What can we learn from the deacons?
18 March 2019 IN: Ministers
Canon Nick Smeeton reports from Tampere Diocese:
Attending the ‘Days of Deaconry’ conference in Lahti was quite an experience. Seeing many hundreds of deacons – all wearing the diaconal green clerical shirts – and hearing about their ministries among some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in Finnish society was rather exciting.
It was perhaps an especially valuable time for me as we begin to see signs of a distinctive diaconate re-emerging in the Church of England. Small, but growing, numbers of people are coming forwards, describing a call to work and serve in our communities and on the fringes as deacons.
Of course the system in Finland is somewhat different. The Evangelical Lutheran Church marks a far greater distinction between ‘deacon’ and ‘priest’; there is not the sense that there is in the Church of England of the diaconate as something of a transition-year. There is also a relationship between the Church and the State that has Finnish deacons undertaking the kind of work that we might expect social workers to perform in the UK.
Despite these differences there may well be things that we can learn from the vital role played by the diaconate in Finland. Two things in particular stand out for me.
The first is the value placed on a Christian ministry that is not centred on leading worship and being in church. In our own context I wonder whether there is something here that speaks into our discussions around discipleship and ‘Setting God’s People Free’.
The second is about team-working. The Finnish churches that I visited had huge ministry teams – as many as 20 paid priest and deacons; and when I talked to people I got the impression that these team were, by and large, functional and empowering.Individual priests and deacons were able to focus on ministries that suited their particular gifting; an encouraging thought as we become Church for a Different World.