This summer Synod will be discussing the “Diakonia Remixed” report, which seeks to “allow for an expanded role for deacons and a revitalized, more robust diaconate ...” Though the participation of deacons in major assemblies is just one aspect of the report, I am interested in hearing from classes that do regularly seat deacons as delegates.
The classis in which I serve, Classis Chatham, has seated deacons as delegates along with elders and pastors since January 2007. The following are my impressions (and mine alone), both as a member of classis and as a member of the classical leadership team. I am also a delegate to Synod 2013.
First, deacons are glad to be at classis. When asked, deacons will consistently report that they are encouraged by their presence at classis and they want to continue to be delegated to classis.
Even so, delegating deacons remains a lower priority for some churches. Since deacons began to be delegated to classis, the participation rate has ranged between 60% and 80%. In a few cases churches seem to be more interested in having three votes than in ensuring that each office is represented. The Classical Ministry Committee has reminded councils to honour the distinct offices when selecting delegates to classis.
Planning a meeting for one third more people is challenging and I am not certain we have yet grasped how the dynamics of our meeting changed as a result of the decision to include deacons. My impression has been that at larger meetings fewer voices are heard, more people feel like spectators rather than participants, and that larger numbers do nothing to mitigate the tendency of pastors to dominate discussions.
Moreover, I have yet to see how the presence of deacons has affected the focus of classis meetings. In our case this might be because we have had an extraordinary string of exams and other discussion that have dominated the agenda. However, I think our experience shows that simply delegating deacons will not mean diaconal concerns are on the agenda, and that we have more work to do to ensure that they are.
The “Diakonia Remixed” report offers a large vision for deacons, one that could potentially reshape the ministry of the entire church. However, changes usually bring unanticipated consequences. For this reason I offer my reflections on the experience of one classis and I would like to hear from others. What has your experience been? What difficulties have you encountered? What blessings have come from delegating deacons to classis?