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Transitional Priest – Vocational Bishop

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I keep seeing reference to being “ordained to the Transitional Diaconate” or being “ordained to the Vocational Diaconate”.

As if the Transitional Diaconate and the Vocational Diaconate are different orders.

I would not be surprised if in the Anglican Church of Or there are examples where the ordination services for those two were actually different. Just as, for a time here, there was a category LONSAMs (Locally Ordained Non-Stipended Assistant Ministers) until I, and others, pointed out that there is no such Anglican concept of a different type of ordination called a “local ordination”. Ordination is to the universal church – even if there are limits to the exercising of this ordination.

I am all in favour of having a debate whether once you are ordained a priest you thereby cease to be a deacon – but using the term “transitional deacon” can imply that this debate has already been concluded.

I am also in favour of debating per saltum ordination – being ordained directly to the order that we discern God is calling you to. Per saltum ordination clearly highlights the integrity of the diaconate rather than, as it is probably in the mind of most, having deacons as an apprentice priest – but restricted in what one can do.

I have met many “Vocational Deacons” who have transitioned on to priesthood. And I’m sure there are “Transitional Deacons” who have never transitioned to priesthood. Even under the Roman Catholic jurisdiction, there have been “Permanent Deacons” who have transitioned on to priesthood after their wife has died.

I know someone who (three decades ago) was convinced God was calling him to be a bishop. He is not a bishop yet. Should we refer to him as a “Transitional Priest”?

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22 Responses to Transitional Priest – Vocational Bishop

    • Yes, thanks Peter. Which also may be the case of those who thought they were called to priesthood and are still in the diaconate.

      Although the website now appears stable, some people are finding it difficult to post comments. I am seeking help to understand why this might be and how to fix that. As part of that, I’ve had an email dialogue with someone (who could not post a comment) who thought my point about being called to be bishop did not fit with the rest of the “otherwise interesting” post – and thought my point about being a “transitional priest” snarky.

      I can see how that might be read that way. I encourage people to read posts in as positive light as possible. Certainly, no snarkyness was intended. I think, Peter, you see how it fits with the rest of the post. I am called to be a priest, and others discerned, also, that that is my vocation, but I was required to be ordained a deacon first. During my period of being a deacon would it be snarky of someone to state that about me? It is only when we translate theological discussions about orders to bishops that our theory often gets highlighted best. One response speaks of working one’s way “up”. We might say, theoretically, that all are equal (I would certainly want to affirm the equality of the four orders – placing lay as an order), but that all sounds fine until suddenly the word “bishop” enters the discussion.

      Advent blessings.

  1. I take a different approach to yours re per saltum ordination.

    (Briefly)

    1. I find it helpful to recall that I have been ordained a deacon though now a priest, as it reminds and challenges me to never stop being a servant; and, I hope it helps me to identify with the role of deacon. (Analogously, I hope the bishops of my church never forget what it means to be a deacon, to be a priest, and to identify with me as a priest).

    2. Discernment is ongoing. A discernment towards priesthood leads to deaconing. Being a deacon for a period means the discernment continues: do we the church remain of the view that this person, now more visible as an ordered person, is being called of God into the priesthood? We might even see that deacon as being called into the episcopacy, but priesting that person first means the discernment towards episcopacy can proceed slowly, with due care and attention, not least to the question of faithfulness in service and fruits of the Spirit in character.

    3. It is not as though being ordained a bishop (or, “they have now worked their way to the top of the tree”!?) is the end of discernment. Discernment questions remain: Is this bishop or that one more suited to be our archbishop? To be the bishop for religious orders rather than the bishop for military chaplains? To be called from one diocese to another?

    • Thanks, Peter.

      What do you think my “approach… re per saltum ordination” is?
      I’m not sure that I have an “approach… re per saltum ordination” – other than that I think it is a discussion we need to be having, and that this discussion underlines the equality of the four orders.

      1. All Christians are called to be servants: lay people, deacons, priests, bishops. It is not “having been ordained a deacon” that “reminds and challenges” us “to never stop being a servant” – it is Jesus and the Gospel that does this. When you say “I have been ordained a deacon though now a priest” – do you think you still are a deacon? Some priests (and some bishops) do; others think that we do not collect orders. This is another, not unrelated discussion we need to be having. Your (2) “being a deacon for a period” gives the impression that you think you are no longer a deacon.

      2. Following your “briefly”: Deacons are primarily outward, world-facing ordered ministry. Priests are primarily church-facing ordered ministry. This distinction is behind the RC discussion about the possibility of female deacons without threatening the male-only nature of the presbyterate. Deacon-priest-bishop are not simply steps up the same ladder. Someone might be a very good deacon and not at all called to priesthood – similarly someone might have a brilliant vocation as a priest, but be a very poor deacon. Deaconing in your (2) sounds a bit akin to “this person has worked visibly well as a fire fighter; s/he will make an excellent city councillor”.

      To come back to the RC (and others) perspective on orders: priest and bishop are connected in the sense that both are church-facing leadership positions. In per saltum discussions, one might argue for deacons and priests to be ordained per saltum – and understand that, normally, bishops be drawn from the order of presbyters.

      Returning to the primary point of the post: do you see the value of not using Transitional, Vocational, or Permanent as modifiers of the order of “deacons”?

      Advent blessings.

      • Hi Bosco
        Yes, your approach is different to mine, as I see no need to discuss per saltum (save that someone brings it up), but you have (in my memory) raised the matter a number of times.

        Of course all Christians are called to be servants but ordaining a deacon asks of someone to be a particular kind of servant in the church; a priest who has been ordained a deacon can usefully remember that.

        I am not “still a deacon” in respect of orders because I am a “priest” but that does not mean I cease to be deacon-like in my priestly service.

        I do not think it worth pressing the functional distinction, “facing ..,” between a deacon and a priest very far. Deacons assist the life of the church; priests engage in the community. A deacon may be called to be permanently a deacon; a deacon may be called on into priesthood and if so, the diaconate has been a preparatory period for that.

        I think you are missing a point about discernment: the key to the firefighter becoming a councillor is that the firefighter is discerned to be useful to the community as a councillor. (e.g. the firefighter has fought fires in many parts of the community so knows the community well; the firefighter has not only fought the fires but has also offered comfort to the stricken, so is perceived to be someone who understands people in the community; the firefighter has worked hard to make homes and businesses safer so is recognised and valued for being proactive in making life better in the community.

        If bishops are to be drawn from the presbyters, why not the presbyters from the deacons?!

        Modifiers have their uses. For instance “transitional” v “permanent” may help distinguish in a parish with two deacons which one is training towards priesting. But I would not die in a ditch for them ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Thanks, Peter.
          I think you would be in the minority in thinking that you were not โ€œstill a deaconโ€.
          It is not something that I can be as certain about as you. But I am certainly open to that discussion, and your position.
          Also, I would suggest, a layperson is called to be “deacon-like” in their lay service (to piggy-back on your points).
          As to your penultimate paragraph – I am certainly not saying presbyters cannot be drawn from the diaconate.
          Thanks for engaging with the dialogue.
          Advent blessings.

          • Hi Bosco
            There are complex matters of “state” (if not “status”!) here, are there not? So:
            (1) If I am still a Deacon in some real sense then I am not wanting to demur from that.
            (2) But I am not a Deacon in this sense: if we had a synodical vote by houses broken down into orders, I cannot choose to vote with the deacons when I am a priest.
            (3) A (genuine) question: can I resign my orders as a priest in order to simply be in my orders as a deacon? Or, is “resigning orders” about resigning from being ordained to each and every order to which I have been ordained?

          • Thanks, Peter.

            (2) You will be able to answer this better than many. There are a number of (non-diocesan) bishops in our province who do not function as (do not hold the licence of) assistant bishops. When these vote in synod, my understanding is that in fact they do not vote in the House of Bishops, but vote in the House of Clergy.

            When such bishops receive a licence (say they are leading a parish), are you suggesting that they receive a licence to be “Bishop in Charge of Parish X” – or do they in fact receive a licence as “Priest in Charge of Parish X”

            (3) In response to your genuine question, you would have gone first to Title G Canon XIII 8 “Relinquishment of Orders” and found that certainly the canon and its Second Schedule assume that you are both a priest and a deacon and, in the Form provided, relinquish both. From the mention of bishops in 8.1, and no form provided for this in the schedule, one could argue that the form is an example rather than the only possible form. Whether you could relinquish “all rights, privileges, advantages and exemptions of the Order of Priest as by law belonging to it” without relinquishing “all rights, privileges, advantages and exemptions of the Order of Deacons as by law belonging to it” is a question you would need to pose to the Chancellors – but form an orderly queue – they have, since May, been dealing with the question of how for half a century our canon has allowed us to marry divorcees when our doctrine has been clear marriage is life-long.

            Which brings up another response to your genuine question: the canon, as it stands (that you are both a priest and a deacon) is not a formulary – if this is all we have, you are free to believe (and teach) the opinion that you are no longer a deacon.

            Advent blessings.

  2. One can make a good argument for a church as organizational body not needing deacons. What duties do they perform that prepared laypersons could not handle? The value of the diaconate may very well be found best in its value to the individual. That is, the public profession and concomitant vows, whatever they may be, and the grace that flows from ordination.

    • Yes, this is an important point, I think, Kevin. And some RC dioceses have been reluctant to ordain married deacons because of your very point. In the RC context, there are some things that a deacon can do that a lay person cannot (eg. lead a sacramental wedding).

      I think there are certain world-facing strong service leadership positions in which a deacon could be seen to very overtly represent Christ’s Church and lead others in that particular service. I am thinking of such things as prison ministry, hospital ministry, work amongst the lost, last, and least (both social and justice), environmental concerns, etc. I hope you understand the point I am making.

      Advent blessings.

  3. Hi Bosco
    Excellent point re bishops/priests votes/licences (and I was at a GS once where a bishop by order was a member of the house of clergy by election).

    However I think that only raises this thought: As a priest, yes, I could be chosen by a household of deacons to belong to them, represent then (and, on the analogies you mention, this would be because they accept I remain a deacon); but I still think there would be an arrogance if I as a priest chose to treat myself as a deacon.

    As for either giving up or being deprived of orders. I have no wish to be in a queue of such a long chronology ๐Ÿ™‚

    A pertinent observation, possibly, is that my memory tells me of no one who has been deprived of/renounced one order but not another. I am not about to set a president (cf. Trump’s dictionary for the spelling of that word!).

  4. An old Orthodox joke with an uncomfortable ring of truth:

    When you find a man
    with a good voice and a good mind,
    ordain him a deacon.

    When he loses his voice,
    ordain him a priest.

    When he loses his mind,
    ordain him a bishop.

    There’s a nice anecdote of clerical presumption in Gregory of Tours’s History of the Franks, a Gallican priest demanding promotion to bishop, that similarly illustrates the historic practice of transitional orders:

    “I have been allotted these grades of clerkship ever with canonical institution. I was a lector ten years, I ministered in the office of subdeacon for five years, fifteen years was I bound to the diaconate, and now for twenty years I have enjoyed the honour of the presbyterate. What now remains for me but to receive . . . the episcopate?” (History of the Franks, IV.6, quoted in Deanesly, History of the Medieval Church)

    Our Gallican priest would have been made a lector about the age of 7 (learning to read and write Latin), subdeaconed at 17 (given a role in the Mass, but principally chanting the Office), deaconed at 22 (greater liturgical role, administrative assistance to the bishop), and priested at 37. He’s now about 57 and, professionally at least, qualified to be a bishop. (As it happened, however, the assembled synod refused to elect him, rightly seeing in this speech evidence of “vainglory.”)

    These facetious observations are offered as proof of my bona fides on the subject of per saltum ordination, which I think ought to be discussed seriously.

    But I would also want to see an equally serious discussion of whether the medieval development of “transitional” orders didn’t rest on the discovery that different ministries may be appropriate for different ages and levels of experience in the life of the Church.

    Our Gallican priest would have been “fed from the bishop’s table” throughout his career, and his bishop would have superintended his whole education. Given the general collapse in the quality and duration of theological education today, there is a lot to be said for some sort of “apprenticeship” stage that lasted much longer than a two-year curacy, but still afforded a living wage to the apprentice.

    A greater role for non-presbyteral orders would have the benefit of forcing us laity to see our clergy less as “consecration machines,” and more as leaders, teachers, and enablers of the whole life of the Church. (My own scholarly obsession, the Divine Office, would receive a lot more attention!)

    The “vocational” diaconate, it’s true, achieves something similar. But vocational deacons are very rare birds indeed in my corner of the vineyard, and in any case the diaconate is an integral order unto itself, emphatically not merely an apprenticeship to a “higher ministry” โ€” pace the Prayer Book Ordinal. (Though I have to admit, without a desire to be critical, that in my experience the received historical theology of the diaconate seems to bear little relation to actual history. Instead, it is often justified by appeal to a rather anachronistic, tie-dyed anti-clericalism.)

    Maybe what we need is not so much a revival of the diaconate as a revival of the minor orders of Doorkeeper, Exorcist, Lector, and Acolyte! The emergence of Lay Readers in the nineteenth century perhaps showed the same instinct. But in my experience lay readers are often the last to proceed to Major Orders!

    • Thanks, Jesse.

      I have written much (on this site) about my concerns about priestly formation (as I know it in this province – which I think is towards one end of the Anglican formational spectrum), giving very concrete suggestions about how we might better move forward (eg. a foundational spiritual year).

      I would love you to unpack “the received historical theology of the diaconate …is often justified by appeal to a rather anachronistic, tie-dyed anti-clericalism” – I don’t know what you mean.

      My understanding is that (at least in the Latin Rite) in Roman Catholicism Lector and Acolyte have been retained (renewed?) and are required for those going on to deacon, priest, (and bishop). I can see great value in Doorkeeper.

      Advent Blessings.

      • Yes, Bosco, I was deliberately channelling your own concerns about how training for ministry needs to be renewed. We still mostly follow the old model of a three-year M.Div. in Canada (though in First Nations communities in the far North we’ve had to be more flexible and creative). The trouble is that many of our students arrive with only the most notional idea of the content of the Christian faith, so the M.Div. turns out either to be remedial and foundational (my preference) or a mere professional qualification (the more usual result). The real formation of future clergy has to take place in the parishes โ€” preferably while they are still children!

        By “tie-dyed anti-clericalism,” I was referring to campaigns against what I agree could be an unhealthy exceptionalism or elitism, which were certainly relevant in the 1960s but are dubiously so now. The social status of the clergy today has been so radically reduced, and the social background of the clergy is so varied (at least compared with what was usual in the past), that it seems like a rearguard action in a war won long ago. But I was not long ago subjected to a long speech on this very subject (the need to recover “ministry” from the grasping fingers of the priesthood), by a speaker of… a certain… vintage…

        And it seems that such a view is usually inseparable from agitation to make the Church’s mission principally social and humanitarian โ€” a role in which deacons are seen as especially important.

        As for historical theology, I have in mind the Lima Statement (BEM) and similar texts, which, following from the “humanitarian” focus, make the diaconate principally a “servant ministry” (mainly, it seems, on the flimsiest etymological grounds). A historical scholarship less committed to contemporary pastoral questions would see this as anachronistic.

        When the apostles appointed the Seven โ€” who are usually appealed to, not necessarily correctly, as the first deacons โ€” they gave them a role as administrators of the Church’s domestic life, “ad intra,” while the apostles attended to its mission “ad extra” and to the central work of (corporate) prayer. To say that the role of a deacon today is to administer a hospital or homeless shelter (a typical assumption about the diaconal vocation in my context) would be the height of a “Christendom” model of the Church โ€” one that assumes that such works are part of the Church’s “internal life” (i.e. that all their beneficiaries will be at least nominally among the faithful) as opposed to its mission to the world.

        Such, anyway, is the view at which I have arrived.

        As always, I find F. D. Maurice helpful. He looks to the appointment of the Seven in Acts 6, not necessarily as the origin of the diaconate, or even as an apostolic ordinance we are bound to follow, but as evidence for how the Church’s single Ministry of the Word has been shaped by emergent necessities in a way that gives witness to the unchanging Gospel:

        “A divine necessity had arisen for a new arrangement. but the new arrangement was not to be the creation of new functions. Christ had sufficiently provided for His Church. They could not add to what He had done; they could only apportion, or rather they felt that He who was the Lord of all circumstances, *was* apportioning, to different husbandmen in His vineyard, works which could not be performed by themselves alone.” (The Church A Family, p. 156)

        He goes on to argue that the delegation of what we could call “horizontal” tasks to the Seven showed that the apostles must always prioritize the “vertical” work of prayer:

        “They [the apostles] could not merge their higher functions in the lower without denying that the Church had that direct relation to God, that inward root, which they professed that it had. They would have converted it into a mere machine for improving the condition of society, and by converting it into such a machine, they would have made it ineffectual for its professed objects. It would only have turned up the surface; therefore it would not have improved the surface. It would not have penetrated the soil below; therefore it would not have made the fruits better, or the produce greater.” (pp. 157-8)

        You asked for “unpacking…” ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Thanks for that unpacking, Jesse.

          I think you are critiquing what is common practice in NZ that, for example, in the Eucharist the priest absolves, and recites the Eucharistic Prayer (or something that is intended to consecrate), and probably (but not necessarily) preaches – but all else is essentially done by lay people (often robed but again not necessarily). And this is justified as some sort of manifestation of the “priesthood of all believers” (being IMO confused with the “presbyterate of all believers”).

          My critique of this is regularly seen as clericalism on my part.

          I think you are also critiquing academic learning as being equated as being priestly formation. We keep no provincial statistics, but I would think a three year theology degree would be pretty normal for ordination (either before or after ordination). It will normally not be done in a live-in, seminary context (we only have {one of?} the wealthiest seminary in the Anglican World) but regularly spread over a number of years and/or done remotely (our live-in seminary has not sought, so cannot offer, a degree – if you want a degree there, you would do that remotely). Curacy is also often unaffordable now – so after ordination, one’s curacy might be as “deacon in charge” of a parish with some sort of oversight from, say, a regional archdeacon. If the service is led by the deacon in charge, a retired priest in the congregation might come up to consecrate the bread and wine at the appropriate point in the service, and then return to the pews after the consecration (occasionally consecrated bread and wine has been bussed in).

          Advent blessings.

          • One of the things I so appreciate about our e-discussions, Bosco, is that you often make clear to me what I have been thinking when I would have found my thoughts hard to understand myself, let alone explain. Acute conversation partners are very necessary for my “circles-within-circles” mind. ๐Ÿ™‚

            It might be helpful to apply the anti-clericalist mindset to other cooperative human ventures. Anti-coachism in sport. Anti-conductorism in music. Anti-teacherism in school. Anti-judgism in law. Anti-primeministerism in politics.

            We so readily recognize the proper role of the leader/enabler/authenticator in other groups. But we become very individualistic in church, where we ought to be more aware than anywhere else of being a single body with many members working in concert, not in competition.

          • Your comparison (contrast) is illuminating, Jesse.

            As a qualified teacher, I am most familiar with the changes for teachers (across four decades). The core of being a teacher has been maintained – its exercise is constantly trying to reframe into our ever-changing context. Teachers are required to be highly qualified (with clearly-specified academic and practical formation), then there is a two year period of “curacy”, and the requirement of life-long, demonstrable ongoing formation and training.

            In fact, in the list you give, all are needing increasing training, study, and formation. Except priesthood. At least here.

            Previously, if you were called to be a priest, normally you would complete an undergrad degree and then a three-year theological tertiary qualification. There was no question, when I was training, if you were to be a stipended priest, your family quit jobs, moved to Auckland and spent three years in our residential seminary. You then had 2-4 years of curacy after which you might run a smaller parish (in my case my “smaller parish” was a rural area visible from the Moon, with six churches). All those dynamics have gone. There is no province-wide agreement on minimum qualifications or formation, nor about ongoing requirements for priesthood. I am not even sure if (m)any dioceses could produce a diocesan set of requirements. There is a strong tendency that people ordained complete a 1-year certificate, earlier called “Anglican Studies” now called “Christian Studies” (either before or after ordination). And, as you indicate, if a person comes to ordination as a new Christian that would often be seen as a plus.

            Advent Blessings.

  5. I would say that the priesthood and the episcopacy have more in common with each other than the diaconate has with anything else. Even if per saltum was to be used for priests, I think using it for bishops would turn the episcopacy into something it is not, something other than the archpastor of the diocese, supervising and managing and pastoring the other pastors, along with the rest of the flock.

    • Thanks, Peter. Yes – I’ve made your point in different ways in this discussion. I think you are correct. A per saltum ordination to bishop would be very unusual – but I can envisage such a situation occurring in extraordinary circumstances. And if such an extraordinary circumstance occurred, would we just ordain someone priest first – because that’s the rule – in order for them to become a bishop?
      Advent blessings.

      • Barring bizarre circumstances where there aren’t two days to do successive priest-bishop ordinations on, I think maintaining these two steps is important, for catechetical reasons, if nothing else.

        After all, when things become optional, they soon will become omitted by default.

        (It’s all fairly academic for me, of course, being Orthodox.)

  6. I totally agree with you. I would also add that we are masquerading deaconate with the transitional deacons. We have hierarchised all the orders. We should have permanent readers, permanent subdeacons, permanent exorcists, permanent deacons etc.

    The relationship, however, between the presbyterate and the episcopate is rather ambiguous throughout the Church history. Personally, I would sharply advocate for a reconciliation between these two orders, so that there would be small dioceses of maximum 10 parishes, with each rector being successively (after episcopal consecration) the bishop in hir diocese for a “short” time (3 years, as Jesus’ earthly ministry), while still assuming the cure of hir own parish, after which sยทhe should go back to hir former rectoral functions only, leaving the episcopate to the next. Thus, most of the rectors that live enough long could be transitional priests and transitional bishops during their lifetime.

    • I really like your thinking here, George. If we lined up the orders we have thought about most and renewed most – I think it is the episcopate that is one of the least thought-through and least-renewed. Blessings.

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