The deacon’s ministry in a time of change

By Deacon (Dr) Michael Tan, 16 November 2021
Deacon Michael Tan is seen ahead of his ordination as he is instituted as a lector during the permanent diaconate formation weekend in February 2021. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


It is fitting that we are reflecting on the deacon’s ministry during this time of change. In responding to the Plenary Council’s call to a deep listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we must remember that the same Chinese word can speak of both this time of change as both a crisis (and therefore, a time of danger) and an opportunity (and therefore, a time of renewal). In this context, I would like to reflect on approaching the 2022 National Deacons Conference as an opportunity for the renewal of the Church in Australia, and to receive the fruits of the Plenary Council in terms of synodal nourishment of diaconal ministry for the journey.

The 2022 Deacons Conference has the theme, “Going into the deep – Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” This theme calls to mind the Parramatta Diocesan Forum in 2019, when Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, invited us all to go into the deep as missionary disciples to the margins of society, and to ensure that it is not just business as usual. The theme also invites us as the People of God to adopt a listening heart, a heart that listens deeply to the voice of the Holy Spirit – to which the Plenary Council calls us.

The daily livestreamed morning prayer of the first session of the Plenary Council invited us all to listen from the depths of our hearts to the voice of the Holy Spirit, a listening to dadirri – the deep spring inside each of us that we call on, calling us to experience the wholeness of our relationship with nature and creation. This leads to a deep inner peace and silent awareness of the still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking of God’s love for each of us and for creation.

It is from this space of deep listening and inner peace that the deacon is called to be the Church’s service sacramentalised. The deacon’s vocation is to be a sign or sacrament of the Lord who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. This sign or sacrament is expressed in terms of a vocation to be a herald or messenger of the Gospel. The deacon as messenger then takes on a servant leadership ministry on behalf of the bishop who ordains him. His ministry is to bring the Good News to the margins of society, standing in the deep and messy space at the margins of society. In this way, he takes on what Pope Francis describes as the smell of the sheep in the deacon’s synodal ministry of servant leadership for the sake of the Gospel.

This synodal ministry is to walk with, and accompany the sheep. Just as the risen Christ accompanies the disciples along the road to Emmaus, the deacon is called to listening deeply to the risen Christ along the road to Emmaus. The deacon then accompanies the risen Christ in listening to the stories and experiences of the disciples. In listening deeply to the wounded disciples’ experiences of hurt, humiliation, discrimination, marginalisation and despair, the deacon walks synodally with those on the margins. Being a herald of the risen Christ who ministers to the bewildered disciples, the deacon then at the end of the day, if invited into the house, joins the disciples in recognising Christ at the breaking of bread.

The 2022 National Deacons Conference will be held at St. Joseph’s Retreat Centre, Baulkham Hills, from 13 to 16 October 2022. For more information about the 2022 National Deacons Conference, contact

Deacon Michael Tan is a recently ordained Permanent Deacon of the Diocese of Parramatta and the Conference Convenor for the 2022 National Deacons Conference. He is currently serving at St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst.


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