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We’re blessed with the ministry of about 30 active permanent deacons in our Diocese. ("Permanent deacons" are men who stay as deacons - as distinct from priests-in-training who pass through the stage of the diaconate on their way to full priesthood.) They have a wide variety of roles depending upon their individual personal and parish circumstances. This page outlines the path to diaconal ordination.
Our current understanding of the diaconate derives from the Second Vatican Council which teaches:
• the whole world is taken up in what happens at the altar; and
• the sacrifice of the altar is celebrated for the whole world.
We need a greater presence of sacred ministers throughout our society, in the family, at work and in schools as well as in various church structures. Deacons provide that vital link.
Men considering the diaconate have usually been very involved in parish and local community life for many years. The idea of diaconal service often first occurred years ago, and it’s only when several people ask whether he’s considered it that an applicant takes it further. This might be at a particular point when he has an opportunity to review his life and commitments.
There’s a selection process to help the discernment of vocation. It begins with prayer and conversations with your wife, if you are married, and your parish priest. Your parish priest contacts our Director for the Diaconate, Fr Francis Higgins, to arrange for him to meet you; for you to meet some deacons active in your area; and to provide further information.
There are some general selection principles:
• All prospective candidates must have the support of their parish priest.
• Generally, men over 60 years of age are not suitable for the selection process, since active ministry usually ceases at 75.
• There should be some idea of the form your diaconal ministry might take whether at your parish, Pastoral Area, and/or Diocesan level or elsewhere.
For example, if your parish already has several relatively young deacons, it would be good to have some idea of what distinctive and supplementary ministry might be envisaged, but circumstances change: nothing’s set in stone!
Selection needs forms completing, including an essay on your vocational journey, and references and a psychological assessment to be obtained. Your wife must give formal consent to formation for the diaconate because your vocation to marriage always takes priority.
There’s a selection conference when you’ll be interviewed by Fr Francis, an experienced parish priest, an active deacon and a married lady. They make a recommendation about your suitability for formation to Bishop Peter who meets you and decides whether or not to accept you for formation.
If you or someone you know is considering the possibility of a diaconal vocation, please speak to your parish priest and to Fr Francis Higgins. Completed applications for men beginning formation at Wonersh in September each year will be needed early in that calendar year, and it takes much time, thought and prayer to reach that point.
This time of preparation for formation is particularly focused not on study, but rather on prayerful reflection of the call of God and what it will mean to be a formal ‘Candidate’ for diaconal ordination. You’ll be introduced to a deeper knowledge of theology, spirituality, the ministry of deacon, your Pastoral Area and the Diocese. We begin to consider the four dimensions of formation: the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral; and meet with others at the same stage and with the formation community.
Each year we have a diaconate formation retreat weekend led for us by Sr Judith at Turvey Abbey. These usually include applicants, men in formation, the formation team and ordained deacons and their wives.
Elements of this time begin during the Selection process described above and continue during Formation.
Formation and Discernment
Following the ordination of a new Deacon in July 2019, we currently have two men in formation, who started the academic course in September. 2018. Most Deacons are in full-time employment while others are self-employed, work part-time or have taken early retirement. They have a wide range of professional skills and very varied levels of formal education. What is necessary is openness to change and growth: we’ve been very impressed by the calm assurance of applicants that they’ll cope with the study if this is the right path.
During formation we participate in a programme based at St John’s Seminary at Wonersh, near Guildford, with other Dioceses and Archdioceses in Southern England and Wales. As part of this, men take a two-year Foundation Degree in Pastoral Ministry awarded by St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, and some progress to a full Masters Degree, completed after ordination.
Foundation Degrees are not just academic: they include reflection on all aspects of life - and so what sounds like an academic theological degree includes human, spiritual and pastoral elements too. In addition to the work for the degree, the time of formation has other aspects which help address all the four dimensions. Those in formation are part of supportive and prayerful communities at Wonersh, as well as within the Diocese and their home Parishes and Pastoral Areas. They receive guidance from a Spiritual Director and a local tutor in the Diocese.
At each stage of selection, only applicants likely to be accepted for formation are encouraged to proceed. Similarly throughout formation – the discernment of vocation is a continuing process achieved through mature reflection and prayer within a supportive community. There are annual occasions to reflect upon progress towards ordination and to discern whether or not this is still the right path. Please pray for those who have a vocation to the diaconate and be encouraging to men who might respond.
)riginally written by Joanna Hale
on behalf of the Selection Committee
Updated October 2019