There are three orders of clergy ministry in the Church of England: deacons, priests, and bishops.
Deacons and priests are ordained by the bishop, and given authority to lead and minister to God’s people in a variety of contexts.
Some deacons and priests exercise their ministry voluntarily (often referred to as “non-stipendiary ministers” or “self-supporting ministers”), while others are given a stipend to enable them to minister full-time.
According to the Church of England’s Ordination Services, deacons are ordained “so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known”. Some deacons are “distinctive” and remain as deacons throughout their ministry in a non-stipendiary/self-supporting capacity; others are ordained priest after a period served as a deacon.
The life of a deacon is one of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others. Deacons may preach, teach, baptise, and lead the church community in prayer. They may also have a particular care for the vulnerable and marginalised.
Deacons are outward-focused; they seek radical ways to serve God in the community, acting as a bridge between community and church.
Priests are ordained to lead the people of God “in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the Gospel. They share with the bishop in the oversight of the Church … they are to sustain the community of the faithful by the ministry of word and sacrament, that all may grow into the fullness of Christ”. They may preside at Holy Communion, funerals, weddings and baptisms; they may also anoint the sick and hear confession.
Priests remain deacons, and continue to serve and care for the people of God throughout their ministry, albeit with a different emphasis.
Priests exercise an extremely diverse ministry: in parishes, cathedrals, hospitals, schools and colleges, prisons, the armed services and in various Diocesan roles.
You can read more about the role and responsibilities of distinctive deacons and priests, including first-person testimony from those already in post, on the Church of England’s website.