What’s a Deacon?
Deacon Kenny - April 16, 2023
Back in 2016, the ELCA voted as a denomination to create a new “roster” or office of leadership within the church and call them “Deacons.” Prior to this decision, the ELCA had three lay-roster positions; Associate in Ministry (AIMs), Deacons, and Deaconesses. All three of these lay-rostered positions had different trainings and different educational processes and served within the church in different ways. These are positions that were recognized by the church and used consecration as an entrance rite into service. People who had held these titles often served as church musicians, youth ministers, church administrators, service and outreach specialists, and even in faith-based social service organizations.
There were many reasons that the ELCA chose to combine these three lay-rosters into one, many of which I am not aware of! One of the reasons was to streamline and simplify the educational process creating one standard for education. Another reason was none of our communion partners of other denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, etc.) had the three lay-rosters but they do have Deacons! This allows for easier movement between denominations like our pastors have if they choose to do so. The reasons aren’t as important, however, than what this shift in leadership does for our church and denomination moving forward.
With the vote in 2016 to combine the three lay-rosters into one and call them Deacons, the ELCA created a new way for people feeling called to ministry to express that calling. There are two “rosters” in the ELCA, now; Pastors who are called to Word and Sacrament and Deacons who are called to Word and Service. A Pastors education is a Masters in Divinity with 3 years of course work and a yearlong internship (a total of 4 years) while a Deacons education is a Masters of Arts in Diaconal Ministry with 2 years of course work and a yearlong internship (a total of 3 years). Much of the course work is the same between the two. Deacon candidates go through the same process of discernment as Pastors, called candidacy, with the same review process as Pastors. In 2019, the ELCA voted to us “ordination” as the entrance rite for Deacons, the same as Pastors with just slightly different wording since Deacons are called to service and not sacraments.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between Pastors and Deacons is their calling. Pastors are called to shepherd congregations, preach the word, and administer the sacraments. Deacons are called to have one foot in the church and one foot in the world bridging the gap between the two. Deacons are called to preach the word and serving those on the margins and in need. This call to service is often depicted with the towel, washbasin, and the act of washing feet like Jesus did with his disciples before the Last Supper.
Not all Deacons serve in congregations. Many will be called to faith-based organizations because of the connection to serving those in need. Pastors and Deacons are actually designed to work wonderfully together, Deacons leading people from the world to the church, Pastors caring for the people of the church, and Deacons leading the church back out into the world!
There is still much work to be done around this new roster but the potential for the church is incredible! If it weren’t for this second roster, I don’t believe I would have ever gotten to the pointing of recognizing my call as a Pastor. I am grateful for my first call as a Deacon and excited for the new calling on my life as a Pastor! If you are interested in learning more about Deacons, you know where to find me!
Deacon Kenny Champagne