Consultation on the Diaconal Ministry, Oslo, April 27-30 2009.

Representatives of the communion of the Porvoo Churches gathered for this Consultation in order to continue the work of deepening their churches’ understanding of and collaboration in the diaconate.  The Porvoo Declaration, the foundation document of the communion between the Porvoo Churches, commits its signatory churches “to work towards a common understanding of diaconal ministry.”

The questions which had previously been raised by the Communion of the Porvoo Churches Consultation on the Diaconate in London held 25-27 January 2006 helped to shape the second consultation. The questions are set out in Appendix 1.

In addition to times of discussion, the consultation members visited a number of diaconal projects in Oslo.

Diaconate and diakonia

The change of title from the first conference [‘the diaconate’] to the second [‘diaconal ministry’] may at first seem to be a small detail, but it signals an emphasis in the second conference on diakonia as an essential aspect of the ministry of the whole church, participating in God’s mission in and to his world.  Whilst deacons exemplify and represent diakonia, it is not sufficient to understand the concept of diakonia narrowly in relation to a single category of ministers.

Work since the 2006 conference

Our churches have continued to explore practical expressions of diaconal ministry exercised by distinctive deacons and others. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland a committee dealing with the question finished its report with the title Ministry of the Deacon in September 2008.  The Faith and Order Advisory Group for the Church of England produced a report The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church in 2007, which includes substantial sections on diakonia and associated concepts with reference both to the New Testament and contemporary mission.  This period has also seen the implementation of the Norwegian church’s Plan for Diakoni, and in Estonia the Development plan for diakonia in the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church for 2007-2012.  In this report we note the importance of developments in the wider church on the meaning of diakonia, giving clearer emphasis on the theme of commissioned authoritative service or ministry, without losing the complementary theme of service to neighbour carried out in God’s name.

Diakonia and mission

As a fundamental starting-point, all our churches regard diakonia, exercised creatively in a way that reflects needs and resources, as an essential aspect of mission.  It encompasses a loving response to everyday need, often made in an informal way by individuals and parishes;  the organised efforts of deacons and diaconal workers;  and the specialised work of institutions and organisations.  It includes a prophetic setting forth of God’s call for justice and our responsibility towards the environment in the name of its Creator.  Diakonia finds expression and symbolism in liturgy, and must be a theme of preaching and education.  We believe that such a common understanding is important in itself.  Within the Lutheran churches there seems to be an increasing tendency for the deacon to be the leader of diakonia in the parish.  In an Anglican setting, and with current patterns of ministry, it is rare for there to be a vocational deacon in the parish.  We look to the possibility of a revived vocational diaconate in Anglican churches:  but even with the present system, it could be helpful and creative for the parish priest to be understood truly to be exercising the office of deacon (not obscured or superseded by ordination as priest) in the work of leading and enabling the laos in its diaconal work.

Faith, works, and diakonia in Lutheran thought

Some interpretations of the traditional Lutheran distinction between law and gospel have made it difficult to express the interrelatedness of the means of grace and diakonia.  The word and sacraments have been seen as tools of the gospel, and diakonia as an expression of the law.  On the basis of Luther’s theology and the Lutheran Confession one can yet maintain that faith and love are connected through the real presence of Christ in faith as the foundation of good deeds.  In this way also diakonia is a dimension of the Christian life – reflecting the love of God in Christ.  This understanding of faith and works can be noticed for instance in the Lutheran – Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the doctrine of justification.  Going on from this it can be seen that diakonia is the gospel in action, an essential dimension of the being of the church, which offers a creative approach to the interrelatedness of liturgy and diakonia.

Unity and diversity

All ministry has a fundamental unity, because it is grounded in a unity that is derived from Christ himself;  for the power to fulfil mission is the gift of the risen Christ (Porvoo Agreement paragraph 37). Different expressions or forms of ministry reflect the differentiation of callings and functions within the body of Christ. All ministries derive a rationale for their form in the interrelatedness of word and sacrament. In the case of diakonia, particularly as it is expressed through the ministry of deacons, this includes the imitation of Christ’s service to others done altruistically, though being exemplars of a ministry where Christ must be recognised in those who are served (Matthew 25), and through enabling the church to be what it is, the sacrament of Christ in the world.

Diakonia and forms of ministry

Differences between the theology and work of deacons in the Lutheran churches on one hand and Anglican churches on the other may at first seem considerable, most obviously insofar as it is currently assumed that most newly-ordained Anglican deacons are ‘on the way’ to ordination as priests.  Anglicans retain sequential or cumulative ordination to the diaconate and presbyterate from ancient or at least medieval precedent, whilst the Lutheran churches practise direct ordination to the presbyterate.  The question whether deacons are or should be ordained is a live one within the Lutheran family, particularly at this time in Norway, and we look forward to further clarification.  We envisage the prospect that our common understanding of the diaconate or of diakonia may not be expressed in a complete outward uniformity of practice.  Notwithstanding these differences, including the substantial question of how diakonia as an aspect of the church’s nature is expressed in the personal ministry of deacons, we believe that we have seen a growth in mutual understanding, and we remain committed to working towards further convergence.  As an aspect and expression of this, we encourage Anglicans to use the language of diakonia to describe the love of God for all people and the whole of creation revealed through the church’s life and service, seeing that caritative service as a context in which the dignity of God’s creation is affirmed in practice.

Public and ordained ministry

Ordination is an ‘ecclesial sign’, i.e. a sign expressing something that is true of the whole church.  Within this understanding, ordination is (1) a public affirmation of God’s gift and call, recognised by the church, (2) set in the context of liturgy, (3) giving strength and grace for the candidate’s task, (4) conveying authority in the church’s name, and (5) introducing the candidate into new or changed relationships and responsibilities.  Ordination is permanent and unrepeatable for each individual.  We commend an approach to understanding ordination on the basis of its being inextricably linked with three themes – the service of word and sacrament, and offering pastoral care – and we suggest that these aspects also encompass the public and prophetic aspects of authorized representative ministry.

The scope of the diaconate

In some of the Lutheran Porvoo Churches there is a question concerning which church workers – youth workers, mission secretaries, cantors – can and should be included in a broadened ministry of deacon.  We request our respective churches to inform partners of developments in thinking and practice in this area.

The role of the deacon in liturgy

The role of the deacon in liturgy connects worship and the mission of the church.  Within our traditions this is expressed in a range of ways, e.g. leading intercession, service at the Lord’s table, and the dismissal which commissions the congregation to ‘go’ and serve.  Therefore we see considerable possibilities in the liturgical role of the deacon, which spring from the interrelatedness between liturgy and diakonia, between elements of worship and the ‘liturgy after the liturgy’ (the work of the church outside specific times of worship).  Such an interrelatedness is also a safeguard against inappropriately ‘domesticating’ the role and identity of the deacon by confining it to the liturgy.


Whilst there are some vocational (or distinctive) deacons in the Anglican Porvoo churches, the majority of persons who are ordained deacon are then ordained priest (normally a year later).  It has been remarked with some justification that this tends to obscure the distinctiveness of the diaconate in the Anglican context.  Furthermore, the criteria used in the Anglican Porvoo churches for the discernment of individual vocations and the programme of initial ministerial education and formation do not always clearly and explicitly distinguish between presbyteral and diaconal aspects of ministry.  Work is currently being done in the Anglican Communion [e.g. Theological Education for the Anglican Communion[1]] to address this.  We encourage Anglicans to use more explicitly the language of diakonia in relation to aspects of the mission of the church and in relation to the diaconal work of all baptized people, whether ordained or not;  and, if ordained, whether or not they have subsequently also been ordained priest.

We also encourage further thinking in the Anglican Porvoo churches that could lead to a more widespread practice of those whose vocation is discerned as diaconal and not presbyteral remaining vocational deacons, with this development being helped by criteria for selection that would make the distinction clearer.  We believe that there is a challenge to Anglicans to consider the extent to which a strong culture of perceiving deacons as junior apprentice clergy (and habitually using the word deacon only to describe those in their first year of ordained ministry) perhaps subliminally reinforces a limited understanding of the diaconate.  Anglicans should take seriously the fact that ordination rites describe the ministry of deacons as one that has its own integrity, and which might be supplemented but is not superseded by ordination to the presbyterate.  At liturgies where ministries are reaffirmed, presbyters should be re-committing themselves to diaconal ministry alongside other deacons, and the impression should not be given through word or action that presbyters are no longer to be counted among the deacons.

Hierarchy and mutuality

The 2006 conference report refers to hierarchy.  Our churches self-critically face questions about power and authority. Our caution about those things must not however prevent us from welcoming effective leadership rooted in the Spirit’s gifts, set within a context of mutual accountability between members of the Body.  But in any case the depth of true spiritual authority is not something that corresponds to orders or categories of ministry, or to anything that could be described as an organisational rank. Again the model is Christ himself who is head of all and yet came willingly ‘to deacon’ (Mark 10.45) and to take on the role of doulos, slave (John 13.16).

Rites and canons

We suggest that further work be done, building on existing study, comparing the rites by which individuals are admitted to the diaconate in our respective churches, together with other formularies and church law, in order to gain a clearer picture of the various understandings and expectations of the diaconate.

Further work commended to our churches

All churches

  • To continue to exchange information and developments in thinking on diakonia and the diaconate
  • To collaborate in further study on the forms of admission to, and the canonical context of, the diaconate
  • To collaborate in the education and formation of those who will exercise diakonia as the focus of their public ministry

Lutheran churches

  • To define more clearly those areas of ministry that are understood as belonging to the diaconate
  • To clarify whether, and in what sense, deacons are understood as being ordained in each respective church
  • To explore possibilities inherent in the role of the deacon in liturgy

Anglican churches

  • To develop ways in which the element of diakonia in the mission of the church may more explicitly be understood and named as such
  • To develop an understanding of the diaconate that is not automatically associated with junior ministerial status
  • To recognise and affirm the diaconal aspect of the vocation of presbyters, and describe it explicitly
  • To consider how the vocation of those who are called to distinctive diaconate may be discerned, and how they may be encouraged and supported


Appendix 1:  QUESTIONS from the 2006 consultation

  • How do we understand the relationship between the one-ness of the ministry [Porvoo Common Statement 32.j] and the differentiation of ministries?
  • How can we grow in a deeper understanding of a three-fold ministry which is non-hierarchical?
  • In what ways do the challenges of modern society make us aware of the missiological dimension of this go-between ministry in discerning the needs, hopes and concerns of the times?  [Hannover Report C.48]
  • What means can be found to explore the breadth of expression found within our Churches of the charitable, liturgical and educational elements of diaconal ministry?
  • What do we understand by the liturgical acts of ordination, consecration and commissioning?
  • What are the issues raised by direct or sequential ordination to the presbyterate?
  • How do we in our various ways make the educational requirements meet the profile of the diaconate?
  • What can we learn from one another in forms of education, training and formation for diverse expressions of diaconal ministry?
  • What issues are raised by a broadening of the diaconate in some churches to include such callings as youth worker or cantor?


Appendix 2:  PARTICIPANTS in the 2009 consultation



The Revd Jonathan Durley                                                      Church in Wales

The Revd Canon Ambrose Mason                                           Church in Wales

The Revd Canon Dr Paul Avis                                                 Church of England

The Venerable Paul Ferguson                                                 Church of England

[Deacon] The Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons                        Church of England

The Revd Olav Fanuelsen                                                       Church of Norway

The Revd Prof Dr Harald Hegstad                                            Church of Norway

Deacon Guro Hellgren                                                             Church of Norway

Deacon Kari Jordheim                                                             Church of Norway

The Rt Revd Ingeborg Midtømme                                           Church of Norway

Deacon Margarethe Jerrestrand                                               Church of Sweden

Deacon Marianne Kronberg                                                    Church of Sweden

The Revd Dr Christopher Meakin                                             Church of Sweden

The Revd Tiit Pädam                                                              Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia

The Revd Dr Tomi Karttunen                                                   Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

Prof Dr Heikki Kotila                                                                 Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

Deacon Mervi Salin-Inkinen                                                    Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

[Deacon] The Revd Prof Freda Alexander                               Scottish Episcopal Church

The Revd Dr John Armes                                                         Scottish Episcopal Church


Guests and speakers

The Rt Revd Michael Jackson                                                 Church of Ireland

The Rt Revd Olav Skjevesland                                                Church of Norway

The Rt Revd Matti Repo                                                          Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

The Revd Prof Dr Kai Ingolf Johannessen (part-time)              Church of Norway



The Revd Ghita Olsen                                                             Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark

Ms Liv Berit Carlsen (part-time)                                                United Methodist Church, Norway


Porvoo Contact Group

The Rt Revd Dr Ragnar Persenius                                            Church of Sweden, PCG Co-Chair

Ms Beate Fagerli                                                                     Church of Norway, PCG Co-Secretary


Planning group

The Rt Revd Robert Paterson                                                  Church of England

The Revd Dr Stephanie Dietrich