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Department of Sociology

Sociology Department Staff

Publication details for Dr Andrew Orton

Orton, A. (2014). Diaconal Ministries: At the Intersection of Churches and Communities. Práxeis (2): 10-13.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Forms of diaconal ministry are being renewed in diverse ways across many denominations, as churches explore how this ministry can help them serve others in ways that are relevant to the current context (Diakonia World Federation, 1998; Clark, 2005; Orton, 2013). An important reason for this renewal is the way that these diaconal ministries forge improved connections between churches and wider society, whilst also empowering others to get more involved in making these connections (e.g. see also Renewed Diaconate Working Party of the House of Bishops, 2001). This understanding of diaconal ministry builds on Biblical scholarship that recognises a range of meanings and usages of diakonia and its derivatives, traditionally understood as humble service, but latterly extended to also include notions of ambassadorial representation (Collins, 2002; Gooder, 2006). However, the position of this ministry at the intersections between churches and wider communities can be controversial. Indeed, this position embodies many of the debates and controversies represented in the historical development of missiology (e.g. see Bosch, 1991) in the contemporary context, as this article begins to explore.
This article draws on research that explored these issues through the perspectives of deacons in the Methodist Church in Britain. This research included wide-ranging observations and interviews over a two-year period between 2009 and 2011. Deacons in the Methodist Church in Britain are ordained to a full time, stipendiary, itinerant form of ministry that witnesses through serving others (Methodist Church In Britain, 2004). In working at the intersections between churches and wider communities, deacons were involved in a wide range of different settings, working with a diverse range of people and seeking to create connections between them. These included ministering in hospitals, prisons, housing estates, night shelters, churches and schools, for example, and working with young people, bereaved mothers, public officials, asylum seekers, those dependent on drugs or alcohol, those suffering from dementia, and those perceived to be disconnected from churches and/or wider communities.