The Diaconate in the Diocese of New Jersey:
Duties of the Parish Committee on Ministry for the Diaconate
A Parish Committee on Ministry for the Diaconate, if it does not already exist, must be formed when a communicant of the congregation desires to explore his/her call to the diaconate. The primary purpose of this committee is to assist that person in the discernment of his/her calling and the exploration and identification of potential diaconal ministries. The parish committee may also assist the rector/vicar in identifying parishioners who might best serve the Episcopal Church in a diaconal ministry.
The Parish committee should consist of four to six lay communicants in good standing. The initial work of the parish committee will generally take about a year to complete. Should the parish committee recommend the inquirer for ordained diaconal ministry and that person is subsequently accepted into the program, its task would continue for the next three to four years. It is important that the members be committed to this length of service, so that ongoing support is available to the inquirer. All conversations with the inquirer should be kept confidential. One member of the parish committee should serve as chairperson and be responsible for convening a series of regular meetings. The number of meetings may vary, but should continue until a conclusion is reached.
The first meeting (and second, if the parish committee finds it necessary) should be held without the inquirer present. The rector or vicar and parish deacon (if there is one) may be present at this meeting to offer direction or provide information on the diaconate as an ordained ministry. It is important for the parish committee to understand the deacon’s role as servant minister and as bridge between the Church and the world. The parish committee should also familiarize itself with the materials on this website. The committee should be open for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and be ready to listen, question and support the inquirer as he/she discerns the call. These are some questions for the parish committee to consider before meeting with the inquirer. They should be read in conjunction with the questions for the inquirer in the Diaconal Discernment Kit:
- Since all Christians are called to servant ministry through baptism, why do we need ordination?
- How does the ministry of the deacon differ from that of laypersons, priests and bishops?
- What is the relationship between these ministries and the Church? and the World?
Subsequent meetings are held with the inquirer. The rector/vicar should not be present at these meetings. Several conversations have probably already taken place between the rector/vicar and the inquirer. The rector/vicar will be required to send a written report to Canon Constance White, 808 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618, independent of the committee’s report.
At the first meeting with the inquirer, the parish committee should assure him/her that all information will be kept confidential. The inquirer should also know that the parish committee is not only a discernment group, but also a support group to aid him/her in discerning the call from the Holy Spirit.
Over the course of several meetings, the chairperson should ensure that the following topics have been discussed with the inquirer:
- Personal History
- Spiritual Journey
- Prayer Life
- Present/Future Ministry
- Leadership Style
- Dealing with Authority
- Understanding the Diaconate
- Understanding of The School for Deacons, including time commitment
The topics should be discussed sufficiently so that the parish committee knows the inquirer well enough to answer for themselves questions such as the following:
- Does the inquirer demonstrate leadership or a potential for leadership?
- Is the inquirer the kind of person you want to work with as an ordained minister of the church?
- How would ordination change the inquirer’s ministry?
- How will the inquirer work under the authority and direction of the bishop?
- Could the inquirer transfer his/her ministry to another parish/mission? Can he/she switch to another ministry if the need arises? (e.g. from soup kitchen to Christian Education, etc.)
When the parish committee feels it has enough information, a meeting should be held without the inquirer. The parish committee needs to agree on one of two directions, to be discussed with the inquirer at the next meeting:
- The parish committee discerns that the Episcopal Church can best use the commitment of the inquirer as an ordained deacon. The parish committee should prepare to discuss any concerns it has regarding the inquirer’s preparation for and completion of The School for Deacons.
- The parish committee discerns that the Episcopal Church can best use the commitment of the inquirer as a layperson. The parish committee should prepare to explain its position to the inquirer. This must reflect an uplifting of the person’s current ministry. The committee should also be willing to work closely with this individual to enable growth of his/her current ministry and possible development of new ministries in the parish and diocese.
At that next meeting with the inquirer, the parish committee explains its conclusions. If the committee feels that this person is not ready to be considered for The School for Deacons, they should convey that decision. It is important to listen to the inquirer’s response, and to affirm his/her present ministry.
If the parish committee decides to recommend the inquirer’s application to the School, then the committee should assure the inquirer that the committee will continue to work with and support him/her, whether or not he/she is selected for The School for Deacons.
When the rector/vicar and the parish committee have affirmed an individual’s call to the diaconate, the committee should submit its report to Canon Constance White, 808 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618. A statement from the vestry clerk indicating that the vestry is aware of the ongoing process should be included.
Go to Application Procedures for an overview of the rest of the process.