A way to think about Anglican ordained ministry during the coronavirus crisis

Some dioceses of the Church of England have in recent years developed a range of understandings of what an ordained deacon is. These include

  1. a predominantly liturgical role (sometimes a way of honouring women’s ministry while not ordaining them as priests);
  2. a role associated especially with service, often in contexts of great social need; or lastly
  3. an ‘ambassadorial’ role as one commissioned for a range of tasks – sometimes specifically in the service of the bishop – often tasks involving communicating between church groups or between church and world.

In the Anglican tradition priests (and bishops) remain deacons when ordained to another order. The classic role of the priest, presiding at the holy eucharist of the gathered people of God, is currently limited to strange on-line versions of itself. And the liturgical role of the deacon is currently very constrained if not impossible. But the second and third roles of the deacon seem to me to be needed as never before. And perhaps they offer a way for priests to think through their current roles and rediscover elements that should always been there, but have often been neglected because of the demands of the ordinary rhythms of public worship and church administration.

It is a diaconal role to make connections, to search out social needs and help the Church deploy its resources, spiritual, financial and practical into those needs. Whether that be by setting up an emergency food bank, or mobilizing volunteers to help the vulnerable, or responding to the rapidly accumulating sense of loss within the community as it experiences both bereavement and unemployment.

But also the deacon is understood (especially in the influential work of Collins) as trusted go-between. The one who explains to churchpeople the thinking of their bishops, the one who relays to senior staff the impact of policies on the spirituality and morale of laity. Also one who makes and deploys those vital ecumenical connections that enable the people of God to work with unity in crisis, and the one whom the Church can send into liaison with local councils and charities, to bridge differences and catalyse action with common purpose, action moreover that prioritises, as the Church of God is always called to do, the needs of the poor.

I offer this thought as a possible help to self-understanding and vocation for Anglican ministers who may be understandably puzzled and dislillusioned at the closure of churches and loss of liturgical gathering.

Christopher Southgate, Eastertide 2020


For further reading: John N. Collins, Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources (OUP, 1990) (technical scholarly discussion of the root diakon-); John N. Collins Deacons and the Church (Gracewing, 2002) (popular version of his research with discussion of contemporary role). Anglican discussions: Rosalind Brown, Being a Deacon Today (Canterbury Press, 2005); Steven Croft, Ministry in Three Dimensions, Ordination and Leadership in the Local Church, New Edition, (DLT, 2008). Anglican reports: For such a time as this (Church House, 2001) (a report drawing on the insights of Collins, but rejected by General Synod);The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church (General Synod Misc 854, 2007); Methodist: Ronnie Aitchison, The Ministry of a Deacon (Epworth, 2003) or www.methodistdiaconalorder.org.uk. Roman Catholic: Owen F. Cummings Deacons and the Church (Paulist Press, 2004). Ecumenical: Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (World Council of Churches, 1982)

A short talk on justice and wisdom in virus times

Our colleague Professor Ruard Ganzevoort in Amsterdam has a powerful five-minute video column on ‘the virus of short-sightedness’ at ruardganzevoort.wordpress.com. English subtitles. Really thought-provoking as we try and ask: where is hope to come from, and where shall wisdom be found.

Great resources from the US

Throughout our project we have been much indebted to the work of Dr Kate Wiebe and the Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth. This is just to point readers to their great website at ictg.org, which has among other things some important posts on the coronavirus.

As I write the crisis deepens in both UK and US – wishing all our readers health and safety in this crazy time.

Christopher Southgate


a meditation for the strangest of Easters

Meditation for Easter in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

St Mark ends his Gospel with the response of the women who went to the tomb on the first Easter Sunday:

‘they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ (16.8).[1]

This Easter will dawn for many people in a place not of triumph, but of fear.

The resurrection accounts have been described as a reverse-grieving process, in which the witnesses gradually come to realise that the one who was lost is alive, and breathes on us the Holy Spirit. Anger is dispelled, depression and denial and bargaining can all be set aside. But I suggest that for many of us, this Easter, we are not far along this process yet. We would like to have the larger story, the story of victory over death, this Easter 2020, to be able to sing it out to the sunrise with our hearts on fire. But our heroes this Easter morning should be those women, Mark’s only witnesses to the resurrection.

Mark is telling us in effect that where we are in our confusion and fear is a valid place to be. It’s even a holy place to be, because it is real. The larger story will emerge – it is in the hands of the God who has done something extraordinary at the empty tomb. We are in a process of searching for this larger story, the one that will enfold and hold all the losses of this time, including the loss of freedom to map out futures, of the power to fix things, the loss of the delight of gathering, and of the profundity of looking closely into others’ eyes, the loss of reassuring and healing touch, for some the loss of parents or grandparents we shall never see again, in this life at least.

This is an Easter for holding together – by phone-call or Skype or Zoom or Tik-tok or even that most precious of rediscoveries, the letter – the range of reactions we’re all having, the different varieties of fear and confusion and amazement we’re facing. We have the Lord’s songs to sing in this strange land, the great Passiontide song of love unknown, the Easter hope of Jesus Christ the apple tree, but let us sing them not with a false and self-forgetting triumphalism, but as explorers who will help each other search for the larger story of all this, owning our fear, sharing our wisdom as it returns to us, hoping for what we do not yet see.

The women half-ran, half-stumbled away from the tomb, carrying the greatest secret in the history of the world. And Christians this year are bearers of a secret we may not feel we are even ready to tell, but yet is our clue to the larger story within which all this trauma will one day be seen to sit.

Christopher Southgate

[1] The longer ending, vv. 9-20, is not in the best manuscripts.

meditation for Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday reflection   2020                           


The shadows lengthen. In ordinary times, we would be gathering in the sanctuary to hear the story of friends gathered around a table for the last time. We would extinguish candles as we recounted the shadows that surrounded Jesus this night: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the hate and fear of Jesus’ enemies, the anguish of the garden prayer, the horrors of the cross. As we were reminded on the longest night at the end of last year, the darkness is necessary in order to see the light. But tonight we do not let ourselves leap ahead to the end of the story. We stay here in the darkness.

We are in darkness now. It is a time of unknowing: How long will we be in lockdown? Who will get this virus? Who will survive it? Some will wonder how they will feed themselves or their families; how long will the money last? Will my business fail? All are aware that we have no way of knowing what the ultimate impact of the pandemic will be, on us, on the nation, on the world.

Into this time of unknowing, Jesus comes. He gathers us together -though physical gathering is not possible, we can call to mind our friends and loved ones. Imagine us together, for our bonds are unbreakable. He gathers us and he invites us to an ordinary table, our kitchen table. There is bread, there is wine…ordinary things that become extraordinary under his blessing. He takes up the towel, wraps it around his waist, picks up a basin with water and goes to each one, stooping to wash our feet. We are embarrassed; we look away. But we receive the touch. We sense the tenderness of the moment. When he is done, he looks at us with love and asks if we know what he has done to us. Then he gives us the new commandment: to love one another as he has loved us. To love one another.

This is what darkness calls for: for us to love one another. For us to be a small, affirming flame remembering the power of love as light in the darkness.

Our hearts burn within us as the evening proceeds. We follow him outside beneath a starry sky. He kneels to pray; his body writhes in anguish. We cannot bear to watch. We fall asleep. Three times he wakes us. Twice we fall back into the stupor of sleep. The third time the arrival of our brother Judas and a large crowd shock us into wakefulness. Judas kisses him. The soldiers arrest him. The Temple governors look on with approval. We are doomed. He is dragged off. Despite our best intentions, we flee. We cannot help but flee.

When we are sore afraid, we flee, we fight or we freeze. We have no control over these responses – they are our brains’ way of keeping us alive. There is no need for shame, though we do feel it. The disciples fled at the arrest. Peter overcame his fear for a brief moment, and then retreated back into it – denying that he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed twice. We want to condemn him, but deep inside we know that we would have done the same thing.

The sanctuary is dark now. We are alone with our vulnerability, our humanity. We look up, from whence will our help come?


Carla A Grosch-Miller


a letter from Carla Grosch-Miller to a congregation

From the Minister

Dear Friends,

As I sit at my desk and write this, I am aware of a tumult of emotion: deep concern for you and for all, a sense of being unmoored and unsettled, fear, numbness, great love and a morsel of hope. I imagine that you too since the outbreak of Covid-19 have been unsettled, concerned, afraid, numb, loving, hopeful and had other surprising emotions. The first thing I want to say is that, whatever you are experiencing, it is completely normal. It is how you – your nervous system, with your life experience – strive to cope with an overwhelming and uncertain situation. Speak kindly to yourself; acknowledge the confusion and challenge of these times; breathe deeply.

We are the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and more of people who came through the Great War, the Spanish influenza, the Great Depression, the Blitz, and the deprivations of World War II and the Austerity. We are survivors. There is in us a reserve of strength and wisdom that will accompany us through this pandemic. Recall how you have survived other challenges; draw lessons from your own experience and that of others.

Our Bible was created by people who endured great traumas and rose to rebuild their lives and even sing praises to God who made us and whose love never lets us go. From slavery in Egypt and forty years wilderness wandering, to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the Exile, through to the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of early Followers of the Way, they knew that the only way through hard times is to cling to God and to their communities of faith and to move through the crisis. They accepted the harsh reality of life and leaned into it, doing what they had to do.

Dozens of times in the scriptures people are told “do not fear”. They are told it because fear is real and there are dangers. Fear is not a moral failing; it can be realistic, or a warning, or information about the need to tread carefully. We cannot eradicate fear – nor would we want to. But we can remind ourselves that fear must not have the last word. The empty tomb is a testament to the power of love over fear, and love never dies. So when fear arises, we breathe deep and draw on those reserves of strength and wisdom our forbears gave us. We rise and walk the way of faith, remembering as the writer of 2 Timothy 1:7 said, that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

My prayer for all of us in these difficult times is that we will connect with those deep reserves and that we will use our power, our love and our self-discipline to keep ourselves and each other as safe and healthy as possible. The best antidotes to fear are love and laughter – so stay connected to loved ones and enjoy the good things in life that are before you; breathe fresh air every day; move; phone a friend or someone who needs one. Pray the psalms – the ancients kept an open channel to God; the invitation stands for us also to speak the truth of our feelings to the One who holds the world in a wide embrace, and then to listen. Read a gospel through; deep springs of living water will refresh. We have what we need.

In Christian love,  Carla

Revd Dr. Carla A. Grosch-Miller, UK

important new book in the area!!

It’s a pleasure to celebrate the publication of Feminist Trauma Theologies: Body, Scripture and Church in Critical Perspective (SCM) edited by Karen O’Donnell and Katie Cross.

Contributors include: Hilary Jerome Scarsella, Manon Ceridwen James, Alistair McFadyen, Kirsi Cobb, Rosie Andrious, Leah Robinson, Sonia Seans, Natalie Collins, Ally Moder, Santiago Pinon and Esther McIntosh.

It looks terrific and just the thing for those long cloistered virus evenings.


Red-letter day for project – book to publisher!

Delighted to report that, thanks to the huge efforts of Meg Warner, our lead editor, the project’s edited book went off to Routledge by the April 30 deadline. We thank all the contributors for their efforts, and particularly Bishop James Jones for a powerful and moving Foreword to the book.