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Bishops Approve $200K for Deacons

The House of Bishops passed Resolution D023 on June 27, which seeks a onetime, $200,000 allocation to the Association for Episcopal Deacons, but first devoted considerable discussion to it.

Bishop Thomas Brown of Maine said bishops have “work to do at a relational level” to show deacons they are a valued order in the church.

The AED supports the ministry of more than 3,400 deacons in the Episcopal Church. Its work includes developing and curating resources for dioceses on diaconal programming, convening a triennial conference for diaconal professional development, and hosting an annual learning lab for deacon directors and archdeacons.

The funding is intended to help AED boost its infrastructure to meet the needs of the fastest-growing order of ordained ministry.

The resolution was scaled back from an earlier version that requested $450,000 for the AED.

“This [resolution] rebounds after an earlier hearing significantly defunded this original piece of legislation at a hastily called hearing in the morning,” said Bishop Scott Barker of Nebraska, chair of the Title III Ministry Committee. “We heard from a very large, very anxious group of deacons representing many of your dioceses who felt disenfranchised — and a profound lack of support, particularly from this house, for their ministries.”

Before passing the resolution, several bishops implored their colleagues to show support for the role of deacons.

“Deacons are essential to this church,” said the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori. “They work under the radar most of the time. Almost all of them work without pay. I think … the current resolution is at least a beginning of what’s needed to support the work of deacons.”

Brown said the matter wasn’t primarily about funding the AED.

“This really isn’t about the Association of Episcopal Deacons, per se; it’s not really about funding, per se,” Brown said. “I think it is, as the chair has said, it’s clear to me that we have work to do that is at a relational level.

He added: “I get there is great concern that the bishops are not supportive. I know that, in most of our contexts, that is not true, from what I see and experience. But I have to listen to the experience of others.”

The Rt. Rev. Robert Ihloff, formerly of Maryland, said deacons will play an increasingly important role in the church’s future.

“No matter what this church becomes in the future, I believe deacons are going to become an even more important part of the ministry of our church,” Ihloff said. “I see that happening already. … I believe diaconal ministry is the wave of the future.”

Bishop Rafael Morales said the Diocese of Cuba has 50 individuals in training to become vocational deacons through its recently opened diaconate school.

“I am in the same position as the former Bishop of Maryland; deacons will be very important for the future of the church,” said Morales, who also serves as Bishop of Puerto Rico and Bishop Adviser to the Virgin Islands. “They’re our collaborators in the mission of the church, and it’s important that all of us bishops open our minds to have deacons in the church and our dioceses.”

The Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano said he supported the resolution, with a caveat.

“The theology of who deacons are in our church can be thwarted by the establishment of this kind of structure,” Provenzano said. “If we as the bishops of the church are not cautious and careful and caring for the ministry of deacons, in many situations, we turn them into parochial clergy, rather than the ancient understanding of the deacon being a bridge between the life of church and our outreach to the wider community.”

He added: “Almost everything we celebrated at this convention can be undone if we do not pay attention to the important role that deacons must play, particularly as we continue to establish support for them. I rise to support the resolution, but I caution us all that we do this right-mindedly for the future of the church.”

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