The Episcopal Preaching Foundation (EPF) in partnership with The CEEP Network presented a digital workshop on Tuesday, May 25th: The Word in the World: The Preaching Role of Vocational Deacons as a part of CEEP’s ongoing just-in-time learning series on current topics and issues. The webinar consisted of a panel discussion moderated by EPF’s Dean of Faculty Stephen Smith with three orders of ordained ministry: bishop, priest and deacon:
- Bishop William “Chip” Stokes, Diocese of New Jersey
- Kim Jackson, Vicar, Church of the Common Ground, Atlanta, GA and Georgia State Senator
- Tracie Middleton, Deacon and President of the Association of Episcopal Deacons, Ft. Worth, TX
- Bill Rich, Vicar, Trinity Church Boston and previous Faculty, College of Preachers
The panel addressed these issues surrounding the role of the diaconate with specific reference to the deacon’s role in the pulpit. The vocational Episcopal deacon is a sometimes under-recognized and under-utilized resource in our polity. The Church’s canon defining the vocational deacons’ role as prophet, interpreter and catalyst for social change is not well known and some don’t perceive the great value brought to the Church by the diaconate. Beyond simply providing relief for the priest or filling in for absent clergy, a deacon can lift up a different voice from the pulpit.
Given the mission to serve as the bridge between the Church and the community, the role of the deacon can create a tension between priest’s priority of maintaining cohesion in the congregation and the deacon’s call to voice the needs of the community and spur the congregation into action. Although these differences might be viewed by some priests as a challenge the panel emphasized the benefits of this tension in delivering a wider range of inspiration from the pulpit and encouraging a more active and fulfilling role for the congregation in the community.
The panelists each shared their experiences with embracing this tension, and offered compelling testimony from their own ministry, Chip Stokes and Bill Rich from the point of view of leaders who have developed and supported diaconal ministry; Kim Jackson and Tracie Middleton addressing the imperative for the deacon to sometimes deliver an uncomfortable but necessary message that a priest might be reluctant to take on. Stephen Smith noted that priest and deacon can work well in tandem, with the priest acting as conciliator, while underscoring the validity of the deacon’s challenge to the congregation.
Bishop Stokes reported: “I was enriched and blessed by the experience”
The one hour workshop had almost two hundred registered attendees. CEEP’s Executive Director Joe Swimmer noted: “This panel was a great gift to the Church. The panelists demonstrated the opportunity around and value in engaging the vocational diaconate in preaching. The CEEP Network was honored to partner with EPF to present these Church leaders in conversation. I don’t think we have ever had so many ‘great session’ comments in the chat”.
Those who missed the session can access the recording at: https://www.ceepnetwork.org/preaching
The webinar reflects the recent expansion of EPF’s preaching conference program to include specific events for the diaconate, begun with the Sept 2020 two day conference for the deacons of Province VII. A three-day conference for deacons in four dioceses of Province VIII is scheduled for October 8-10, 2021.
About the Episcopal Preaching Foundation
The Episcopal Preaching Foundation encourages excellent preaching in the Episcopal Church. The EPF strongly believes in the foundational role of preaching to energize and build church membership and attendance in today’s challenging environment, as recently documented by Gallup and the Pew Research Center. Founded in 1987, the foundation began its programs in earnest immediately. Since then, more than 1,800 seminarians have passed through its Preaching Excellence Program, including numerous bishops and one presiding bishop. More recently, the EPF has expanded programming to embrace practicing parish clergy through the annual conference (“PEP-II”) and ad hoc diocesan and deacons’ conferences. A new EPF lay preacher training program funded by a grant from Trinity Church Wall Street will be introduced in six pilot dioceses in second half 2021. In the role of technology partner, Bexley Seabury provides technical support and expertise for the EPF’s current calendar of Zoom-based conferences.
About The CEEP Network
The CEEP Network is a collaborative movement of clergy and lay leaders of the Episcopal Church gifted with diverse parish resources. CEEP is a hopeful generative force enabling members to imagine and move beyond the present to refresh the Church for a hopeful mission in the world. Through peer-to-peer online education, the largest annual conference in the Episcopal Church, thought leadership initiatives, and colleague groups, CEEP brings clergy and laity together to imagine and build parish ministry responsive to God’s call in this moment.