The North American Association for the Diaconate exists to promote the diaconate, serve the church, and support deacons and dioceses. It encourages every diocese to develop a diaconate program to recruit and select, form, deploy, and supervise and support deacons.
NAAD began in Chicago in 1953 as the Central House for Deaconesses for the training of women. The group evolved into the National Center for the Diaconate in 1974 and finally, in 1986, into the present organization. This evolution has followed the inclusion of women as deacons and the revival of the diaconate as a full and equal order.
In the past 150 years there have been four major changes, or waves, in the diaconate in North America. First, from the 1840s through the 1930s, came men ordained deacon to serve as missionaries to ethnic groups and in isolated communities. Second, from 1885 through 1970, came deaconesses, women set apart by prayer and the laying on of a bishop's hands, for care of the poor, sick, and needy. Third, from 1952 through 1970, came men ordained as "perpetual" deacons to serve in parishes. Most were older men, locally trained as sacramental and pastoral assistants.
In the fourth wave, beginning in 1971, men and women were ordained as deacons with a liturgical base in a parish and social care outside the church. The current emphasis is on deacons, serving directly under the bishop, who act as agents of the church in many ways. Chief among these ways, they enlist, train, and support baptized persons in ministries of care. The typical deacon is a highly trained and skilled professional. A few deacons have been trained in seminary. Some deacons serve the church in a full-time capacity such as archdeacon, other diocesan executive, or educational specialist.
Today there are some 2,600 deacons in the Episcopal Church and about 270 in the Anglican Church of Canada, and the number is growing. In the Episcopal Church at least three quarters of the dioceses have a diaconate program, and several have programs in the Anglican Church of Canada.