What is the purpose of the diaconal year? Why does the Church of England ordain people deacons and then, one year later, ordain them priests?
Without going into too much detail, I am aware from experience that there are a number of different opinions on this subject. I have heard it said that the diaconal year is a probationary year, to "weed out" those deacons who really shouldn't be ordained priest. I have heard it said that there isn't any point to the diaconal year, that it is a "wasted year," and that ordinands should be ordained priest straight away.
You will know from my previous two entries that I don't subscribe to either of these views! And neither, praise God, does our Bishop, James, who believes in the importance of the diaconal year so much that he has changed the practice that used to happen in Rochester Diocese. Rochester has always been a Diocese that ordains deacons at Michaelmas (September), but it always used to be the practice that the priests' ordinations took place at Petertide (June/July). Not any more! Us new deacons now get the full diaconal year, being ordained priest in September (8th, if anyone is interested!) This change in practice emphasises the importance of the diaconal year as the foundation of the priesthood.
I do find it very sad that some people - including training incumbents - seem to attach so little significance to the diaconal year. It leaves me wondering - and this may be controversial! - why some people are chosen as training incumbents in the first place. I know colleagues who have had no experience whatsoever of the diaconal liturgical role, which leaves me heartbroken for them, because I know from my own experience what they are missing out on, and how sharing in the Eucharist in this way is preparing me in many intangible ways for that time when I will preside over the Eucharist myself.
Next week, I will be spending a day at Ripon College Cuddesdon with a number of friends who trained with me, and were also ordained deacon last year. It is an opportunity for us to meet together, to reflect on our training experience, and to share stories. One of the things I am looking forward to finding out is their own experiences of being deacons, and how that compares to my own, and to those who have had very different experiences. It should be interesting...!