Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Common Vows and Common Mission

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Common Vows and Common Mission

Article excerpt

This essay explores the type of leadership found among deacons today, as well as the relationship of diaconal leaders to others, within the context of the whole people of God. It establishes an understanding of the diaconate as set forth by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and its relationship with the Baptismal Covenant. The essay also explains that with this Prayer Book understanding comes the charge from the church not only to lead through serving, but to lead through exercising an interpretive and prophetic voice. It further provides examples of diaconal leadership in today's church.

To understand diaconal leadership it is important to understand something about the most recent renewal of an historic order. And when we examine the renewal of the diaconate, it is critical to consider its role in the context of the whole laos. For I believe that even though ordained, our primary identity remains baptismal, and our ordination vows and charges only serve to expand, enhance, and urge us on in animating and exemplifying the diakonia to winch all of us are called.

It is for these reasons that bodi the promises in the Baptismal Covenant and the charges in the Ordination Rite for deacons will be woven together as we reflect on diaconal leadership. That these two are related, necessarily so, reminds us that as a part of the laos we can never set ourselves apart in leadership, and that others can count on us to lead with that in mind.

Over the years, I have shared, countless times, a bit of wisdom offered to me by the late George Harris, who had served as the bishop in Alaska, and who was also a mentor and friend. One day in an informal conversation, Bishop Harris told a small group of deacons and others interested in diaconal ministry that it was very significant that, with the Prayer Book revision of 1979, both the importance of a theology of ministry rooted in baptism and the renewal of the historic diaconate occurred at the same time. We all nodded and made a few connections, particularly with the idea that we all make diaconal promises when we recite the Baptismal Covenant and that, while deacons are called by the church to live this out in primary and focused ways, it is also incumbent on them to be developers of diaconal ministry in others.

It is now some fifteen years later and I have found myself returning to Bishop Harris's observation over and over in every one of those years. I return to his words most often in the context of lex orandi, lex credendi - the law of prayer is the law of belief, or interpreted simply as how we pray is how we believe - and I marvel at where we have come in the thirty years since our Prayer Book revision. Just as the words of the Sunday liturgies are engraved on our hearts through the rhythms and seasons, not only of the church year, but of life, so are the words of the Baptismal Covenant, the reminder of our initiation into Christ's body and the "first call" to ministry. We renew those promises at least four times a year - enough to have them also engraved on our hearts, sometimes haunting, sometimes daunting, but always a reminder of those who five the covenant with us, and a reminder that we hold a common rule of life. This is not new information. But what is new, at least in some corners, is the observation as to how this has had an impact on our life together as the body of Christ. We are often better at acting than at reflecting, or paying attention to those who have. While I am still looking for a study on the impact of the 1979 Book of Corninoti Prayer, there is at least one venue where reflection has taken place. In a three-year review of theological education in the Episcopal Church (2005-2008), authorized by the church's Executive Council and called Proclaiming Education for All (PEALL), the History Document produced by a small committee both traced and reflected on that topic.

While the document includes much more than the impact of the Prayer Book, there was no denying that, since that revision, theological education has centered on the Eucharist, on baptism, and on ministry - for all ages. …

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