The Association of Anglican Deacons in Canada (AADC) doesn’t meet very often-not since 2011, in fact, but that changed in August. A group of about 55 deacons from a dozen dioceses from all across Canada met in Halifax August 14 to 16 to examine what their vocation means and to support each other in that ministry.
In the Anglican Church of Canada, there are about 340 ordained vocational deacons who work in the parish context and do not draw a salary. In the ordination process, the bishop sums up the role and duties of a deacon by saying, “God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood…You are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them.”
The association was formed in 2003 after the need for a community of Canadian deacons became clear a few years prior to the 1999 meeting of the North American Association of the Diaconate (NAAD). It has since hosted five conferences across the country and its membership has grown to 77. Members of the AADC can also become members of its sister organization, the Association of Episcopal Deacons (AED), formerly part of NAAD. Five members of the EDC have joined the AADC to support their Canadian counterparts.
The 2014 conference, Servants by the Sea, opened with an address from the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, who spoke passionately about what deacons are called to do, including to struggle against poverty and inequality. “What I want to dwell on is your ministry in the name of the compassionate Christ,” said Hiltz. “In all you do, to those you tend, you are the feet, the hands, the heart, the voice of Jesus…you are that salt, that flavours for good. Thank you for all you do.”
Through a series of workshops, deacons spoke about the different facets and challenges of their vocation. In Faith and Christian Belief in a Public Forum, a workshop given by the Honourable Mayann Francis, former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, participants discussed the difficulties and joys of living out their diaconal ministries in their jobs and non-church lives. This includes the challenge of telling co-workers about their Christian beliefs and calling. For Francis, it all came down to saying, “I could not be a servant without God.”
The Rev. Peter Armstrong spoke about team ministry and the challenges that priests may find working with deacons, and vice versa. There was discussion on how different kinds of vocation might beautifully complement each other but also generate friction. There were also workshops about the rosary, the spirituality of art, deacons in the liturgy and missions to seafarers.
“Fellowship and connection with other deacons is so necessary, almost crucial to stay inspired and motivated to do our work in the world,” said the Rev. Kate Ann Follwell, Christ Church, Belleville, in an interview. “I was inspired by the diversity of callings, motivations and time spent in so many different and unique areas of need covered by the deacons across Canada.”
A couple of archdeacons also attended the event: the Ven. John Struthers from the diocese of New Westminster and the Ven. Christine Ross from the diocese of Kootenay, who are two of the founding members of the association and the only two deacons who are also archdeacons in the Anglican Church of Canada. Struthers has been a deacon for 18 years and an archdeacon for 13. Ross is celebrating her 30th anniversary as an ordained deacon and has been archdeacon for two months. Struthers and Ross are directors of deacons in their dioceses and are responsible for everything from discernment to the diaconate to policy and discipline. Both are retired from their full-time secular jobs and work as archdeacons alongside their regular parish ministries. Ross said that the appointment of a second diaconal archdeacon and the rise in the number of deacons in Canada show that deacons are “coming into their own.”
And coming into their own they are. As the church focuses on “mission” and becoming a “missional church,” it relies on deacons to do much of the heavy lifting. “It’s no longer oddballs on the fringes using this language of mission…Working on really getting the ministry of deacons is the single most important thing we can do for a re-formation of the church, for the sake of God’s mission, and the call to get on with God’ mission in the world,” said Eileen Scully, director of faith, worship and ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada, who spoke at the plenary.
At the plenary, Hiltz asked deacons in the room if they had been ordained for five years or less, and a majority of hands shot up. That, said Hiltz, “is a clear sign of the restoration of the diaconate.”
Meanwhile, the conference also honoured The Rev. (Deacon) Alice Beaumont, of St. Mary’s, diocese of British Columbia, with the Maylanne Maybee Award. The award, which is given to one deacon at the triennial conference of the association, recognizes deacons who “carry our Christ’s work in our midst” and how represent the ministry of deacons “at its best.”
Cydney Proctor is a freelance journalist based in Halifax.