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At its October meeting Anglican Deacons Canada's Board of Directors had a very helpful and extended conversation via zoom with Archbishop Linda Nicholls about deacons and the national church. The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada has always been an honourary member of our association and part of what we talked with about was how Archbishop Linda sees the relationship between the Primate and the ADC going forward. The impetus for this most recent conversation is a revision of the ADC bylaws with which the board is currently engaged.

After each member of the board introduced themselves and briefly described the diaconal ministries in which they are engaged, ADC President Nancy Ford turned the floor over to Archbishop Linda. In her reflections the Primate put her finger on some of the structural tensions within which Deacons live and minister. For example, deacons are ordered ministers who hold elements of both baptismal and priestly ministry in creative tension. The most effective Deacons are able to invite members of the parish to “come and see” the pressing human needs around them and engage others in responding effectively and compassionately rather than simply doing the ministry on their own. She noted too that the church has not done a good job of training priests about deacons. Indeed, she emphasized the fact that the whole church needs to grow into its biblical character of functioning as a team. The priest is not the whole. While a deacon must minister in cooperation with priest and parish, Archbishop Linda also highlighted the fact that the line of authority for diaconal ministry goes directly to the Bishop. Bishops license deacons. So, she acknowledged, it is a bit of an unusual arrangement that in practice a deacon’s primary supervisor is most often a parish priest!

Archbishop Linda reminded us that primary historical unit of the church was a gathering around a bishop and deacons. The role of priest developed later since Bishops needed to delegate sacramental responsibilities. However, Bishop/Deacon was the primary unit of the church. So, at the national level there is a natural fit between the Primate who chairs the House of Bishops and Anglican Deacons Canada as a national organization for Anglican deacons from coast to coast to coast. She noted too that a key role of the national church is to enable networking so that wisdom from one part of the church can be shared with others and the potential for synergy unleashed.

The Primate can listen to the concerns of members of the House of Bishops about the diaconate and identify where further conversations are needed. Anglican Deacons Canada can in turn share ideas and best practices within the Anglican Church across Canada for addressing those concerns. For example, one important topic that surfaced during our conversation related to the discernment process for the diaconate. This is an area which immediately generated a fruitful discussion of best practices. Such best practices can be shared with the Primate in the course of ADC board meetings with her and possibly also with the House of Bishops itself.

There were two concrete outcomes of this encouraging meeting with the Primate. It was mutually agreed that the ADC Board and the Primate will meet regularly (up to two times per year) and consult with one another at other times when needed. The ADC Board also adopted new language to describe the relationship of the Primate with Anglican Deacons Canada. The draft revised bylaws will now describe her as the ADC’s National Episcopal Partner. The word ‘national’ signifies the scope of the Primate’s ministry which parallels the national scope of Anglican Deacons Canada’s ministry. The word ‘Episcopal’ indicates the kind of leadership and oversight which the primate brings to the relationship and the word ‘Partner’ signals that the relationship is to be a collaborative one. In the future, ADC may find similar ways to partner with provincial Archbishops and diocesan bishops as well. In the meantime, ADC’s ongoing partnership with the Primate will help ADC to strengthen not only the ministry of deacons across Canada but also assist the church as a whole to live out its calling to diakonia more fully.

—submitted by Deacon Lisa Chisholm-Smith, Vice President of Anglican Deacons Canada

This article was originally published in the Epiphanytide 2021 issue of ADC's newsletter, Salt & Light.