripture, church history and current church issues are good starting topics.
* A Deaconess should be very familiar with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and be taught to lead Morning and Evening Prayer properly.
* Hospice training, Pastoral Care classes (often given in hospitals), Stephen Ministry classes and volunteering in a hospital or other community service could be part of discernment or formation.
* The Priest might assign and mentor the candidate through specific parish pastoral care situations. This could be excellent hands-on training.
* Further formal training in your areas of strengths or weaknesses might be considered.
* Training in church skills such as Altar Guild should be included.
Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy handmaidens who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Adapted from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer Morning Prayer, page 588
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