'If you feel drawn towards the diaconate, explore it!'

Eddie White, 42, is a married father of three and a teacher from Edinburgh who will be ordained as a permanent deacon tomorrow (Saturday) in Edinburgh. Here he discusses what’s involved in the process…

Why did you decide to be a deacon?
I felt drawn to it. I have a secular vocation of service in teaching. As a committed Catholic, I felt what I had to offer, what the diaconate wanted and what it gave back to the Church drew me to it and allowed me to respond to the Lord's call in both a practical and spiritual way.

 When did you decide?
I had contemplated it while teaching at Holy Rood High School in Edinburgh. The staff prayer group from that time was quite efficient as one other, older, teacher started the process before me, Deacon John Smith.

What are you most looking forward to in your ministry?
No more essays! I’m looking forward to the chance to serve the sick and the marginalised. Doing this while holding down a full-time job gives me some unique opportunities to be a face of the Church in day-to-day life.

What is your day job?
I am a maths teacher at Ross High in Tranent.

How does a deacon differ from a priest?
A priest has more focus in the Altar and the Word while a deacon's principle ministry is service - to the sick, to the prisoners and the marginalised. That said, a deacon still has a vocation to preach the gospel. Deacons never say Mass - the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is a reserve of priests and bishops. However, deacons can conduct baptisms, weddings and funerals, which not only gives them a ministry of the altar, it also helps release our over-burdened priests to other matters.

Tell us about the training you have to do…
There is a minimum of five years needed. There’s a propaedeutic year - an over-fancy name for the pre-vocations year, then four years of academic and pastoral training. The technical skills for the altar, lighting the thurible in such a way as to not set the smoke alarm off was one key skill I managed. The essays I also managed, and the music theory. However, singing... if that was a required skill I would not have managed the second weekend of training! There were lectures in Church theory, from early fathers to Gospel readings and Canon law and six essays a year. Finally, a homeletics weekend and a seven-day residential summer school makes up the remaining time commitment each year for the four years, plus a day for end of year exams.

What support have you been given from your family?
Without my wife and my mother, this vocation would not be possible. With three young children, I had to get the help of my mum in Dundee for many of the residential weekends. Tanya, my wife, has been very supportive throughout even though, as many of the trainee deacons' wives have noted, it can be hard. There is a real risk that some people forget about the importance of the role of our spouses. There were some frustrating moments for us, such as well-meant remarks directed at Tanya about how hard it will be as "The Deacon's Wife" (sounds like the name of a pub in the Grassmarket or something). Fortunately, my parish priest Fr Jock Dalrymple extended his support to her as well and was always available on the phone if ever she wanted to talk. That is something I would hope every candidate's wife would have available to them.

What advice would you give to married men considering the permanent diaconate?
If you feel you are being drawn towards the diaconate, you should explore it. If I understand it right, I will become the youngest deacon in Scotland at 42. People in their late thirties should consider the training and the draw to service if they feel the call. A chance to meet someone who has gone through it always helps, and I would extend a welcome for a meal and a chat if anyone wants to ask either Tanya or myself about our experiences.

Eddie White will be ordained a permanent deacon at midday on Saturday 7 September at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.