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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Sociology Department Staff

Publication details for Dr Andrew Orton

Orton, Andrew (2013). The Diverse and Contested Diaconate: Why Understanding this Ministry is Crucial to the Future of the Church. International Journal of Practical Theology 16(2): 260-284.

Author(s) from Durham


The diaconate has attracted widespread renewed interest in the contemporary context, whilst being the focus of considerable international ecumenical, social and theological debate. This article shows how the deacon’s role embodies many of the pressing issues facing churches across the world today, particularly through its position as a ministry at the interface between church and wider society. These issues include debates over the nature of ministry, the relationship between different lay and ordained ministries, issues of gender, status and power, and how churches should relate to wider society. To explore these issues, the article draws on research into the diaconate in one particular denomination, the Methodist Church in Britain, and sets this in a wider comparative ecumenical and historical context. The resulting analysis shows how it is crucially important for churches to reflect internationally on diverse experiences and understandings of deacons’ ministry, and own collectively the inherent challenges that this ministry can present. Deacons are shown to have a liminal ministry that through its very existence and practice can challenge understandings of status and power that can exist between different groups such as those who are lay and ordained, those in the church and those in the wider community. Reflecting on this liminal ministry can help churches as they seek to make connections between worship, mission and service, by enabling the whole Church to put their faith into practice in their everyday lives as they engage with wider society. This is especially important in terms of reflecting carefully on the Church’s response to those who are suffering, disadvantaged or marginalised.