Sunday, December 8, 2013

While we are talking about deacons. . .

Rome has both transitional deacons (those passing through the office on the way to the priesthood) and permanent deacons (for whom the office is a destination).  The diaconal office in Rome has both liturgical responsibilities and the mercy work of the church as its focus.  Although I am not certain here, I believe this part of the office attempts to be the same for both transitional as well as permanent deacons.  If it is not, then we really are speaking of two radically different offices who may share a name but little else.

My point is rather about Lutherans and specifically about Lutheran Pastors in Training (aka vicars).  Vicarage can be a daunting year because of the unknown of the parish in which this internship takes place and the variety of responsibilities assigned to vicars.

In my own vicarage I preached at least twice weekly every week, served as liturgist for all the services (except for the parts reserved for the ordained and then primarily because of my protest more than my bishop's desire), and organist for one of those services.  I taught catechism class on my own with a hundred youth in the class (aided by several parent monitors) and taught a weekly Bible study.  I visited the sick and the shut in.  I conducted funerals.  I baptized (quite unwillingly when a baptism had been prepared and the Pastor was away).  I was one of the youth group leaders.  I attended every parish board and the church council meetings.  There was hardly a pastoral duty I would not have been assigned except for those which I was unwilling to do since I was not ordained!

Other vicars I knew preached a couple of times a year.  They sat in as the Pastor conducted catechism and Bible studies.  One cleaned out the storage room under the stage in the gym.  Another was primarily a youth group leader and taught Sunday school.  Of course, there were ranges of activity in between the extremes listed.

Remember that this was 36 years ago and I am sure some things have changed... and some have not.  What is common between then and now is that a vicar has no real churchly status except by common understanding.  In other words, it is often up to the vicar and his supervising clergy what he will do during his vicarage (although the seminary certainly has some minimums required on which to base the grade or recommendation following completion of the vicarage).  We are all abuzz about deacons in the Missouri Synod (for and against) but perhaps the most appropriate place to resurrect the term and the office is still the transitional work of the diaconal seminarian aiming for pastoral ordination.  Since little has been said about this, let me be the first to suggest that vicars should be ordained (consecrated if you do not like the word ordained) as deacons by the seminary prior to their vicarage.  This would give them an office and therefore and official status within the church and would make available their specialized training if and when they or the seminary decides pastoral ordination is not going to be the destination after all.

A more uniform outline of what is expected could be built into the definition of this transitional diaconate and it might be an occasion to narrow the extremes of what vicars do or do not do during their year of internship.  I do not believe this is a cure all but in the midst of all the Synod talk about deacons, this is one area of the diaconate that has been overlooked.

So there I have opened the door to the discussion.... what do you think?


Tom Vanderbilt said...

Interesting thought.

I think the Seminary has part of this in place already. Because most 1st Year Students are left out of the spring hoopla (vicarage assignments for 2nd Years and calls for 4th Years), I believe they conduct a service of licensure. That is, 1st Year students are licensed to preach and lead liturgy because they've completed Homiletics I and Worship I. (At least I remember going through such a ceremony 16 years ago.)

That "license" could include some of the things your talking about. These men have at least the same amount of education as lay people seeking the office of deacon.

It's an interesting idea.

William Tighe said...

"The diaconal office in Rome has both liturgical responsibilities and the mercy work of the church as its focus. Although I am not certain here, I believe this part of the office attempts to be the same for both transitional as well as permanent deacons."

I believe you are correct - although in many Catholic dioceses in the United States there are odd little incoherent attempts to distinguish between the two (forms of address, etc.), such that ordinary Catholics sometimes refer to "permanent deacons" as "lay deacons."

Anonymous said...

I am curious as to why someone would prefer consecrate and not ordain when it comes to a deacon? Shouldn't deacons be ordained? And why can't the LCMS have a diaconate for men who don't desire to be a pastor but seek to serve in the church? What is the argument against having a permanent diaconate?
-Peter Sovitzky