In contrast to just a few years ago, when we had a bare handful of deacons serving in congregations and no strategy for forming new ones, the deacon community in the Diocese of Washington now counts in the double digits and continues to grow with another ten to be ordained, God willing, by Bishop Mariann on Saturday, November 12. Why is this important? Because deacons serve a unique role in the Church. They are deployed by a bishop to serve in congregations with the primary purpose of acting as a bridge between the church and the world. Deacons are to communicate the hopes, needs and concerns of the world to the church and to empower the church, the people of God, to respond to those needs.
The canons of The Episcopal Church identify the deacons of a diocese as a community of deacons and empower the bishop of a diocese to create a council of deacons to help the bishop and archdeacon support, encourage, and provide continuing development of the deacons.
Earlier this year Bishop Mariann asked The Venerable L. Sue von Rautenkranz, Archdeacon, to begin the process of forming a deacons council for our diocese and to set up the parameters of the council. Based on best practices learned from around the Church, the current configuration of our diocesan Deacons Council comprises six active deacons serving staggered terms with the possibility of each serving a second term. Two more deacons serve as co-chairs and one retired deacon serves as an advisor to the council while the archdeacon acts as staff liaison. Future configurations of the council may include lay people and priests.
The initial work of the Deacons Council will fall into three main buckets:
- Develop a handbook for deacons.
- Plan and implement an annual retreat for deacons.
- Draft a report to the diocese regarding the possibility of adopting minimum compensation standards for deacons so that they may participate in the benefits of The Church Pension Fund, following the path a number of other dioceses have begun walking.
Over time, the Deacons Council will expand its work to include advising the bishop about deployment, policies regarding the retirement of deacons, and continuing education possibilities. All of these areas of focus will help to connect and organize the deacons to better serve their congregations and the diocese and to further the work of justice, especially in the areas of creation care, racial reconciliation, and immigration and refugee ministry.