We often hear this statement from Priests. “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon.”
I suggest that it is time that we politely, or impolitely if necessary, call this what it is. Bunk. A mistake. A mistake that needs to be corrected. Why? Here are my views, and my questions for my Priestly friends.
- Did you ever really consider yourself a Deacon? In all that time of discernment and process, did you actually say, “I want to be a Deacon for a while, maybe six months or so, and then be a Priest….but after that I want to remain a Deacon.” Did you ever even for a moment think in that way?
- Do you work as a Deacon or work as a Priest? It’s a simple question.
- Do you recognize Deacons as a full and equal order, or some sort of stop along the way to your true call to ordination as a Priest?
It seems to me that if we got a room full of reasonable Priests and Bishops together to ask if their really is a point to this double-ordination, two-steps to a Priest idea, that they would soon conclude something that sounds like…”It’s always been that way”, Actually, it hasn’t. Skim over Acts 6, and study Church history for the first three hundred years or so.
Here is a question…what is a Transitional Deacon? Here is my answer. It’s really not a Deacon of any kind. Following ordination to this shaky title, are you working as a Deacon, or as a soon to be Priest? Also, do you think of yourself as “only a deacon,” for those few months? Betcha don’t
Speaking of transition. When people are in transition, we are generally transitioning toward something, not from something. If you have to use the transitional title at all ( and I don’t see why you do) then call them Transitional Priests. Now here is an interesting point that I learned about very recently from Deacon Susanne WatsonEpting., From 1972 through 2003, this issue was raised at every General Convention. Obviously, it was not supported by the Bishops, and since then there has been only silence on the topic. Her further comment was that if this transition was important, then it should be lengthened from six months to five years! Perhaps such a proposal would shine a little light on the subject.
So then, how did this tradition begin? I’m guessing that there is a simple explanation. It’s a trial period. A time when somebody gets to see if this is someone that we want to set loose on the church. Perhaps that time is necessary, it is at least arguable. But if that is what it’s all about then get it out there. Call them Priests-In-Training, or J. V. Priests or Junior Priests or Maybe Priests; call them anything close to what they really are, and stop calling them what they are not and never intended themselves to be. And if God Almighty has set it on their hearts to be Priests, then they know it, and the Church should recognize it.
It’s not a matter of degrees. We never say, “Sorry, youre not Priest material, but you seem like a nice person so we’ll let you be a Deacon.” Anyone that would offer that doesn’t understand the Order of Deacons and anyone that would accept is….ummmm….unclear about their call.
Why is this important? To those called to the Diaconate, there is no such thing as a Transitional Deacon or a Vocational Deacon. It’s just Deacon. By adding this Transitional Deacon phase to the journey toward Priesthood adds to the confusion of just exactly what a Deacon does in the world.
As an order that has found itself too often validated by the whim of a Bishop, we find it critical and necessary to speak prophetically on this issue. A more full understanding herein can help to identify the differing roles of all four segments of ministry and ministers; Lay, Bishop, Priest and Deacon.
So, to those who say “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon,” we ask you to consider if you are truly living into Diaconal work, or carrying out the baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”
If you are a Bishop or Priest or preparing for Priesthood, and think that this is just a trifling matter and not worthy of discussion, then I suggest you let us have our way, It is important to us, it is not a trifle. We are a full and equal order.