Called to serve

The Ministry of Deacons

“God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood 

directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you 

are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the 

sick, and the lonely.”

–Ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons, Book of Common Prayer p. 543

The Ministry of Deacons

Deacons are members of one of three distinct orders of ordained ministry (with bishops and presbyters/priests). In the Episcopal Church, a deacon exercises “a special ministry of servanthood” directly under the deacon’s bishop, serving all people and especially those in need (BCP, p. 543). This definition reflects the practice of the early church, in which deacons were ordained “not to the priesthood but to the servanthood [diakonia, “ministry”] of the bishop” (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition). In the ancient Greek-speaking world the term diakonos meant an intermediary who acted or spoke for a superior. Christian deacons were agents of the bishop, often with oversight of charity. Since ancient times the liturgical functions of deacons have suggested the activity of angels. As they proclaim the gospel, lead intercessions, wait at the eucharistic table, and direct the order of the assembly, deacons act as sacred messengers, agents, and attendants.

(source: Dictionary of the Episcopal Church)

Naming the St. Phoebe School for Deacons

The St. Phoebe School for Deacons is named for one of the first deacons noted in the holy scriptures, Φοίβη or in English use, Phoebe. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul commends Phoebe as a deacon (diakonos) of the church:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Romans 16:1-2 (NRSV)

Although we do not know a great deal about Phoebe personally, we can understand her ministry as connected to a local church, but also encompassing service to the larger movement of the church through Rome. The language used to describe Phoebe in early Christian texts (diakonos) is that attributed to a minister of the church, demonstrating both her respected leadership and her servanthood to the message of the Gospel. We selected our patron for the St. Phoebe School for Deacons in full recognition of the history, breadth, and diversity of the diaconate in our Christian tradition and with particular attention to the important but historically overlooked role of women in the early Church. The Episcopal Church has has historically commemorated St. Phoebe on January 27th along with Lydia and Dorcas, early witnesses of the faith. On the Orthodox and Roman Catholic calendars, St. Phoebe is individually commemorated on September 3. Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, authorized at the last General Convention, returns the commemoration of St. Phoebe to September 3 on the Episcopal Church calendar as well.

More information and scholarly writing about St. Phoebe:

Society for Biblical Literature: Article by Elizabeth McCabe

Phoebe: Deacon of the Church in Cenchreae by Marg Mowczko

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