The work of the deacons originated with the controversy around the care given to the widows of the church in Jerusalem; therefore, it was required of those men who were invested with high spiritual qualifications to show us that the material work was not the only responsibility for which they were chosen.
The Church Manual presents the different activities inherent to the deacon's and deaconess' office as follows:
Care of the sick and the poor. An important responsibility of the deacons is to care for the sick, help the poor and the suffering. ADRA works in close cooperation with the deacons and deaconesses of the church. The funds for that work must be provided from the church funds for the needy. The church must be totally informed of the needs, so that the participation of the members may be enlisted.
Help to prepare the baptismal service. The deacons and deaconesses must play their part in the needed preparation for that ceremony, in order to prevent confusion or delay. The deacons must help during the baptismal service, making sure that the place is ready and that the male candidates will be taken care of before as well as after the service.
The deaconesses help during the baptismal mony making sure that the female candidates are prepared before and after the service. They counsel, as well as help, where necessary concerning the appropriate robes for the ceremony. These should be made of adequate material.
In churches where the robes are used, the deaconesses must see that they are washed, pressed and carefully stored in the place assigned for them for future use.
Help in the communion service. During foot washing the deacons or deaconesses provide everything necessary for the ceremony, such as towels, basins, water (at a comfortable temperature such as the occasion will require), buckets, etc. After the ceremony, they must ascertain that all the implements have been washed and kept in their proper place.
After the Lord's Supper, extreme care must be given as to what will be done with the remaining portions of the bread and the wine. The remainder of the wine that was blessed must be poured on the ground. The remainder of the bread that was blessed must be burned.
The deaconesses will help in the foot-washing ceremony, helping especially women visitors or the sisters who had recently joined the church. Besides, it is their duty to provide all that is necessary for this ceremony, such as taking care that the tablecloths, towels for the feet, etc. used during the service, be washed and ironed and carefully stored in their respective places.
The deaconesses are responsible for the communion table. Prepare the bread, the wine, set the table, serve the wine, place the plates of unleavened bread and cover them with a tablecloth designed for that purpose. All this must be done before the ceremony begins.
The communion service must be presided by an ordained pastor or by the church elder. The deacons, although they have been ordained, cannot preside in the ceremony, but can help to distribute the wine and the bread to the members. After the ceremony the deacons and deaconesses clear the table, collect the glasses and take the remaining bread and wine and burn or bury the bread and pour the wine on the ground.
Communion for the sick. If a member happened to be sick, or if for any other reason could not leave home to attend the communion service, a special service may be performed at his or her house. This service may be performed only by an ordained minister or the elder of the church who may be accompanied by deacons or deaconesses who helped during the regular communion service.
To help during worship and other meetings. During church meetings, the deacons are generally responsible for greeting the members and visitors arriving at the temple and help them, if necessary, to find a place to sit. They must also be ready to cooperate with the pastor and the elders in order to improve the meetings being held in the church.
Care and up keep of the church. In some churches, where the responsibility to take care and maintain the property of the church is not assigned to a construction committee, the deacons take on that responsibility. The deacons are responsible for taking the necessary steps to see that the building is kept clean and in good condition, and that the land on which the church was built be kept neat and as attractive as possible. This includes being a watchman. The deacons should recommend to the church committee a capable person, and it's the committee who decides, by vote, to employ such help. Or the church committee may authorize the deacons to hire a watchman. Authorization from the church committee must be obtained for all expenses involved in maintenance of the church. All expenses for repairs, water, light, oil, etc., are given to the church treasurer for payment.
Visitation of members. One of the most important responsibilities of the deacons is to visit the members in their homes. In many churches this is done by distribution of the members by districts and assigning one deacon per district. He must visit each home at least once every quarter. The deacons must concentrate their attention on the elderly and those who due to some limitation have been absent from church.
Counting the offering. All loose offering must be counted by the treasurer in the presence of another church officer, preferably a deacon and give him a receipt.
Eurico Tadeu Xavier is district pastor in Santa Catarina, Brazil.
Translated by Antonio A. Rios.