A History of Diaconal Ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

by | Sep 17, 2020

During his time as bishop, The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane paved the way for diaconal ministry in the Diocese of Washington when he granted postulancy to Ty Jones, Susan Walker, and Terri Murphy, the ones who would become the first “home-grown” deacons to be raised up, formed, and ordained in our diocese. In September 2012, we were ordained by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and called into service, but really, our diaconal work began much earlier. 

The three of us served as an experiment of sorts, with a mission to establish and grow a diaconal program that would serve the parishes and communities of the diocese. But things were run a bit differently at the start of our formation process. With no deacon school, this was a challenge. All three of us had earned seminary degrees and we worked with the then-Canon for Vocation, Preston Hannibal, on a monthly basis. Our education was rounded out by consulting with clergy from the diocese and Virginia Theological Seminary to explore the realities of parish life, preaching, and polity (the governance structure of our church). We also attended required conferences on community organizing.

When The Venerable Sue von Rautenkranz arrived in the diocese, the heavy lifting of creating a formal deacon school began. A taskforce of priests, deacons and laity was formed under the Commission of Ministry (the COM oversees the discernment and formation of persons in the ordination process). From this, the diaconal discernment process, as well as a vision for the deacon school, began to take shape. In September 2017, we ordained our first cohort of five deacons and in September 2018, the second cohort of twelve followed close behind. We have another nine readying themselves for ordination soon and our fourth cohort of eleven members is in the middle of their deacon school experience. 

As the ‘bridge’ order between the church and the needs of the world, deacons serve from the doorway of the church, with one foot inside the church (assisting in liturgy) and one foot outside the church (with eyes always on the needs of the world). 

At this writing, there are, in addition to the archdeacon, nineteen active deacons in the diocese serving a total of twenty-two parishes as well as working with a variety of ministries in the world including: immigrant ministries, homeless ministries, food banks, ministries for handicapped persons, educational ministries, elderly ministries, disaster chaplaincy, international peace and justice ministries, interfaith ministries, jail ministries, and ecumenical ministries, to name a few. 

Some of the agencies that our deacons and deacons-in-training work with include: Shepherd’s Table, Bethesda Cares, Casa of P.G. County, L’Arche, Kids for Peace, Loaves and Fishes, Samaritan Ministries, Montgomery County Government, FEMA, HHS, Montgomery County Police and Fire, AFEDJ, State Department, Catholic Charities, Sasha Bruce Agency, Asbury Methodist Village, D.C. Jail, Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Melwood and Lutheran Social Services. 

It is our hope to keep growing these affiliations over the years as the numbers of our deacons also increase.

The Rev. Terri M. Murphy
Deacon, Church of the Ascension, Sligo Park