The ‘connector impulse’ motivates people to overcome limitations instead of becoming victims of circumstances, said keynote speaker and community theologian Ann Morisy to this year’s Distinctive Deacons’ Conference at the Diocese of York’s Retreat and Conference Centre, Wydale Hall near Scarborough.

The context of ministry is changing due to COVID and the war in Ukraine, which Ann felt represented the breakdown of an epoch. The church can provide an alternative performance to power, profit and status, she said, but the most imaginative and creative platform for influence resides in the local. We should notice the flows of people in our local spaces and their connectivity and how we engage with those who feel unworthy. She challenged us to think about how we cherish our communities.

Drawing on positive psychology Ann examined the strengths and virtues that promote positive outcomes when grappling with circumstances; wellbeing, life satisfaction, and hope. We often give more weight to circumstances than to our attitudes and intentional activities. Alongside a generous theology, it was important to believe in the capacity for transformation and holiness.

‘Connectors’ have an in-depth knowledge of the terrain, a trusted reputation, an understanding of the strength of the ‘weak tie’ and the guts to issue an invitation, said Ann. The impulse to meet the needs of others comes with risks as the helper retains the power which obscures a structure of participation.

Welfare initiatives which focus on eradicating needs and deficits are worthy aims for governments Ann said, but not for the Church which is better placed to cultivate flourishing, fulfilment, inspiration, blessing and hope.

Meeting joyfully face-to-face for the first time in two years in the beautiful setting of Wydale, the group of 26 included five enquirers, one ordinand and deacons from dioceses as far apart as Durham in the North and Bath and Wells in the South.

In the final session, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell spoke on ‘Servant and Herald’ (from the ordinal) affirming his support for distinctive deacons in their specific role in holding before the church the missional responsibilities of all the baptised and going to places the gospel has not reached. Could we describe the gospel today in one sentence? He suggested ‘In Christ you can become yourself – your real self’ and ‘I worship, therefore I am’.

Finally the Revd Dr Ian McIntosh, the Diocese of York’s first Director of Mission and Ministry, spoke about the new distinctive deacon discernment pathway which he hoped would paint a picture of the role that enquirers could recognise and say, “That’s me!”

Deacon Liz Carrington