Deacon in the Narthex

Diakonia – The Greek word diakonia means ‘service among others.’ In the Anglican Church of Canada the Order of Deacon is sometimes a transitional one (i.e. a stepping-stone to the priesthood), but there are also those who are called to be ordained to life-long vocational diaconal ministry. Deacons carry out all kinds of ministries, often in the areas of education, service and pastoral care. Deacons are called to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. 

“You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live and work and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” (service of The Ordination of a Deacon BAS pg. 655)

Diaconal ministry encourages a growing faith, speaks truth to power, proclaims prophetic hope and nurtures life-giving community both within the Church and in the wider community. 

While the role of deacon in the Church can be traced back to the book of Acts, the revival of this ministry in the Anglican Church has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Deacons encourage, nurture and help the faithful to move into different ways of being and living out their baptismal ministry in service to the community outside the walls of the church. One image of this ministry is that of the deacon standing in the narthex of a church; that place between the nave where the congregation sits and the world outside the door; bringing the needs of the world in, and also sending the congregation out to serve.

During the past twenty odd months, we have been experiencing a global pandemic. As a result, many of us have been jolted from our familiar and sometimes comfortable routines and placed in a liminal space, a sort of limbo. The “limen,” in Latin is described as that betwixt and between place. It is akin to that image of the deacon standing in the narthex. Being in a liminal space can be uncomfortable, but it is often also a place of transition and transformation. 

“We are living in a narthex moment, between the world we knew and whatever is being born.” (Presiding Bp. Curry, TEC)

As we enter and journey through this Advent season, perhaps we can look at these pandemic times as being a “narthex” moment for the Church. Maybe these difficult days can be a place of transformation not only for the institutional church, but for us as individuals as well. This liminal space – this betwixt and between time can be a time of seeing new hope, new possibilities for the life of the Church. We may well ask ourselves; what is being born in these liminal times? Where do we see God moving?

In order to get outside or inside the church building (institution) you have to go through the narthex – that’s the in-between room. It’s the link between the world and the church, the link between the sacred and the secular. It may well be that “thin place” where time and eternity intersect. The place where there is a co-mingling with Creator, creation and God’s people. This can be the transition zone where God is most able to get our attention if we take the time to listen and hear what the Spirit is saying to us.

“One of the gifts of liminal spaces is that they soften the boundaries between ourselves and others, revealing our interconnectedness in the present moment in new ways and in the simplest of things.

Richard Rohr

What if we choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable “now,” as a place of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation? 

Could this be the time and place for the Church to examine itself? To consider the need for its own transformation? After all it has been preaching “transformation” to the world since the time of Abraham and Sara. I challenge you to take some time this Advent to pause and reflect on these questions and what they mean for your ministry today.


  • Richard Simpson

    The Rev Richard Simpson is deacon for St Saviour’s Penticton

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