An argument for
broadening the scope of the diaconate in the UCA
Jason John, Deacon candidate, Qld Synod
July 1996, 2nd edition July 1997
Sorry about the formattig, this is a really old file...
Deacons are ordained by the Uniting Church in
Australia (UCA) to work primarily with marginalised and disadvantaged
people. Deacons often work outside the
church, and encourage and equip other UCA members to do likewise. This ministry of service often brings great,
and unforeseen blessings to the participants.
The diaconate should broaden
its scope to engage in ministry to the marginalised creation around us. This is not a change in direction for the
diaconate, but the logical extension of its focus, and a practical response to
the 1988 Assembly Statement to the Nation,
and 1991 Assembly resolutions regarding the environment. Those deacons working
in environmental areas will organise and encourage members of the UCA who are
already involved in this area, and will be a bridge between the UCA, the
environment, and other environmental groups.
In intentionally engaging with the environment, the UCA will discover,
individually and corporately, how enriching the creation is to our Christian
Deacons today: on
mission to humanity
The establishment of the
renewed diaconate by the Assembly in 1985 (85:54:1), expressed the UCA's desire
to ordain ministers to work "particularly among people who are marginalised,
oppressed, suffering, the forgotten, the unlovely."
Clearly, the intention is that
deacons will "work for the most part outside the institutions of the church"."being
in places and among people where [UCA members] rarely go." However, the deacon does not simply do the
mission work of the church on its behalf.
Rather, the deacon is an interface between the church and the rest of
Deacons, "hold before the
church the model of service among those who suffer, and call the members to
engage in such service." Deacons are called to be, "along with the
scattered members of the congregation, a sign of the presence of God in the
everyday world." Deacons are to release
those gifts in church members "that will enable them to share in this ministry
of caring, serving, healing, restoring, making peace and advocating justice as
they go about their daily lives."
Deacons not only work in the
community, and help other church members to do so. Through ordination they come to represent the
church to the wider society, and the wider society to the church. That is, deacons not only speak for the
church when working outside, but also speak for the community to the church,
making known the community's needs, issues, and insights.
As this two way flow develops,
the church discovers that not only has it something to offer, but that it has
something to receive from the wider world.
This has both a personal and corporate dimension.
Personally, as church members
form significant relationships with others, they learn that not only are they
blessed through the satisfaction they get from offering concrete help, but that
those they set out to help have something to offer. Real humility comes in being able to accept
Corporately, the UCA, as it
listens to other voices in the community, is challenged to rethink, refine, and
represent its theology. This process
leads to a vibrant faith, and to many uncomfortable moments as we struggle to
scope: Deacons on mission to the world
The above section summarises
the foundational thinking regarding the ministry of Deacon. It is vital to
remember that the Assembly task group was "convinced that flexible patterns are
needed to revitalise the historic ministry of deacon." The task group hoped to provide a "permissive
framework. It is essential that the
diaconate remains open to whatever forms of ministry God may initiate. The following proposal is, I believe,
entirely consistent with the UCA's hopes for the diaconate, and the Assembly's
own declarations on environmental issues.
Deacons are to work with the
"marginalised, oppressed, suffering, the forgotten, the unlovely." That such people exist, and that there is
hope for change, was the basis of the renewal of the diaconate. It is not only people, however, who fall into
those categories. Nobody who reads a
paper, or watches documentaries, could fail to acknowledge that the environment
itself has been pushed to the margins of society's consciousness until recent
decades. Defenceless individuals and
communities in the animal and plant kingdoms continue to be oppressed, and to
suffer. The cute species, and the
beautiful landscapes often survive, but the unlovely ones are soon forgotten.
Many environmentalists take for
granted that the exploitation of the earth is significantly if not entirely due
to the so called Judeo-Christian ethic of the West. This is, however, a very simplistic
understanding, and several recent works attest to the strong thread of
environmental responsibility, and love for the environment, in both the
Scriptures and Christian tradition.
They argue that the creation stories present humanity as intimately connected
to creation, being made from earth, and charged to be good stewards, rather
than exploiters of creation. The
creation is very good, it was created by Christ himself, and nothing in it is
unclean. John testified against the gnostics that created matter was good. Francis of Assisi and many of the mystics
give ample testimony to their special reverence for the whole of creation. An increasing number of Christians in Australia
believe that their treatment of the environment is a reflection on their relationship
If we are to convince others
that Christianity is not responsible for, and is indeed opposed to exploitation
of the environment, then we must be seen to act. That the UCA accepts a responsibility to
creation is made clear in the following statement to the nation:
Assembly Resolution 91.14.18 "Rights of Nature and Rights of Future Generations" 
"In view of the fact that [God's covenant with creation] is being undermined by lack of human moderation. We support the attribution of rights not only to humans but also to nature, God's creation, and we reject the view that animate and inanimate nature are mere objects which stand at the arbitrary disposal of the human
We call upon the churches to make room for God's covenant with creation within the realm of law by committing themselves at all levels to recognition of the following "Rights of Future Generations" and "Rights of Nature.
1.Nature .animate or inanimate .has a right to preservation and development.
2.Nature has a right to protection.
5.Disturbances of nature require a justification. Damaged nature is to be restored whenever and wherever possible."
Bold as this
statement may be, it represents a weakening of the position outlined in the
1977 and 1988 Statements to the Nation.
"We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed.
We. will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth's resources (1977)
We affirm our belief that the natural world is God's creation; good in God's eyes, good in itself, and good in sustaining human life. Recognising the vulnerability of the life and resources of creation, we will work to promote the responsible management, use and occupation of the earth by human societies.
We will seek to identify and challenge all structures and attitudes which perpetuate and compound the destruction of creation."
In the 1988 Statement, the UCA committed itself to action, whereas the 1991 document lays responsibility with
government. Surely, however, it would be
hypocritical to lay such obligations on the rest of society while backing away
from the costly action it promised in 1988.
Since the UCA's members benefit from the exploitation of the rest of
creation, surely we have a corporate responsibility to make amends.
The weakening of
the Assembly position on paper, and, for example, the inability of the SA Synod
to enact all but the most conservative of its environmental resolutions
bodes poorly for any meaningful input of the structural, visible, UCA body into
the environmental/creation care movement.
The deafening silence of the 1997 Assembly on environmental matters
affirms that we need people, authorised by the Assembly and Synods, to hold
before them their bold commitments, and to push for action. We need to set aside recognised, and
adequately resourced, leaders who are able to move, in both church and
The focus of the
diaconate, as outlined at the start of this paper, makes deacons an obvious choice
as leaders in the church's mission to the rest of creation. Exactly how that will work in practice is, of
course, flexible, but the summary presented in the first section provides a
"work for the most part outside the institutions of the church". Indeed, "At times they may be given
permission to take up positions in community or government agencies in which
their diaconal ministry can be exercised." It is therefore possible that deacons could
be partly or fully employed by any non
church conservation organisation which was willing to have a deacon on the
staff. Even if employed by the church,
consultation and cooperation with such agencies will clearly be desirable.
only work for the church, they empower church members to be involved. There are already many UCA members interested
and involved in environmental issues.
One function of environmental deacons could be to coordinate, resource
and network such people to provide an atmosphere of mutual encouragement, and
allow for larger, more efficient projects to be undertaken. They will also bring the work of such people
to the attention of the wider church.
As somebody with
a mandate to move within and without the church, deacons are well placed to encourage
cooperation between church and non church environmental groups. One task is to facilitate the exchange of
information and assistance between the church and the wider environmental
movement. A specific task will likely be
to foster understanding between those who blame the church for the
environmental crisis, and some Christians who interpret any sign of awe for
creation as New Ageism. Deacons will not
only speak for environmentalists within the church, but for the environment
As with working
with people, Christians will discover, possibly to their surprise, how much we
gain from joining the struggle for the environment:
individuals, we will join Paul in experiencing the groaning of
creation, and the creation's attestation of the glory of God. We will see more deeply just how much the
rest of the creation gives to us, how vital it is for our survival. In meeting non Christians with a shared
interest in the environment we will be reminded that Christians are not the
only ones with passion and the ability to do good, sacrificial deeds.
Corporately, our worship will be enhanced as we bring a greater awe
of the creation with us, and experiment with new ways of allowing the creation
to speak to us of God's glory, and our frailty.
In grappling with the charges of other groups, we will find ourselves
rethinking, refining and representing our theology and faith.
engagement with the environment and environmental issues has already begun
amongst individual members, deacons are well placed to ensure that the UCA
structures encourage and resource them.
R., Dyer, K., Gray, B., Is Christianity
Green? A critique of some accepted views
of the relationship between Christianity and environmentalism: A discussion paper. Mawson Graduate Centre for Environmental
Studies, University of Adelaide, Occasional
Paper No. 8. 1995.
Group on Ministry of the Church, Report
on Ministry in the Uniting Church in
Assembly Communications Unit 1991).
, Rights of Nature and Rights of Future
Generations, Resolution 91.14.18 (1991).
Wansbrough, A., Environmental
Issues - Review of
policy and action,
Environmental Task Group, May 3, 1994.
Appendix 1: SA Synod
resolutions on the environment
8. Environmental Issues
That the Synod:
8.1 recognising that the critical state of
the world's environment demands a serious and urgent
response from the Christian community,
the attention of the whole church to the church's participation in destroying
and the need for us to affirm in word and
i. the sacredness of all creation and
God's passionate concern for its care and well being;
ii. the redemptive work of Jesus
Christ which is for all the created order;
iii. God's call for us to participate with Him in healing the earth and
proclaiming the recreation
and reconciliation of all life
through Jesus Christ;
iv. the consequent need for a re-orientation of our theology and its
practice, in ways which
express our respect for creation and
all people and which do not place development and our
respect for creation in conflict.
the One World Declaration and urge parishes, Presbyteries and Synod agencies to
the end of November 1989, and explore the implications of such an endorsements
Standing Committee to appoint a person or persons to conduct worship
seminars related to
environmental concerns and associated theological and spiritual issues, and
to the lectionary, for use on a number of
Sundays up to Synod 1990.
Business Committee to allocate a portion of the 1990 Synod to a further review
environmental issues, such a segment to include:
i. sharing on how parts of the church have
responded to clauses 8.1 b and c, and the insights gained
and impact made;
ii. a corporate act of repentance and
re-dedication in terms of clause 8.1a.
Standing Committee to canvass further ideas and submissions, to assist the
church in its
reflecting and acting on this issue.
8.2 to provide a model for other church
committees and agencies and, in recognising that to tackle
the big issues we often have to start
small, undertake as far as possible to:
a. minimise the use of paper and other
resources and use recycled paper for printing purposes.
b. use washable, not disposable, cups,
plates and utensils.
c. use paper envelopes, not plastic bags,
for mailing purposes.
8.3 encourage the performance of the
practices outlined in clauses 8.2 and other practical measures
for the responsible use of our environment
and resources in all sections of our
As far as I have been able to ascertain, the only
resolutions that were ever acted on were those in 8.2, in the Synod building