Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Deacons don't do that ...

About four years ago, in a church I'll call, Old But Growing Presbyterian (OBGPC), I was on the Board of Deacons; first year as a Deacon then for the last two as Moderator.

At OBGPC, the Deacons were responsible for Congregational Care. We contacted each member at least quarterly, had a meals ministry delivering hot dinners for those who were going through sickness, a birth or a death in the family, and so on. We staffed, setup and provided donuts and coffee during the Coffee Hour Fellowship Time. We assisted at any church function by cooking, setup, and so on. We had twelve dedicated Deacons on the board.

We also started planting the seeds for a Stephen Ministry, which eventually was started when OBGPC called an Assistant Pastor who's passion was for Congregational Care. The Deacons rallied around that push, and it is now in full function, along with many other programs that provide congregational care. The Board still has a membership of twelve, but there are many volunteers, and the Deacons oversee the activities involving a congregation of around 600. The Deacon's Fund consists of donations from the congregation, which is passively asked for donations through the inclusion of a Deacon's Fund envelope the first Sunday of each month.

I'm presupposing that many of those who read this blog have Deacon Boards that act much like my old church's.

Then there's Stodgy Presbyterian. The Board consists of fifteen Deacons for a congregation of about 250. As Deacons you would think that their charter would cover congregational care, as I was told "Deacons don't do that ....

As a member of Session, we've not had an annual meeting between the Session and the Deacons (see the comment to me above). I have not seen any directive from Session to the Deacons that lay out their duties.

Here, as far as I can tell, are their responsibilities. Hold fundraisers to help build up the Deacons Fund, delivery of the sanctuary flowers once a week to a shut-in member, assigning at least one Deacon to each and every commission, bringing donuts on Sunday and then leaving, taking the tape of the Worship service and then making 3 copies on our duplicator and placing each in an envelope for mailing, having Deacons as greeters and ushers, and making sure at least one deacon is available to assist in counting the Sunday offerings.

They say they're overworked. They lost three Deacons when an entire family of mother and two daughters moved to a new church. They were all in one class*. So, we now have 11 deacons to serve, as one resigned due to age related illnesses.

I mentioned, why do we need to have a Deacon on every commission, not doing that would allow them to do other duties. I was told "for communication", which made me then remark, "who do they communicate to besides the Board of Deacons if they're not contacting everyone?", I didn't get an answer to that, as the person I said it to was nonplussed. I don't think she had given it any thought. FWIW ... I'm assuming the only communication that occurs is from the grapevine, which every church has, and usually gets some detail wrong.

You would think that the Deacons, who should be the first persons to present a welcoming face to any visitors, would staff the Coffee Hour and make sure that visitors know their way around. "Deacons don't .... "

You would think that they would be the face of Congregational Care, contacting the members, and asking about them, how they are doing, and letting them know that "we haven't seen you in a few weeks, is everything alright?? " Again, "Deacons don't ..."

When I asked about this during the Session meeting on the Pastor's Call and budget, all I heard was that it was the Pastor's job, and "Deacons don't ...". One husband and wife team*, told me that they have never had a church that did that. Of course, they had been at Stodgy Presbyterian for about 15 years, and I'm not sure if they were Presbyterians before that. Which brings up a question, am I wrong to assume that most Deacon Boards are like OBGPC or are they more like SPC's ?

And so it goes ...

*yeah, I know .. not a good idea ... not my choice


  1. I've been a member of two Presbyterian Churches. One was like OBGPC. The other is very much like SPC,although their prayer and care ministry is better than SPC's. I do not fault the Deacons as much as I do the Session.

    The Session at Greying is so tied up being the Board of Directors that it doesn't do its job--one of which is to oversee the Board of Deacons.

    My turn to say, "Hey, have you been sneaking around our church?"

  2. At my home church (a church of about 500 members), the Deacon board operated like OBGPC's.

    The church I currently serve doesn't have deacons. I can't remember when the last time we had them was. It's been brought up a few times since I've been here that we should have deacons again, but so that "they could usher and host fellowship time." Then I suggest that if we are going to have a conversation about deacons, we should look at what Scripture and the Book of Order says about the office and begin discussing it with those as our guidance. Funny, the conversation just dies down then.

  3. The deacons at my former church functioned like those at OBGPC and also had an effective Stephen Ministry team.

    My current church does not have deacons but does have a thriving Stephen Ministry team and effective pastoral care committees staffed by church members that function like the deacons at OBGPC.

    My conclusion is that the ministry of deacons can be done effectively either way. Likewise, I'm sure it could fail in either scenario. It all depends on the church leadership--both pastor and session.

  4. Hmmm ... it seems that in a few churches, along with the spiritual duties of the Session, we've forgotten the congregational care duties of the Deacons.

    I agree Mac, some Sessions do not know or take all their duties seriously.

    was the Session then afraid they'd be taken to task for not doing their duties as listed in the BOO ??


    your current church sounds like my father-in-law's. They went from a Session/Deacon Board to a unicameral Session, with Elder's tasked with congregational care.

    It works there, as it seems to do at your current church. However, it does seem to need disciples and not pew sitters to make it work.

  5. Stephen's Ministry is great - if you can afford it!

    I was out of church for so long that I have little idea of the history of it but how in the world did deacon's get in charge of the building? The EPC has this idea enshrined in their book of order.

    These folks were established to make sure widows were getting fed!

    I would recomment a book (I haven't read it I delegated it to the elder who facilitates the Deacons she assures me we are doing it) called "The Pastor Can't do it Alone".

    This is the one thing the PCUSA has right they allow you to establish Deacons without a board who have specific calls. We call 6 now to do the ministry of a deacon. Care for the widows, attend to the sick, notify the Pastor fo the needy and work together to care for the body of Christ.

    How did we get there? After years of being unicameral (spell?) I preached on Acts 6 in church, went to the session with it, and we did it biblically.

    A pastor can't do it all but having one willing to die in particular ditches is important. I choose my ditches carefully but this would have been one (I actually had absolutely no resistance to this change)

  6. Interesting ... I didn't realize that the EPC has the deacons in charge of the building.

    I looked at the BOO, its a 'duties may include' clause. Doesn't have to happen, but could.


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