About the Diaconate and Discernment

What is the Diaconate?

The diaconate is a distinctive order of ministry dating from the earliest days of the church. Deacons are ordained to personify, sacramentalize, and encourage the ministries of witness, justice, and compassionate action to which all Christians are called in baptism. At ordination, a deacon is charged to “serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely … to interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world … to make Christ and his redemptive love known by your word and example … and to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself. ” (Book of Common Prayer, Page 543)

The Episcopal Church has experienced a renewal and revitalizing of the diaconate over the past 50 years. There are now nearly 3,000 deacons nationwide, engaged in a wide array of ministries and leadership roles.

Where can I learn more about this traditional role in the church?

Seeing the Deacon in Our Midst: An Aid for the Discerning Community

The Prophetic Voice of the Deacon

Deacons: The Bridge between the Church and the Needs of the World

How does a person begin a vocational discernment process towards Diaconal ministry?

Nominee > Postulant > Candidate > Ordained Deacon

A confirmed adult communicant in good standing, may be nominated for ordination to the diaconate by the person’s congregation or other community of faith, after completion of a formal discernment process. The Bishop may approve a Nominee to become a Postulant.

Postulancy is the time between nomination and candidacy and may initiate the formal preparation for ordination. Postulancy involves continued exploration of and decision about the Postulant’s call to the Diaconate. With the support of the Commission on Ministry (COM), and the Standing Committee, the Bishop may approve a Postulant to become a Candidate.

Candidacy is a time of continuing education and formation in preparation for ordination to the Diaconate. Candidacy is established by a formal commitment from the Candidate, the Bishop, COM, the Standing Committee, and the congregation or other community of faith.

With the approval of the Bishop, in consultation with the Standing Committee, a Candidate may be ordained Deacon after at least eighteen months from the time of written acceptance of nomination, and attainment of at least twenty-four years of age.

There are many more specifics to this process. Anyone considering this ministry is strongly advised to carefully review the following materials:

Episcopal Church Canon III 6.x: Of the Ordination of Deacons

Diaconal Ordination Manual and Forms – Episcopal Diocese of Montana

Ordained Ministry Manual

How are Postulants for the Diaconate prepared for ministry?

The Canons of The Episcopal Church define a set of competencies which a Postulant for ordination to the Diaconate shall obtain to support their ministry.

Canon III 6.5 – Sec. 5: Preparation for Ordination (for Deacons)

… d. Prior education and learning from life experience may be considered as part of the formation required for ordination.

… f. Before ordination each Candidate shall be prepared in and demonstrate basic competence in five general areas:

1. Academic studies including, The Holy Scriptures, theology, and the tradition of the Church.

2. Diakonia and the diaconate.

3. Human awareness and understanding.

4. Spiritual development and discipline.

5. Practical training and experience.

What is the Montana School for Deacons?

For many years, the Episcopal Diocese of Montana has supported diaconal training through its Montana School for Deacons. This community-influenced, yet individualized, learning and formation program, led by the Diocesan Office of the Archdeacon, works locally in the Diocese with persons discerning a call to the Diaconate, to help form their understanding of this vital ministry, and prepare them for its practice.

As part of their learning and formation, each Postulant for the Diaconate will work with one or more mentors from the Montana School for Deacons to determine the best path of learning to meet their particular ministry goals and needs.

The Montana School for Deacons also works in partnership with church-wide learning programs designed to meet the academic needs of this ministry.

The Association for Episcopal Deacons (AED) speaks as a voice of the Diaconate within The Episcopal Church. This organization of highly experienced clergy has refined the canonically defined competencies for Deacons, listed above, into a set of practical, specific learning objectives.

People discerning a vocation to Diaconal ministry are encouraged to thoughtfully review the information AED provides about these learning objectives, which have been designed to meet the canonically required competencies:

AED Competencies for Deacons

Bexley-Seabury Episcopal Seminary has collaborated with several longstanding diaconal training programs to implement the Deacons Formation Collaborative, a two-year learning experience aligned with the AED Competencies for Deacons.

The Episcopal Diocese of Montana maintains a relationship with this program, to help make this learning path as affordable as possible for each postulant. The Bexley-Seabury program is notable for its highly individualized approach to formation and education, delivered through both asynchronous (self-study) tracks, as well optional, synchronous (live, online) seminars.

Bexley-Seabury Deacons Formation Collaborative

With the permission of the Bishop, other Diaconal and theological education programs may be engaged, in collaboration with the Montana School for Deacons, including:

Iona Collaborative: Certificate in Diaconal Studies (Seminary of the Southwest)

Vancouver School of Theology (University of British Columbia)

Sewanee Alternative Clergy Training (University of the South)