For those who wish to understand the role of deacons in the church context as a whole, this book is a real gift. It is first written to those who are deacons in the church (and author John Collins makes it clear from the outset that this could be in any denomination, not just Anglo-Catholic ones, although the bias toward a more liturgical tradition does creep in regularly), but it is also written with a more general reader in mind, those with a concern to understand and assist the church in more effective and orderly ministry.
This is a relatively short book, done in four chapters, which begin and end with examining the present situation, and traveling in the analytical narrative through the beginnings of the church back toward the present. In the first chapter, Collins looks at the give-and-take in the history of the diaconate both in Protestant and Catholic terms. While the diaconate has often been a recognised order, for many church structures was a phase or transition point from layperson to priest. Collins looks at the reinvigourated diaconal structures in Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches for their strengths and controversial points (the issue of direct ordination to the priesthood, for example, comes out of the difficulty of understanding the two-track diaconal system). Collins also looks with great care and extensive documentation the various ways in which the diaconate is discussed and understood by various church organisations.
The next two chapters look at the diakonia (roughly understood as the combination of both the role and the function of deacons) both in context of gospel narratives of Jesus' work as well as the early church (up until the fourth century or so). Gospel stories look at the diakonia in many ways - from the perspective of call, service, love, mission, and more. The examples in the Acts of the Apostles as well as the Epistles show some early traditions as well as early difficulties with definition of the role of the deacon. The differing ways this office was played out across the early church in the world also leads to some controversies, but also shows some definite patterns, however fluid they might be.
Collins' final chapter appropriately ends with questions for consideration, setting the stage for continuing the various conversations taking place even now as to the role of deacons vis-à-vis the ministry of all the baptised. Complete with a good list of references which includes early church documents, books and articles, this is a good reflection guide as well as a good study guide for those who might want to be deacons, those who are deacons looking to clarify their roles, and those who want to understand more about what it is deacons do (or are supposed to do).