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Roman Catholic deacon, dressed in alb and dalmatic
Greek Orthodox deacon in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem wearing an orarion over the red sticharion

The deacon ( old Greek διάκονος diákonos , servant, helper ') holds a spiritual office within the church , the diaconate . Its tasks are not limited to diakonia , but also include preaching (μαρτυρία martyría , witness ') and worship (λειτουργία leiturgía , liturgy') like those of the other spiritual offices . Deacons were originally the apostles' helpers in the administration of the common property and in the management of the common meals - and probably the Eucharist as well .

In the Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches, ordination as a deacon is the first stage of the sacrament of consecration (the second stage is the priest , the third the episcopate ). The incorporation into the community of clergy, the clergy , takes place through sacramental consecration , which is accomplished through the supplication spoken by the bishop for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of grace required in office as well as the laying on of hands by the bishop on the head of the person to be consecrated.

In the evangelical - especially the reformed - tradition, the deacon is regarded as one of the four ecclesiastical offices in accordance with Calvin's Geneva church order . While the pastors are responsible for preaching, the presbyters for church leadership and discipline, and the teachers for upbringing, deacons have the task of looking after the poor, needy and sick and taking care of the administration. For example, she was responsible for the evening meal following the four times a year Holy Communion celebrations.

History of the diaconate

The first seven deacons are mentioned in the New Testament in the Acts of the Apostles of Luke ( Acts 6 : 1-7  EU ). Originally the apostles chosen by Jesus Christ had personally carried out the task of spreading the doctrine and also caring for the poor, but had to find that they were overwhelmed with both at the same time. To relieve and support them, they had seven men from the Jerusalem early church elect "of good reputation and filled with spirit and wisdom", whom they then consecrated for their service through prayer and the laying on of hands ; there were:

This was triggered by complaints from the Hellenists within the community. Because of their names, which are derived from the Greek, it can be assumed that the named also acted as spokespersons or leaders of the Hellenistic part of the early Jerusalem community. In 1 Timothy it says about the deacons:

“In the same way the deacons should be: respectable, not duplicitous, not devoted to wine and not addicted to profit; they should hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. They too should be checked beforehand, and only if they are innocent should they perform their service. Likewise, women should be honest, not slanderous, but sober and reliable in everything. Deacons are supposed to be married only once and look after their children and families well. For whoever does his service well, attains a high rank and great confidence in faith in Christ Jesus. "

- 1 Tim 3,8-13  EU

Even in the early church , the diaconate appears to have been exercised by both men and women ( Romans 16.1  EU ). Until the end of the Eastern Roman Empire there were also female deacons who, apart from serving at the altar and assisting in the baptism of female catechumens , had tasks similar to those of deacons. Clement of Rome († around 101) reports that the apostles "after a previous examination in spirit, had used their firstfruits as episcopes and deacons for the future believers". With Ignatius of Antioch , deacons wrote letters for the bishop, preached or were sent by him as legates to other churches.

In the course of the 2nd century, the spiritual office, organized hierarchically in three levels, developed: deacon, presbyter and bishop. As the presbyters took over the celebration of the Eucharist and the leadership of the congregations, the deacons gradually became assistants to the priests and were no longer directly subordinate to the bishop, who would then be an archdeacon (comparable to the later vicar general ) called. In the course of time the diaconate in the Catholic Church withered into a mere transition stage on the way to the priesthood (9th century).

During the Reformation, John Calvin saw the office of deacons as one of the four offices in the Christian community. It stood on an equal footing with the pastoral office (proclamation, sacraments), presbyteral office (community leadership, community discipline) and teaching post (instruction of the community). He assigned him the tasks of sick care and administration and is considered to be the renewer of the deacon office according to its original meaning in the New Testament sense. As a result, many Reformed congregations had elders or presbyters who were responsible for caring for the poor.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church, only the main theologian, ie the executive clergyman, of the congregation carried the title of “pastor” or “pastor” until the 19th century. Other theologians who worked, studied and ordained in the community bore the title of deacon or deacon (also: helper), the first among at least two deacones the title of archdeacon or archdeacon or archdeacon or protodiacon or protodiacon. The holder of such an office was a curate, not a deacon in the sense of diaconal service.

The Lutheran theologian Johann Hinrich Wichern is considered to be a renewer of the office of deacons, also in the area of ​​the Evangelical Lutheran Church; he was referring to the renewal of the office of deacons in the area of ​​the Reformed Church.

Deacons in modern times

Today there is the diaconate in the majority of the churches. These include the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox , Evangelical , Anglican and Old Catholic Churches, but also new movements such as the New Apostolic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"). In addition, in some other churches the function of the deacon is sometimes under different names - for example in the Swiss Reformed churches as a parish helper or in the Jehovah's Witnesses as a ministerial servant. In addition to diakonia , deacons can also have teaching and preaching functions in all churches.

Roman Catholic Church

Consecration of a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church

In Catholic canon law, the diaconate was for a long time the first of the "higher orders" (ordines maiores vel sacri) and the last stage for candidates for priesthood before ordination after receiving the " minor orders ", ordines minores , which were abolished by the Second Vatican Council . The council (1962–1965) restored the office of permanent deacon as an independent office of the Catholic Church. According to the reform of the Codex Iuris Canonici (CIC) of 1983, the diaconate is the first of the three stages of the sacrament of consecration (episcopate, presbytery and diaconate, CIC can. 1009). Diaconate ordination is granted to applicants for permanent diaconate or as a preliminary stage to priestly ordination (can. 1035). Deacons then belong to the clergy.


The deacons assist the priest in the Missa cum diacono ("Mass with Deacon"), here they preach the Gospel and can preach. You can offer baptism , preside over church weddings and funerals , celebrate word services , give communion and blessings .

Due to the increasing shortage of priests and the amalgamation of parishes, deacons are increasingly taking on tasks. It has long been discussed whether it would not make sense to give them the power to administer the anointing of the sick , since they often accompany a sick person for many years before he dies. However, this is rejected by the church, among other things because of the desired connection with the dispensing of the sacrament of penance and the own forgiving effect of the anointing of the sick. Michael Kunzler writes :

Episcopal mass with the assistance of the deacon

“What distinguishes the deacon in the Christian East from his present-day Western ministerial brother is the fact that he - especially not in an 'exceptional case' which has become an institution - does not lead a liturgical celebration independently, but generally assists the priest. This represents an innovation which gives the regained ordination office a new identity, despite all the appeal to tradition, and which does not allow today's deacon to be the same as his ministerial brother many centuries ago or his colleague from the Christian East. "

When the deacon leads the liturgy , he wears the deacon stole over the choir robe or the alb as an official sign . During the assistance in the Holy Mass (" Mass with Deacon ") he wears the dalmatic , which is worn over the alb and stole.

The main focus of diaconal work is service to the poor and disadvantaged in society. Here the deacons are particularly concerned with those in need physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Therefore they are considered the “social conscience” of the church. In emergency situations (if no pastor can be found for a parish in the long term), the bishops can also appoint a deacon as a reference person for a parish and, in particular, entrust him with the spiritual leadership of this parish.


Applicants for the office of deacon can be married (so-called viri probati , minimum age 35 years) or commit to celibacy (minimum age 25 years, if a subsequent priestly ordination is planned, 23 years). Married men who are ordained deacons do not make promises of celibacy. If your wife dies or the marriage is annulled by canon law, you cannot marry again as a matter of principle, because your ordination is one of the dividing obstacles to marriage . The bishop can dispense with it, including when there are small children to be looked after. In the case of married applicants, the woman's consent to ordination is a prerequisite. The permanent diaconate can be exercised in addition to a civil profession or as a main profession.

The ordination of a deacon requires - in addition to the appointment - the completion of a theological degree (university, correspondence course or institute owned by the Bishopric) and usually a four-year training period in an applicant or diaconate group. On January 1, 2013, there were a total of 3,166 deacons in the German dioceses .

The diaconate for women

The introduction of the diaconate for women is a controversial topic within the Catholic world church. Some cite the lack of priests and the fundamental equality of women in other areas of life as arguments in favor of the diaconate of women. Against the ordination of women as deacons, among other things, the lack of appropriate church tradition is cited. The passages of the New Testament that are sometimes cited as arguments are also not clear in the tradition. On May 12, 2016, at an audience for women religious, Pope Francis announced the establishment of a commission through which the diaconate of women in the early church would be scientifically examined again. On August 1, 2016, the Vatican announced the establishment of this commission.

Anglican churches

Certificate of ordination as a Deacon of the Church of England presented to Gideon Bostwick on February 24, 1770 by Richard Terrick , Bishop of London

In the Anglican churches, many deacons work directly in the service of marginalized groups inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry and the prisoners. Unlike Orthodox and Roman Catholic deacons, who are only allowed to marry before their ordination, Anglican deacons (like other Anglican clergymen) are allowed to marry after ordination. Most deacons prepare for the priesthood and are ordained six months or a year after they are ordained. However, other deacons exercise their office permanently. Many member churches in the Anglican Communions ordain both men and women as deacons. In many member churches that ordain women to the priesthood, it was previously only possible to ordain women to the diaconate for a time. This led to a temporary imbalance of the sexes in the diaconate, as most men became priests after a short period of time as deacons, but women remained deaconesses.

Anglican deacons are allowed to donate baptism, and in some dioceses they are allowed to perform marriages or church weddings, usually under the supervision of the parish priest and the bishop. Deacons can preside over word services with communion celebrations . In most cases the deacon is serving in a ward where other ministers are also active.

The deacon wears the same choir robes as an Anglican priest: cassock or gown and choir shirt (possibly with cape (“preaching scarf”) or academic hood ) or alb and stole . In particularly high church circles , a biretta could also be worn. In the liturgy, however, the deacon wears the stole over his left shoulder, and he can also wear a dalmatic .

Old Catholic Church

In most member churches of the Union of Utrecht, the duties of an Old Catholic deacon are the same as those of a Roman Catholic deacon; he also belongs to the community of the ordained (clergy). In the Old Catholic Church in Germany , deacons, in agreement with the responsible bishop, are also allowed to lead funeral ceremonies, donate the anointing of the sick and perform weddings .

Expansion of competencies

The expansion of diaconal competencies is controversial within Old Catholic theology. The main points of criticism are that the position of the priest as an orderly dispenser of the sacraments is called into question by exceptional regulations, so that the diaconate and the presbyterate are becoming more and more similar. It is asserted that there are only a few original tasks of the deacon in the liturgy: the collecting of the gifts of the people and the singling out of bread and wine for the Eucharistic sacrifice, the giving of the chalice at communion and the invitations to prayer (e.g. in the intercessions), which serve the connection between the congregation and the celebrant. The presentation of the Gospel is already one of the delegated , but not one of the original rights, while the main task of the deacon takes place outside the church: the giving of communion for the sick and the exercise of poor and social welfare.

The opening of the diaconate to women

In 1982 the International Bishops' Conference of the Union of Utrecht stated that nothing stands in the way of the diaconate of women. In 1987 the first woman in Switzerland was ordained a deacon. On November 26th, 1988, Angela Berlis was ordained as a deaconess, followed by the Catholic Diocese of Old Catholics in Germany. On April 18, 2009 Brigitte Glaab was ordained as the fourth deacon for the community of Aschaffenburg.

Protestant churches

Evangelical deacon in liturgical service on Easter vigil

The term deacon is used inconsistently in the Protestant churches . In the early modern period and until the 20th century were in the Lutheran churches those clergy as deacon or deacon called that did in a larger church with several clergymen service while occupied the post of second clergyman. Occasionally the further gradation was indicated by terms such as archdeacon / archdeacon and subdiacon / subdiaconus . They were ordained and performed all ecclesiastical acts like pastors; only in administration they had no authority. In the Reformed churches the corresponding office was often referred to as "helper"; Instead, according to the doctrine of four offices , deacons were people who (mostly on a voluntary basis) assumed responsibility for caring for the poor.

The Reformed tradition influenced the rediscovery of an independent diaconate in the Protestant churches by Johann Hinrich Wichern (see below) . It is located at the interface between preaching and social work. For example, the Diaconal Law of the Union of Evangelical Churches regulates : “In the diaconate, the congregation responsibly performs its service of love. Employees in the diaconate of the church are women and men with different training who, together with other employees, carry out the diaconal mandate in social and educational work, in nursing and educational activities as well as in preaching, pastoral care and counseling. In their service, the mutual dependence of worship and service in the world should become recognizable. "

The appointment to the office of deacon (not to be confused with deaconess ) is usually preceded by a three to five year training period. This usually includes at least three years of training in a state-recognized social or nursing profession and at least two years of theological training. This double qualification - in the social as well as in the theological area - is typical for training to become a deacon. The training courses and degrees in Germany are different depending on the regional church and range from simple additional training and church-recognized degrees to state-recognized training courses to courses with bachelor's or master's degrees. These can either, such as B. in Hanover, from a combined, undergraduate BA degree in religious education and social work, but also, such as in the basic education of the Evangelical Church in Württemberg at the Evangelical University of Ludwigsburg , from two full bachelor degrees in diaconal science and (international) Social work or religious / community education and social work. This gives the office of deacon a specific professional identity adapted to new social challenges and work areas. In addition to the various basic training courses, the individual regional churches have been offering various part-time and professional diaconal science training courses with the aim of deacon for many years.

Similar to the deaconess sororities, there are “Diaconal communities” for deacons. They serve "to encourage , enable and support their members". 22 diaconal communities and training centers have joined forces in the Association of Protestant Diaconal and Diaconal Communities in Germany. The association represents the interests of the communities and training centers vis-à-vis the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the Diakonisches Werk (DW-EKD) and advocates, among other things, "the profession - 'double qualification' - of deacons and employees in the To secure and further develop diaconate as an agent in the church; to make the substantive significance of diaconal communities for church and diakonia transparent and to strengthen it; to strengthen the member communities, to educate deacons and employees in the diaconate in a binding understanding of their mission and in their permanent exercise. ”In a position paper from 1999, the VEDD advocates that the diaconal office should be replaced by the pastor to equate.

Church or church-related institutions with a focus on social tasks, for example nursing homes, kindergartens or advice centers, sometimes expect their leaders to be trained as deacons.

Occasionally deacons are given the job of administering pastoral offices.

In the EKD area , the job titles community pedagogue, community helper, youth consultant, catechist or religious pedagogue are also used for deacons.

Basis and history of the deacon profession

For the history of the deacon profession, the training of assistants for diaconal tasks established by Johann Hinrich Wichern in Hamburg in 1833 and by Theodor Fliedner in Duisburg in 1844 ; these assistants were initially referred to as "brothers" and since the end of the 19th century as "deacons". Wichern's concept was needs-based. In the Rauhen Haus , he hired parents. These were addressed by the children as “brothers”.

Fliedner wanted to revive the old church office of the deacon. He wanted to use the deacons mainly in the parish. He was closer to the official church. There was a coexistence of brothers and sisters with him. According to his concept, this corresponded to the Catholic Church and was close to religious life . This was criticized by Wichern. Fliedner's expectation that the deacons would be employed in the congregations was not fulfilled. Thus the Duisburg deacons were soon dependent on a position in the Inner Mission .

Despite the differing views in detail, Wichern and Fliedner met on crucial issues, so that ultimately a uniform deacon profession came about.

Fields of work of the deacons

Wichern named the pastoral care of prisoners and the care of the released convicts in terms of rehabilitation as important tasks. He also wanted to use the deacons for the distribution of scriptures, but this was not as successful as in America. The use of deacons in the community only became increasingly popular at the turn of the century. The city ​​mission has been an important field of work since 1848 . It was not tied to the regional church and was therefore able to respond more flexibly to the needs of the people in the big city. The city missionary appeared as the classic professional worker of the Inner Mission. Other activities were the work as house fathers and assistants in institutions of "saving love" (educational institutions, poor and welfare institutions), as seamen's missionaries or in the care of hikers.

Education and status issues

The training of deacons was designed to be universal. Wichern attached great importance to a solid education: "Mere good will and simple expressions of opinion are by no means sufficient." The deacon acquired general education and biblical studies. He was introduced to the theory of Inner Mission and equipped with economic and educational skills. The deacons were thus flexible forces who could cope with the most varied of situations in the posting service.

Requirements for admission to the training were a good repute and completed vocational training in a craft. Sometimes teachers and farm workers were also accepted. In view of the previous training period, the training took a relatively long time. Wichern envisaged a length of four years.

The increasing professionalization ensured an emancipation of the deacons from their rulers, who were all theologians. In 1913 the deacons founded a professional association. The pastors in particular feared for their influence on the parish deacons. In contrast, the deacons wanted above all to clarify their status. The diaconate should be viewed as a full office in the Church.

Assertiveness and modernization

The male diakonia responded to the challenges of the welfare state with a further boost in professionalism. The deacon association pushed for the subjects of education, psychology and social law to be included.

Under National Socialism, parts of the deaconry were close to the regime-loyal German Christians . After the Second World War, the deacon profession was reorganized. The West German Diakonie responded to the socio-political change since the sixties by opening up the deacon profession to women. The first deacon was trained in Hamburg in 1968. Training increasingly shifted to universities of applied sciences. In 1991, West and East German communities joined forces to form the Association of Evangelical Deacon and Diakoninnengemeinschaften e. V. (VEDD) (since 2007 the Association of Protestant Diaconal and Diaconate Communities in Germany).

Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church

In the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church a distinction is made between the - basically male - parish deacons and deacons. Parish deacons are lay people who have independently qualified themselves theologically. You have been given the right to proclaim the word. They are not allowed to administer the sacraments. In addition to these tasks, they can also conduct funerals in the community assigned to them. Here they are subordinate to a pastor and are bound by his instructions.

The deacons are employed full-time and, in addition to studying (usually social pedagogy), have additional training. This training course is similar to that in the Protestant regional churches. You are involved in working with children, young people and seniors. They are not permitted to perform preaching or administering the sacraments.

Reformed Dutch Churches

In the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands the deacon is one of the three offices; in particular, the works of mercy are entrusted to him. The pastor, the elders and the deacons together form the local church administration. A special feature of the Dutch churches is that the diakonia in each parish is an independent legal unit with its own financial resources, which are administered by the deacons. Since the establishment of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (the largest Protestant church) in 2004, with which the Lutheran Church has also joined, this model has also applied in the Lutheran congregations in the Netherlands.

In most churches, the office of deacon was the first of the three offices open to women. All three offices are now open to women in most churches.

Methodist Church

In the Evangelical Methodist Church (UMC) there is an ordained deacon office for life. This was included in the Book of Discipline at the General Conference in 1996 and included in the Constitution, Doctrine and Order of the UMC at the Central Conference in 2004 .

Deacons should especially represent the mission of the church to serve the world. They do this through diaconal work, preaching and teaching. They are also charged with helping the ordained elders (pastors) administer the sacraments, but they are not allowed to administer the sacraments themselves.

The areas of responsibility for deacons can lie in supra-congregational works, facilities and institutions that are connected to the UMC, as well as in congregations and congregational associations. It is possible to be ordained a deacon for a full-time as well as for a part-time or voluntary service.

So far there are no ordained deacons in the UMC in Germany. A discussion on how this new office can be implemented in the UMC in Germany has begun.


Most of the congregations of the radical Reformation Anabaptist movement developed a congregation model with the three offices of the elder (church leadership, formerly also known as bishop ), preacher and deacon. The duties of the parish deacon are anchored in the Dordrecht Confession of 1632. At the brother farms of the Hutterites there was a “servant of the word” (preacher) and a “servant of necessity” (deacon) as well as a supra-congregational ruler. The main tasks of the deacons are to look after elderly and sick parishioners and to support the preacher or pastor in their parish work. The choice of the deacons is based theologically on ActsEU .

Churches and communities in the tradition of revival

In many other free churches , deacons are elected members of the local church leadership. While the parish elders have overall responsibility for the parish, the deacons are responsible for parts of the parish work (treasury management, house and property management, youth work , house groups, etc.). In some parishes there are also full-time deacons employed. As a rule, they have completed a Bible school education.

In the Federation of Evangelical Free Churches (BEFG), full-time deacons are included on the list of ordained employees and are on an equal footing with pastors as clergy. As an entry requirement for the ordained office of deacon, a double qualification consisting of a professional social sciences bachelor's degree and a master's degree in free church diakonia is the rule.

New Apostolic Church

“The diaconal office is exercised by deacons and sub-deacons. ... Deacons help the church in a variety of ways. Your task is still to support the priests in their pastoral work. The office of sub-deacon is no longer filled today; its essence corresponds to that of the office of deacons. "

In the New Apostolic Church , the office of deacons is the lowest level of the office hierarchy. In the past there was also a sub-deacon office, which has not been awarded since 2002. The tasks of a deacon include helping with the preparation and follow-up of the worship service (unlocking the church, providing the liturgical equipment, etc.), the deacon visits pastoral care workers and accompanies the priest on pastoral visits, works as a teacher in the lessons of children and young people , for example in children's services, religion and confirmation classes and the youth class. A deacon can also be called upon to sermon during the service. In exceptional cases, if no priestly minister is present, he can lead the service, but without forgiveness of sins and celebrating Holy Communion. This is reserved for the priestly offices and the apostles. According to the New Apostolic doctrine of the faith, the deacon should “be a witness of the truth and thereby help those who are still in ignorance and error”. He should "be an example to all members of the community in faith and obedience, in love and zeal, loyalty and peaceableness". He is referred to as a "helper in the order of the worship service". New Apostolic deacons are lay people without theological training, volunteer and free of charge in the congregation.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Among Jehovah's Witnesses , deacons are referred to as "ministerial servants." They help the elders with their church work. Ministerial servants, like elders, must be adult, baptized men.

Latter-day Saints ("Mormons")

In Latter-day Saints , the deacon is the first or lowest office of the Aaronic priesthood . There is a general ordained priesthood for men in this Church. Normally, every boy can be ordained a deacon at the age of twelve, provided that the bishop, as head of the Aaronic priesthood, finds the candidate worthy for this office. A quorum, a group that meets regularly, consists of a maximum of twelve deacons. Such a quorum has a deacon president who has two counselors by his side. This presidency deliberates on the affairs of the deacon college and decides independently on its affairs. Deacons assist in sacrament meeting by preparing and distributing sacrament to those present. They help the bishop (church leader) watch over the ward by helping the needy and elderly and by being "peacemakers". They also support the bishop in the care and maintenance of the church buildings and grounds. They also help collect fast offerings.

See also


  • Thomas Schumacher: Bishop - Presbyter - Deacon. An overview of the history and theology of the office. Pneuma Verlag, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-942013-01-7 .
  • Christian Wessely: Come to serve. The diaconate from a fundamental theological-ecclesiological point of view. Pustet, Regensburg 2004, ISBN 978-3-791719-26-9 .
  • Franz Ferstl: In the service of confidence. The office of deacon. Developments - experiences - perspectives. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna 2019, ISBN 978-3-7022-3794-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Deacon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Evangelical pages

Roman Catholic Pages

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

  • Aaronic Priesthood [1]

Sources and References

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  28. Cf. § 1 Paragraph 2 of the Regulations for Ordained Employees of the BEFG; As of September 13, 2013.
  29. § 3 Paragraph 3 of the regulations for ordained employees of the BEFG; As of September 13, 2013.
  30. 792 The Deacon Office
  31. a b c source?
  32. See Church Instructions, Manual 1, 2006, p. 45 and Doctrine and Covenants , section 20.