On August 30, Bishop Alan admitted Brett Gladden (Bury St Edmunds parish) James Hurst (Newmarket) and Martin L'Estrange (King’s Lynn) as candidates for the permanent diaconate during a Mass at Poringland.
The trio were accompanied by their wives and parish priests, and were presented to Bishop Alan by Deacon John Morrill, Assistant Director for diaconal formation.
John said: "The Diocese of East Anglia currently has 37 deacons, but seven are fully retired and ten more semi-retired and six more will reach 75 by the time Brett, James and Martin have completed their formation, so reinforcements are urgently needed.
"Four more men from Gorleston, Peterboroughand Norwich are just beginning the "propaedeutic "year of discernment. Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and the religious life and always remember our own baptismal commitment."
The three candidates have already gone through a long discernment process that began 18 months ago and for the past year they have been "aspirants' on a programme run by nine dioceses in the south of England at St John's Seminary Wonersh.
This is called a "propaedeutic' period. It involved four intensive days of formation in the seminary and much preliminary reflection and study and a deepening of their prayer lives. After a selection conference involving a priest, a deacon and a layperson, and after a deep psychological assessment at a centre in the north of England (used for all those seeking Holy Orders), all the men were interviewed by Bishop Alan who accepted them for formation.
They now begin a three-year period which, it is hoped, will lead to their ordination in or after the summer of 2019. The programme consists of one or two Saturdays every month, two of these being replaced by long weekends at an ecumenical study centre in Hoddesdon.
Each study day consists of four lectures framed by morning and evening prayer with Mass at its heart. The weekends are devoted to forming the men in service of those at the margins, and in giving them the opportunity to preach to one another.
Each of the candidates has an academic tutor in the diocese, and a spiritual director. Training is also given in how to assist around the altar and in presiding at baptisms, weddings and funerals. The academic component is provided and validated by St Mary's University in Twickenham, but much of the teaching is provided by men who are already deacons. Deacon John Morrill teaches Church History and some sacramental theology and homiletics, for example.
Wives are welcomed to attend all the formation days, and have days set aside for them to talk through the experience of sharing their husbands with the Church.
"Brett, James and Martin have a mountain to climb before, having become much more knowledgeable and with much more understanding of their calling as men of prayer and of action, they are able to present themselves for ordination," said John.
Pictured above, from the left, areFr Simon Blakesley, Brett Gladden, Deacon John Morrill, Bishop Alan, James Hurst. Martin L’Estrange and Fr Peter Rollings.