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Deaconomics 101

by Rick Hilton | June 13, 2017

seven deacons monochromeI work with a pastor whose faith in Providence is unshakable. No matter what the problem—a leaky roof, a sudden change in personnel, a scheduling conflict—he assures us with calm certainty that “God will provide.” And God does.

Of course, among the many things that God has provided our Parish are a half-year deacon and a pastoral intern [me], experienced administrators capable of assisting with some of the daily administrivia as our pastor shepherds his flock.

As the Deacon-Formation “Class of 2017” completes its Pastoral Internships and coursework and waits—hoping and praying—for the bishop’s formal “calls,” I am very optimistic about the role of deacons in the Church of the future.

The Class of 2017 is a diverse, talented group distinguished in many fields, including finance, technology, accounting, management, education, psychology, marketing, law enforcement, and communications. Well traveled, members of the class speak or read many languages in addition to English, including French, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Their ministries have ranged from Baptismal preparation to faith formation to prison ministries. They bring a wealth of practical knowledge, experience, and skill to their work in parishes.

This is as it should be. According to Acts, deacons were appointed by Apostles to meet a practical need, “the daily distribution” of charity, resolving the Apostles’ scheduling conflict between “preaching the word of God” and “prayer and to the ministry of the word” on the one hand and the distraction of “serv[ing] tables” on the other. They were selected by “the body of the disciples” according to the Apostles’ prescription: “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”

Timothy provides further detail for a deacon’s job description:

Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain….Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well….

I have been deeply impressed by my classmates’ devotion to God and to His people. That rather diffident group of strangers who assembled back in 2013 has now grown into a close family of brothers and sisters whose individual faith and active service support and encourage all. And as New Hampshire goes, so goes the nation.

At last count there were 18,173 permanent deacons serving in the United States, with another 2,297 preparing for ordination. That is very good news for the 25,760 diocesan priests in the U.S., who can use the support that a permanent deacon provides. And, since only 16% of America’s permanent deacons are compensated, it is also an extremely good value.

The return of the permanent diaconate is among the first fruits of Vatican II’s hearkening back to the early church, when deacons and the bishops they served were the administrative arm of the Body of Christ. By the early Middle Ages, deacons were so essential to Church administration that 34 of the 37 Popes elected between 432 and 684 were deacons, not priests, before their election.

Like the very first deacons, today’s permanent deacons have a humbler role, performing the corporal works of mercy and contributing their “real-world” experience in business, marriage, family, and community life to their preaching, counseling, and proclaiming the Gospel.

In my experience, our Class of 2017 embodies the integration of “faith and works” that reverberates through the Epistle of James. They exemplify the practical application of faith to matters of daily life. Addressing related issues, our Greek brethren have a useful notion of οἰκονομία, or “economy,” meaning the practical “management” of Church matters as opposed to a “legalistic” view of such issues. Deacons are proving particularly adept at this “managerial” function.

As my pastor says, “God will provide.” Indeed. God has provided permanent deacons to assist our bishops and our priests in serving the people of God.

Related Links:

Frequently Requested Church Statistics from CARA

A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the USCCB 2013-2014

Deacons Yesterday and Today by Duane L.C.M. Galles

This blog post was contributed by Rick Hilton, Saint Katharine Drexel Parish, Alton, NH

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