Allow me a brief rant: it takes way too long to make a deacon. Usually five years. Five years for a vocation that pays nothing to the deacon but the grace and joy of service to others. The current program in TEC is over-planned, over-stuffed, and onerous both financially and domestically (i.o.w., it’s hard on the family members).
Here’s what I mean: a person who wants to be a deacon usually spends a year in discernment, which includes interviews with the Bishop, a discernment committee that meets 7 times with the applicant, a couple of interviews with the Commission on Ministry, application docs, spiritual bio, personal bio, criminal background check, financial background check, psychological exam, physical exam, and a few other things I can hardly remember. This take about a year.
Then, if you get the green light, the applicant spends 3 years in education, usually one intensive weekend a month for 36 months straight, with lots of reading and writing to be done along the way. Often, the training is centrally located in the state and some out-state members have to stay overnight.
Then, if you get the next green light, you spend a year at a parish not your own where you do your Field Work and your Project (think transitional O.J.T. and a special major project instead of G.O.E.s). Also during this time, the applicant/postulant must do Unit One of CPE somewhere, which means you may have to quite your job or work at a part-time job somewhere if you are accepted to a CPE program.
If it all goes well without a hiccup, you get ordained at the end of Year Five. For me it was close to six, it cost me about $14,000, and it put a burden on my spouse as well as me. And remember, this is not a career, it’s a non-stipendiary vocation.
I’ve now been a deacon for about two and a half years, and I think the reason why we only have a little over a dozen active deacons in the diocese is because the education/formation program is too long and daunting. That, and few people are being asked if they’ve ever considered being a deacon. I have some suggestions to remedy the situation.
The Powers That Be, in their honest efforts to make deacons prepared for their vocations, have way over-planned the program, and modeled it after the education/formation of a priest. We aren’t priests. We have a different vocation that demands a different formation program. The demand for deacons in most dioceses is extreme. Extreme times demand extreme measures, so here is my Streamlined Process for the Creation of Deacons. We can make deacons in 30 months, not five years. Here’s how.
1. Design discernment process to be 6 months long.
A. Committee addresses single question: is this person deacon material?
B. Three meetings with discernment committee.
C. Background/Psychological remains the same.
2. ESM-type education two years long.
A. Courses are 6-8 weeks long, meets weekly, Saturday only. 3-4 weeks off after every course. Quarterly, a 3-day weekend retreat. ESM courses held at various parish locations in diocese to make it available to all.
B. After YR 1, license to preach & made postulant.
C. YR 2, much the same as YR 1. Upon graduation, ordained.
3. 12-month mentorship program, post ordination.
A. Works at a parish with a senior deacon.
B. Completes deacon-designed CPE course, not a regular CPE unit.
C. Deacon is assigned diocesan ministry and creates portfolio-of-plans for said ministry: purpose, mission statement, steps with deadlines, resources required, etc.
4. Deacon assigned to new parish/ministry at end of 12 months.
This program will maintain the programs and education that I have found important to my formation as a deacon and streamline the others that were either superfluous or over-wrought. This way, a person who is considering becoming a deacon will look at a program that will select and train them well, but not take half a decade to complete.
Once they make it through the discernment process, they have two year to ordination, not another four. Once they are ordained, they will have a mentorship program to further train them with real, on-the-job advice. That additional year of training is retained from the former program, but in the vocational setting appropriate to the vocation of a deacon.
Is this perfect? No, it’s not. But, from my perspective, it’s better than the process we have now. I treasure my time in formation as a deacon, but it could have been better, and if it looked a lot like the program I sketched above, I might not have waited until I was near retirement to become a deacon. I might have started back in my 30’s instead of my 50’s. What would a diocese look like with a bunch of 30-something deacons? Personally, I think it would be life-changing for the church.