As I’ve noted elsewhere, the conspicuous absence of deacons at this fall’s synod meeting means an important voice in the church will go unheard. But that doesn’t mean deacons can’t have an impact. The great Bill Ditewig has a few thoughts on that in his latest essay: 

Deacons exist, deacons are ordained, for others. They need to be part of the synodal process not for themselves but for the entire People of God. St. Paul VI referred to deacons as “the animators of the Church’s diakonia,” and St. John Paul II further explained that deacons “are the Church’s service sacramentalized.” Through their ordination, deacons take on a servant-leadership role in the Church. In this essay, therefore, we consider ways in which deacons might lead the entire community of faith in developing a synodal Church. To paraphrase Pope Paul and Pope John Paul: deacons can be understood as “the animators of the Church’s synodality,” and that deacons “are the Church’s synodality sacramentalized.”

I suggest deacons find ways to identify areas of need and concern as their pastoral experience and prayerful reflection indicate and to communicate these experiences and reflections, through appropriate channels, to their bishops. However, they should not stop there. It is not sufficient for deacons to be in a kind of “closed loop” with their bishops. How can deacons help lead others in a synodal path, especially all of those people who will not be present in Rome in October? I offer again the five suggestions I offered previously, slightly expanded. These and similar suggestions can serve as a foundation not only for the Church’s deacons but for the wider community of faith as well.

  1. Follow the progress of the Assembly through the media. Don’t trust unofficial sources. Follow the releases from the Holy See. As someone who studies and teaches Ecclesiology, I have spent considerable time checking out a variety of sources, generally online, to see what our parishioners and others may be encountering. I have found it disturbing, aggravating, and infuriating to see what nonsense is spewed by so many “commentators.” Sometimes, there is simply a presentation of factual errors and myths. Still, those errors and myths are now “out there” for anyone to see and hear. People in good faith are therefore misled without even realizing it, and they then make judgments about what they’re hearing from our pulpits and classrooms. “Father must be wrong in his homily because Dr. So-in-So on YouTube said the opposite.” And these are the more benign consequences!
  2. Study the Instrumentum Laboris. Here’s a link to it. How do you respond to these issues and questions yourself? I will develop this item shortly. Imagine that you were there “in the room where it happened” at the Synod Assembly. The Instrumentum Laboris outlines the various topics to be discussed during the Assembly. There is no reason why each and every one of us can’t have these discussions ourselves, and lots of reasons why we should! More later.
  3. Deacon Directors or other leaders in the diaconal community: Consider having weekly sessions (perhaps via ZOOM) for the deacon community to discuss the highlights of the past week. Not much to add to this suggestion. Every diocese has different options available to it that might facilitate such discussions. The diaconate community might decide to hold these discussions, not simply among themselves, but also with other members of the parish or deanery. Just as the bishops have invited other participants into their Synod (It is called the “Synod of Bishops,” after all), having people other than deacons joining in our local meetings can be productive and necessary.

Those are for starters. He has much more food for thought. Read it all.