Article 21 — Task of deacons
The deacons shall perform the ministry of mercy. They shall acquaint themselves with difficulties; visit, help and encourage where there is need, and urge church members to render assistance where necessary. They shall collect and manage the gifts of the congregation, and after mutual consultation, distribute them where there is need. The deacons shall give account of their policies and management to the consistory.
The ‘serving tables’ of Acts 6: 2 is a matter of care for the indigent, and not of assisting in the celebration of the Mass, as, e.g., in the Church of Rome.
Our Church Order calls it “the ministry of mercy”.
This ministry shall be performed not only to the ‘poor’. This article speaks of “difficulties”, which can be of some different kinds: older or lonely people may need help in dealing with ‘odd jobs’, etcetera.
Therefore the deacons must visit, help, and encourage where there is need, and urge church members to render assistance. They do not have to do all these things by themselves - or with the help of their wives! They have to ensure that the congregation is indeed in this respect a ‘communion of saints’ according to Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21.
Because part of their duties has a financial aspect, they have to collect the gifts, take care of them, and distribute them where there is need. The latter shall be done after mutual consultation, for which purpose they shall regularly come together (Article 40).
The collection of gifts normally takes place during the worship services. However, in urgent cases the deacons may have to visit the members of the congregation, or some of them who are well-off, and ask them for some extra gifts.
We cannot deal with the liturgical aspect of the collections, but would like to make one relevant comment: The number of circulating collection bags is to be increased as soon as the collection of the offerings exceeds two or three minutes.
From the description of the task of the deacons it may be clear that this office has its own significance and difficulties.
Therefore we should not consider it a promotion when someone who before used to be a deacon is appointed and ordained as an elder.
After having served for the appointed time (Article 23) a retired deacon shall be given the same period of rest as retired elders, and not immediately added to the names of elders for possible election.
For the same reason the deacons shall not be requisitioned just from among the younger members, but simply as compared with the average age of the elders.
Our Church Order does not count the deacons among the members of the consistory, with the exception of what is mentioned in Article 37.
The question whether this is in harmony with Article 30 of the Belgic
Confession of Faith cannot be dealt with here. It seems as if the Confession considers the deacons as full members of the consistory. However, this does not mean that according to our Confession the deacons are expected to attend all the meetings of the ministers and elders that are arranged to discuss their respective tasks as they are explained in Article 30 B.C. Our Church Order makes mention of certain consistory meetings whereby the deacons are supposed to be present (Articles 11, 36 and 37). It is a tradition that the deacons are present when the annual budget of the church is tabled by the Committee of Management, and is discussed.
In practical church life this discrepancy between the formulation of our Church Order and that of our Confession is not a real problem.