Q: What is the ministry of a deacon?
A: The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.
--Q&A from The Book of Common Prayer (in "An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism")
All Christians are called by Christ to lives of service. Deacons are set aside by the Church to take on the task of servant leadership. Individually, their responsibility to service in the world is no different from that of other Christians. However, as deacons, they lead the Church in its mission of service.
A Deacon's call
First, they serve as icons of service, constant reminders of the call to serve the needy, the dispossessed and the marginalized. Second, they are to seek out the needs of the community and bring those to the Church, offering a prophetic voice on behalf of those is need. Third, deacons are called to discern the God-given gifts in their fellow Christians and to call each Christian to live into the mission given them by God.
Distinctive clerical vestments signify a holy trust placed on deacons by the larger community of faith: A diagonal stole signals hands ready to do God’s work. In the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, we see deacons serving at the table, proclaiming the Gospel, offering up the Prayers of the People and sending the Church out into the world at the end of the service.
Belonging to the whole diocese
Deacons live under the authority of their bishop, and are placed in congregations at the discretion of the bishop. However, deacons do not belong to congregations, and they may be called to operate as agents of their bishops in service to the whole diocese.
All deacons are expected to assume positions of leadership in the diocese. In the Diocese of Missouri, the provisions of some diocesan bodies specifically call for representatives from the diaconate. All deacons in the diocese are accorded voice and vote at the annual diocesan convention.
Between the Church and the world
As icons of servant ministry, deacons serve a distinctive role in relation to the larger world. Deacons are, to use a modern idiom, an interface between the Church and the world. They live in the border between the sacred and the profane. With one hand, they pull the world into the Church; with the other, they pull the Church into the world.