The Path of Discernment

Diakonos (Greek): a servant, minister

From An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: "In the ancient Greek-speaking world the term “diakonos" meant an intermediary who acted or spoke for a superior. Christian deacons were agents of the bishop, often with oversight of charity. Since ancient times the liturgical functions of deacons have suggested the activity of angels. As they proclaim the gospel, lead intercessions, wait at the eucharistic table, and direct the order of the assembly, deacons act as sacred messengers, agents, and attendants."

January 22, 2018 was the day I went to my priest to tell her I’d like to explore discerning my call to diaconal ministry. Once I cracked the door open I couldn’t push it shut, even if I wanted to, thanks be to God. 

The process to ordination in the Episcopal Church begins with discernment. For Christians, each of us is called to serve as members of the body of Christ whether clergy or laity. (1 Cor 12) Once a person steps forward and expresses a desire to openly explore a call to ordained ministry, next steps are taken to gather a group of parishioners to help the inquirer discern that call.

Throughout the summer and spring of 2019 I met regularly with my discernment committee, a group of five thoughtful, prayerful, and inquisitive parishioners. In our meetings, the committee would pose questions to me to help suss out the depth and breadth of my call to ordained ministry and to even help me discern if there was in fact a call at all. The process was intensive and, at times, exhausting. It was also life-giving and inspiring. I’m grateful to my committee for their intentional work and commitment. 

In the fall of 2019 I, along with several other discerners, was invited to a weekend at St. Margaret’s Convent in Duxbury to be interviewed by members of the Diocese of Massachusetts Commission on Ministry and Standing Committee, along with The Right Reverend Alan M. Gates. This was an opportunity for the Commission to get to know me a bit better and to further understand my call and how I might answer it in the diocese through ordained ministry. Then in December I was formally invited into postulancy for holy orders to the diaconate, beginning officially June 1, 2020. 

Fast-forward to October 29, 2020 and I am well into my postulancy. I’m an intern for a year at Epiphany Parish in Walpole, MA under the supervision of the Rev. Christen H. Mills where I have opportunities to participate in the liturgy each week by reading lessons, assisting with set up for communion, preaching, facilitating formation activities, attending business meetings, leading morning prayer, and so on. Additionally I’m in ‘deacon school’ through the diocese. My cohort meets once a month for three days and we worship together, study scripture, liturgy, homiletics, theology, history, etc. with some of the most knowledgeable members of the diocese. 

The postulancy process is about a year and a half and then I will apply for candidacy which is also about a year and a half. The Canons of the Episcopal Church state that candidacy is “a time of education and formation in preparation for ordination to the diaconate, established by a formal commitment by the candidate, the Bishop, the Commission, the Standing Committee, and the congregation or other community of faith” (III.6.4). During this time, education will continue and I will pick up an internship with a secular institution or other project that’s suitable. At the end of candidacy there will be an examination to test proficiency in several areas of theological study.

Finally, God willing and the people consenting, once I’ve made it through postulancy and candidacy, I will apply for ordination to the diaconate.

Deacons in the Diocese of Massachusetts are placed into parishes that have expressed the need for a deacon. Once placed, posts usually last a few years before the deacon moves on to another church, though that’s not always the case. Some deacons stay with the same parish for quite some time. 

To learn more about the diaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts, please visit this website.

© Margaret Lias 2020