Introducing the Permanent Diaconate: Deacon Stephen ScottTuesday 31st October 2023
“It’s fulfilling in terms of being of service to others but not self-fulfilling. It’s fulfilling to people and it’s about being yourself. It’s imparting in a special way who you are, what you stand for, and who you are in the community.”
This autumn, we caught up with Deacon Stephen Scott, assistant director of our Permanent Diaconate programme, to find out more about his diaconal journey and the ongoing development of the ministry in our diocese.
Together with programme director Fr Chris Gorton, Deacon Stephen leads an experienced team of clergy, religious, and lay people to establish and embed the work and presence of the diaconate within our diocese and parish communities, to raise awareness and familiarity of its distinct ministry, and to create a clear pathway for anyone discerning that vocation.
Having served for 13 years, Deacon Stephen became the first permanent deacon in our diocese in September 2020, moving to the area from the Diocese of Lancaster.
He said: “Bishop John was keen to establish a group to put a system in place. Until now, if someone came forward saying they were interested in becoming a permanent deacon, there was no set process to follow, so we’re really starting from scratch to set this up.
“It’s a significant amount of work putting that system in place, but were making great progress, we’ve got people interested, people are starting to come forward, and we had our four new deacons ordained last year.”
The Permanent Diaconate
Spread across the diocese, our four new deacons are making great strides in parishes and outreach projects across the diocese.
Their work involves helping to advance the prayer life of parishes through newly-formed prayer groups and supporting clergy during the Mass by proclaiming the Gospel, preaching the homily, and serving as Ordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Permanent deacons can also baptise, preside at marriage services, and funerals and burial services.
Deacon Stephen described the ministry as “distinct”. Within his current professional life, he has married employees,baptised their children, and also comforted families at the end of life too. It’s about service. It’s about being there for people especially at times of most need.”
Stretching back to the earliest days of the Church, the permanent diaconate has noble history of ministry based on three key hallmarks: liturgy, word, and charity, but it can offer quite a challenge in terms of balancing ministry, work, and home life.
Reflecting on his work in the nuclear sector and his role as a husband and a father, Deacon Stephen said: “The biggest challenge for me is time. I recall meeting one of our priests when I came to this diocese – who I hadn’t seen since my initial assessment – and the first thing he said was “You’ve survived!”.
“I remember him telling me that I’ve got a big challenge on my hands but it’s important to remember the order of family, work, and diaconate. I remember thinking that seemed a bit out of order, but he explained: “You’ve got your family, which is so important, and you need to work to support your family. And if you get that right, your ministry will flourish.”
This remarkable combination of responsibilities – as well as the individual skills, strengths, and personality of the ordained – can add a wonderful new dimension to parish life, especially in tandem with the work of the parish priest.
Deacon Stephen highlighted the importance of maintaining this sense of identity within the sphere of service to open the door to authentic and meaningful ministry.
He said: “People have lots of different strengths and skills it’s about understanding how those can be used to serve the diocese, parish and the Church. It’s not always what you know, it’s about the person you are in the community. It’s about being yourself.”
Discerning the Call
This sense of self awareness is also crucial in the discernment process of any vocation, Deacon Stephen explained, encouraging a process of careful reflection on the role already played in the Church and embracing a dedicated prayer life.
Deacon Stephen’s own calling to the permanent diaconate came in his original home parish church one evening after Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
He said: “It was nighttime, and the church was in darkness. I was with another gentleman, and we were asked by our parish priest. “Had we ever considered exploring the possibility of becoming a permanent deacon”? I was somewhat taken aback, and the approach came somewhat of a surprise. I had never even thought of anything like that but very quickly I began to think – yes, that’s for me. Sometimes God taps you on the shoulder when you least expect it and in the most of mysterious ways.”
Despite being a surprise, Deacon Stephen’s vocation was clear but for many, the call to ministry can be less so, and sometimes even a little uneasy.
Deacon Stephen said: “I hear frequently that people say “I wanted such a calling to go away. I didn’t want to be a permanent deacon, but it kept coming back to me.” If it keeps coming back, there’s obviously some calling there.”
Over the coming months, we will be following the stories of our current group of ordained permanent deacons and their own individual ministries and experiences across the diocese on our website and social media channels.