The Diaconate

The Diaconate

Deacons are called “to a special ministry of servanthood directly under [the] bishop” with a charge to care particularly for “the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.” (BCP 543). Deacons are to “make Christ and his redemptive love known by [their] word and example…to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world” and “assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God’s Word and Sacraments.”

The call to the diaconate is both that of a servant-leader and liturgical leader; a deacon’s role in the liturgy conveys the work they lead for all in the parish outside of the church. Thus, this call, just as the call to the priesthood, is situated in the body of Christ.

Diocesan Discernment Process

Nominees

Those interested in entering the Diocesan Discernment Process should begin with a period of individual discernment followed by a time of parish discernment. Resources for engaging in these stages of discernment can be found on here. After those steps have been completed, the Bishop may invite an applicant to continue discernment with the Commission on Ministry as a Nominee for a period of four to five months. During this time, nominees will engage in the following phases alongside other nominees who are discerning for the diaconate, the priesthood, or those who feel a call to ordained ministry but are unsure of the order to which they are called.

Phase One: Nominee Orientation

During this six-hour orientation, nominees will meet other nominees from around the diocese and the members of the Commission on Ministry (COM), hear about the next phases of discernment, meet with their shepherding group (made up of other nominees and members from the COM which will be the nominees’ primary point of contact during this phase of discernment), and receive more information about their parish internship assignment.

Phase Two: Ongoing Study, Shepherding Groups, Internship & Evaluations

Ongoing Study

Shepherding groups will select two books from this list to read and reflect upon. Nominees will write two papers, each being a two-page double-spaced reflection on how the ideas of the author conflict, confirm, or confuse their own ideas about ministry. The reflection should not read as a book report. Instead, it should be the frame of reference for the nominees to express their thoughts on their personal discernment. Written reports should be submitted to the COM shepherds before shepherding group meetings as well as to Liza Lee Horton (lhorton@dioala.org) who will upload the paper to the nominee’s file. Please save your files as follows: “John Doe Nominee 2023 Reflection Paper One”.

Shepherding Groups

The schedule and location of meetings will be determined by each group while the topics and agenda for these meetings will be directed by the nominees. Topics shall include the nominee’s internship experience and individual study. In addition, nominees should explore ways to discuss their spiritual journey, leadership style, approach to conflict management, financial sacrifices, and personal stewardship practices.

Internship

The nominee will complete a ten-week internship in a parish setting different from the sponsoring parish. Spouse and family are encouraged to join the nominee for services and other activities at the internship parish. This experience exposes the nominee to the church beyond their sponsoring parish. It requires leaving and letting go and is meant to broaden and deepen the understanding of church and models for ministry. Finally, it is offered to deepen the nominee’s personal discernment.

The specific work should be something that will expand and enrich the nominee’s understanding of ministry and it is therefore preferable that the work done be something that the nominee has not previously done in his or her sponsoring parish.

In general, the COM expects that the nominee’s internship will include the following (regardless of the order to which the nominee is discerning):

  • Six hours per week in the parish or ministry of the parish. This includes time spent in worship and meetings with the parish rector.
  • Attendance of Sunday morning services and weekday services [if offered] as agreed.
  • Attendance of at least two vestry meetings.
  • Involvement in the ministry of the parish. This might include pastoral visits with the rector, teaching a class, attending meetings, becoming involved in an outreach ministry of the parish.
  • Preparing and presenting to a group within the parish a sermon, meditation, reflection, or teaching.
  • Meeting regularly with the parish rector (or designee) for reflection and conversation about the experiences of the internship. It will be the nominee’s responsibility to set and lead the agenda of these meetings.

The parish internship should conclude no later than three weeks before BACOM and all paperwork submitted no later than two weeks before BACOM.

Paperwork to be Submitted:

Evaluations

Nominees are required to complete a medical and psychological evaluation during this period. These evaluations will be uploaded to the Nominees’ files.

Medical Evaluation
This evaluation can be completed by the nominee’s GP and mailed/emailed to Liza Lee Horton (lhorton@dioala.org) at the diocese.

Psychological Evaluation –
The diocese uses Jennifer Green LPC in Birmingham for psychological evaluations. Evaluations cost $300 (please let the diocese know if you need financial assistance) and are uploaded to the nominees’ files after Jennifer Green and the nominee have had a chance to discuss them. Nominees should reach out to schedule an appointment ASAP and fill out the following paperwork to submit to Jennifer Green.

  • Behavioral Questionnaire
  • Life History Questionnaire

Phase Three: BACOM

BACOM, which stands for the Bishop’s Advisory Commission on Ministry, is an overnight spiritual retreat during which the nominee (and their spouse if applicable) continues discernment with the Commission on Ministry.

Invitations are issued to a nominee (and their spouse) based upon comments from the COM and the insights of the bishop following phase two of diocesan discernment. An invitation to attend BACOM is not a final recommendation about the nominee’s ministry but rather an invitation for deeper discernment. The invitation will include a date for a meeting with the bishop after BACOM.

The overnight begins at approximately 11:00 a.m. and ends after lunch the following day (normally Thurs-Fri or Fri-Sat). The cost of the retreat is a diocesan expense.

The retreat begins with introductions, ice breakers, and the Holy Eucharist. Nominees will be asked to prepare a topic ahead of time in order to lead a brief conversation with the whole group. Furthermore, over the course of the weekend, nominees with their spouses will meet individually with members of the COM as well as with the Bishop. Nominees should be prepared to reflect on worship, scripture and theology, practical life, and the mission of the church. The retreat is structured to give the nominee and spouse plenty of time for reflection and informal conversations.

Phase Four: Post-BACOM Meeting with Bishop

In the week following BACOM, the nominee will meet with the bishop, sponsoring clergy, and possibly a member of COM to discuss the actions regarding further discernment.

After BACOM

If the nominee is invited to continue discernment for holy orders (diaconate or priesthood), the nominee will apply for postulancy and will attend a Welcome to Postulancy meeting. Postulancy will be granted once two-thirds of the sponsoring vestry signs a letter of support provided by the Diocese of Alabama (Canon III.6.2a & III.8.2a).

After Postulancy is granted, postulants will begin to discuss formation options with the Diocese. In the Diocese of Alabama, postulants being formed for the vocational diaconate are guided by the diocesan Canon for Vocation and Community Engagement. The formation consists of study and writing, practical field experience, peer reflection meetings, and trainings as required by the canons of the Episcopal Church. The Association for Episcopal Deacons (AED) lists the competencies required for deacons in training and has a wealth of resources for those in discernment to explore. In addition to this resource, this document also details some options for formation in The Episcopal Church.