‘Likewise must the deacons be grave‘, writes St Paul in his first pastoral letter to Timothy (3:8), expounding the necessary character and qualifications for Church leadership. The adjective is associated with sobriety, dignity and honesty; not so much dour or grim-faced sternness. Deacons may smile and laugh, rejoice and dance. But should they prance about and look daft while wearing their cassocks and dog collars?
But the stern, decorous images that used to mark [ordinations] are being replaced by a trend for more frivolous action shots – with dabbing deacons showing up alongside priests leaping, baring their knees and even wearing L-plates. Their defenders see the new informality as a sign of holy joy. But hardcore traditionalists, along with casual curmudgeons, are less than elated.
The Rev’d Matthew Cashmore isn’t overly impressed:
“Jumping ordinands. It’s probably good exercise, if nothing else,” he said. “Here we have this life-changing moment and you get this twee photographs of people jumping in the air and fists in the air. It’s become as staid and expected and as deeply uncreative as the images of the A-level results.
…Of dabbing deacons, he said: “I don’t think that connects with young people. As a millennial, I find that I walk round with my cassock, and I talk about mass, and I introduce myself as Father, and that’s far more impactful with millennials than standing there trying to be cool and with the kids. That ‘down with the kids’ stuff is kind of from the 80s anyway.
“My generation would far rather somebody stand in front of them with some sort of honesty and integrity about what it is they believe than to be ‘Hey! Buddy Jesus. Big thumbs up.’”
Just look at the featured picture above. This is the future government of God’s Church. There is one newly-ordained deacon in the Diocese of Liverpool who keeps both feet firmly on the ground. His name is Fergus Butler-Gallie MA (Oxon) BA (Cantab), now the Rev’d Fergus… Watch him (..read him): he’ll be a bishop some day. O, he can do jump and skip and dab and bounce (his Twitter feed is full of it [as are his guest posts]), but never, ever does his satirical bite demean his holy office.
And let’s be clear: we’re not talking about binding ordinands with a perpetual po-faced purgatory: there is a time to laugh; a time to dance; a time to cart-wheel in exuberant joy down the aisle of Westminster Abbey. There is nothing wrong with jumping for joy when it is spontaneous and heartfelt (cf Jn 15:11). But we’re talking here about the normalising of a silly ordination ritual: a solemn service of vocational commitment now has to be follow by mandatory jumping, skipping, dabbing and bouncing. There’s nothing wrong with Tigger, but there’s a time and a place, and the presbytery is not it.
For St Paul, Church leadership is more about character than charisma. Both are necessary, of course, but the office of eldership is about work, not play. It is about temperance, discipline and self-control, conveying to the world a certain sobriety, prudence and discretion. Jumping, skipping, dabbing and bouncing convey levity and frivolity, if not emotional irrationality. Such puerile behaviour is undignified and unbecoming of certain offices…