Friday, 22 July 2011

Why are Archdeacons Priests?

I probably won't be blogging much over the next few days - trying to write something else. However, just to keep things going, I thought I'd ask the question in the header, "Why are Archdeacons Priests?"

Being an Archdeacon strikes me as a pretty thankless, but these days vital, task. However, it is one of those cases where the title exactly fits the job. A deacon is supposed to be a 'church servant'. An Archdeacon is a church servant in spades. All power to their collective elbows!

However, I can see no reason why they need to be ordained as priests. In the old days they were because the job was part-time (even in my lifetime, Archdeacons ran parishes as well). In that case, you had to be ordained because that that was your 'day job'.

Today, however, the post of an Archdeacon has little to do directly with the ministry of the 'word and sacrament', which is the core of priestly ministry. Yes, Archdeacons preach occasionally and might take the odd service, but they do this because they happen to be ordained, not because it is central to the role of Archdeacon.

And yes, Archdeacons act as officers of the Bishop, but so do Churchwardens.

So why don't we get 'civilians' to do the Archdeacons job and free up another 'dog collar' for the ministry of the word?

Discuss (I'm sure you'll enjoy it).

Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted.


  1. If we had 'Deacons' in the Biblical N.T. sense in the C.of E. then the role of 'Arch - Deacon' would be obvious. As long as being made deacon is seen as just a step to 'full ordination' (bishop?) then we have problems.
    The short answer to your question is - NO!


  2. I think this business of Archdeacons who are not also parish clergy is as you say really quite a modern (and specifically Church of *England* innovation). Over in Ireland it is still normal for Archdeacons to have parishes (in my brother's diocese the Archdeacon of Raphoe is also Rector of Dunfanaghy, Raymunterdoney and Tullaghobegley - fantastic names!) and a similar situation pertains in Wales.

    But perhaps these days in modern England we do need full-time Archdeacons and the idea of Diocese-lite (fresh expressions of Diocese?) is best left to the Celts?

  3. You and I are both Deacons and so are those who serve as Archdeacons. Deacons first, before becoming presbyters. It's good to have some reminder of our Diaconate, even if only in the person of the Archdeacon.

  4. I know of at least one case (in Dallas) where the bishop appointed a deacon as archdeacon.

  5. The question of what archdeacons do and what they are supposed to are two different things. Much of what they do is also covered by the roles of bishops and rural deans. They induct clergy, I suppose this is a priestly role which would otherwise fall on the bishop. They conduct "visitations" inspect buildings and check the inventory. A junior accountant could do the formal aspect just as well. On the other hand the church may save a lot of money in the long run by sending a structural engineer to identify potential problems. On the other hand this does give him contact with the local church which enables him to play a pastoral role. Then we have such things as pastoral care of clergy, appointments, churches without clergy. In other words jobs which need his clerical experience.

    I think the system of having two senior clergy without local (parish) responsibilities in each area is reasonable. The bishop could be viewed as the CEO of the diocese so all administrative duties are ultimately his responsibilities. These are dealt with by delegation and supervision. Jobs to do with assets should fall under the diocesan treasurer but those to do with people have a pastoral element and should be dealt with by clergy.

    Another way of dealing with is would be to appoint an archdeacons assistant, a lay post, who would fee up all the archdeacons in the diocese.

  6. I think you will find that the Archdeacons in Liverpool diocese combine their archidiaconal responsibilities with parochial ones.

  7. David said
    "They induct clergy, I suppose this is a priestly role which would otherwise fall on the bishop".
    I am no expert on Liturgy but I think that the 'Institution' (the Bishop's part of the Service of , Institution, Induction and Installation) is the 'spiritual bit! "Receive this cure of souls which is both mine and yours".
    The Archdeacon then inducts the new Incumbent into the 'temporalities'i.e. "By direction of the Bishop, I induct you into the real, actual, and corporeal possession of the Benefice and Parish Church of . . . . " The key is often given as a symbol.
    Both Bishop (spiritual) and Archdeacon (temporal) have their proper roles. As I understand it, if the Archdeacon were in deacon's orders only it would be just as, or even more appropriate.


  8. As long as the C of E insists on calling its trainee priests 'deacons', then confusion about the nature of the diaconate will exist. The implication is obvious - the calling of a priest is higher than the calling of a deacon, and you only need to carry this unfortunate label around for a year (like L plates) until you have the experience to be something better.

    If we are going to ordain to the diaconate, then why are not our churchwardens and treasurers not being so ordained?

  9. Archdeacons don't have to be legally priests. I believe it would be possible for a woman (or man) in the permanent diaconate to become an Archdeacon without being priested first.

    But the issue, as so often, is that there is a sense of a C of E "career ladder", which is a nonsense.

    Here's a better question - How do we expect Bishops and Archdeacons to be leaders in God's church if they are not members of a regular congregation?

  10. Now that increasing numbers of people are being ordained as "distinctive deacons" it strikes me that you are asking the right question at the right time.

  11. Archdeacons do legally have to be priests:

  12. "Mediaeval archdeacons were so notorious for corruption as to provoke the question Num. archidiaconus salvari potest? (Lat. = Can an archdeacon be saved?)"

    We now know the answer to this question.

  13. Hi John,

    Archdeacons in Australia are also parish priests. They get paid 1 day a week by the diocese plus some extra costs for transport, phone calls, etc. The nature of their work here means they need to have some level of authority, which would probably require them to be a senior priest rather than a deacon, e.g. vicarage standards, church building/renovation plans, parish closures/amalgamations. Tell me, do you "collate" your Archdeacons in the UK? The church staff gave my former parish priest a stapler as a gift when he became an Archdeacon!

  14. Last I checked, Narelle Jarrett wasn't a parish priest, yet she's also Australian.

  15. As long as the C of E misuses NT titles and roles (all believers are priests) generally and invents others that have no biblical basis whya get hot and bothered about any one?

  16. "Anonymous" above posts a link to the Secretary General's note in June this year. The second paragraph is interesting:

    "2. In ancient times archdeacons were deacons who had not been ordained to the presbyterate. The archdeacon was the principal deacon of a church (i.e. a diocese) and assisted the bishop in a wide range of tasks. The archdeacon was often chosen to succeed the bishop who had appointed him and would then have received the orders of priest and bishop. The practice of choosing archdeacons from the order of presbyters, rather than from the order of deacons can be dated from around the end of the first millennium. It was after that that archdeacons came to have an oversight role for fellow presbyters rather than only deacons."

    Are Archdeacons mentioned in the BCP?

    Another "Anonymous" correctly points out that Narelle Jarrett in the diocese of Sydney is not a priest, yet holds the position of archdeacon for women's ministry, among others.

  17. Perhaps because the next step on the ladder for them can be to be nominated as a bishop.

  18. To Anonymous and Michael A,
    Sydney is a special case, because it has its own order of ministry for women - "deaconesses". Note that Narelle is Archdeacon for Women's Ministry rather than for a geographical area, ie she oversees women's ministry and the deaconesses rather than parish priests. Being from Melbourne, I'm not across the details of Sydney's system, but in every other diocese in Australia, an Archdeacon has to be a priest. I'm aware of one or two other people who combine being an Archdeacon with non-parish roles e.g. Diocesan registrar, Director of Social Services, or theological lecturer.

    Another great line I heard about archdeacons came after a talk from the leader of a Christian bikie group, who mentioned how the Sergeant at Arms in a bikie club is the muscle man who meets out discipline to club members who stray from the rules. Our local archdeacon got up to give a Bible study straight after him and said, "You know, Dave, I'm a Sergeant at Arms. We call them archdeacons in the Anglican Church."

  19. John Thomson,

    I don't think we are getting "hot and bothered" so much as discussing the nature of a particular practice in certain parts of the Anglican Commnunion.

    Re your comment on CofE "misusing" NT titles and roles, note that the word "priest" in the Book of Common Prayer is short for "presbyteros" or elder. It doesn't mean "hierus", a sacrificing priest.

    Peter Kirk, is there any requirement that an archdeacon move on to become bishop? Surely a bishop can be drawn from many sources in the church - so it wouldn't be doing violence to the system if an archdeacon were not a priest, but a senior deacon as appears to have been its original function for the first ten centuries of the church's history? I am not advocating change necessarily, but just exploring the idea.

  20. MichaelA, my point was simple: first to point out an interesting newly announced appointment of an archdeacon as a bishop, in John R's own diocese; and then to point out that at least here in England this is recognised career path.

    I guess one can go straight from deacon to bishop, but has it ever happened in modern times? Anyway, while I guess having been an archdeacon is good experience for a bishop, it is also important to have spent some time in parochial ministry.

  21. Peter Kirk said;-
    "here in England this is recognised career path."

    Maybe the idea that ministry in the church of God is a "career" lies at the heart of the problem!


  22. John Stott has just died.

  23. Indeed, Terry. But the whole system of different ranks of clergy encourages that. Indeed the whole concept of clergy, with a very slim biblical basis, encourages that.

  24. Peter Kirk,

    "I guess one can go straight from deacon to bishop, but has it ever happened in modern times?"

    Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting this. I am not sure if somebody else was. My point was rather that the office of archdeacon is not mentioned in scripture, and its use in the first ten centuries of the church appears to have been rather different to what we use it for today. And, it doesn't appear that the Anglican reformers were concerned with it. It therefore should not be viewed in the same light as the offices of deacon, elder or bishop.

    I don't have a problem with an archdeacon becoming a bishop, if he is the best qualified person for the job. I was confirmed many years ago by +Ken Short with his archdeacon Harry Goodhew standing by. Harry went on to replace Ken as +Wollongong and then to become ++Sydney - that was a good career!

    "Indeed, Terry. But the whole system of different ranks of clergy encourages that. Indeed the whole concept of clergy, with a very slim biblical basis, encourages that."

    What experience bears this out? Is it really suggested that churches with a different concept of clergy to the magisterial reformed churches have one whit less careerism in their ranks? ;o)

  25. Michael, a system of churches which does not have clergy receiving any kind of salary or stipend, but relies entirely on volunteers, offers very little opportunity for careerism. And one in which every congregation is independent with no higher level officers leaves no room for careerism at any level higher than senior pastor of a congregation. That doesn't imply that those systems are better, but it is one significant advantage of them.

  26. Peter, my apologies, I thought you were referring to mainstream denominations like Baptists, Congegationalists, Assemblies of God etc. But they all have salaries or stipends for their ministers.

    Who would fit your criteria? The Quakers certainly. Many Exclusive Brethren (although they still manage to have terrible problems with careerism!) But that's about it.

    Anyway, archdeacons are only an issue for Anglican churches, none of whom would come close to what you describe.

  27. Michael, I was thinking primarily of "new church" groupings like Newfrontiers and the Abundant Life Network, as well as to numerous completely independent non-denominational churches. The other groups you mention, while they do have paid pastors, have much lighter denominational structures than the Church of England which do not offer much in the way of a career progression for someone who is already the pastor of a large church.

    I agree that other groups don't have equivalents of archdeacons. I don't see how their structures work any less efficiently because of this. What would the Church of England lose, apart from a layer of bureaucracy, if it simply abolished archdeacons?

  28. See this motion from the Diocese of Chichester to delete from the Canons the words requiring an Archdeacon to be a priest:

  29. Does the experience of an archdeacon improve his suitability as a bishop? Is he in fact performing a pastoral role even if this is not spelt out in canon law? If not could the work be done by lay officials?

  30. Peter,

    You may well be right.