Can’t Wash the Deacon Out ….

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”  ― 
Mother Teresa

On November 29th I was pleased to be at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul for the Feast Day of St. Andrew at which time The Bishop ordained Patricia Allison, Elise Chambers, Sharla Ciupak, Robert Clifford, Michael DeKay,  Paul Poolton, Rishi Sativihari, and Andrew Wilson to the Order of Deacon in Christ’s holy catholic church.  It was a magnificent night with much to celebrate as we held upon before God and God’s people eight ordinands who will now be at work in the church doing as deacons. The liturgy was great, the preaching was excellent (good job Bishop Terry) and the spirit of celebration was really fantastic.

Andrew, Rishi, Paul, Michael, Robert, Sharla, Elise, and Patricia –                                   Deacons in Christ’s Church – Photo Courtesy of Evan Agnew

A Deacon’s work is rooted in the words of Mother Teresa above. The office of Deacon in the church is a critical role that calls the minister to seek and serve in places that others may never dare to go. It very much embraces the teaching of Matthew 25.  It is not about the Diplomas we receive – it is about the people we serve. In the Ordination liturgy the Bishop reminds the new Deacon of her responsibility:

“God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood, directly under the authority of your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.

As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the holy scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live and work and worship.”

 As I sat there last week I was thrown back over 15 years to my Ordination to the Diaconate. When I was reminded that I was called to serve and seek and be present in the places that are most difficult. It occurs to me that for many of us who are later ordained priests and, I suppose, this might be true of bishops, we often forget that we were ordained deacons first and that the next ordination did not nullify the first. When I was ordained a priest no one washed the deacon out of me.  But I think if we could be honest, many of us priests and bishops can be guilty of forgetting that we are first called to serve. We are first called to be servants to the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the lonely, and the oppressed.

When we take on additional orders (like priest or bishop) and the responsibilities that go with them, it is not hard to let the day to day grind of parish ministry or diocesan responsibility and management take the front burners of whatever we are cooking on any given day.  Let’s face it there are so many administrative duties that push us in so many directions that it is hard some days to think of serving anyone else when the pressure is laid on heavy to put on programs, fill up pews, and for heaven’s sakes make sure the budget is sound and diocesan apportionment is paid.

I think in many ways I believe that the way forward for us as a church is for those of us who are leaders in it to be reminded of our diaconal call and the oaths that go with them.  More and more church leaders are beginning to realize that the future of our church will be grounded in mission and service and not in attendance, building and cash.  Reggie McNeal in his book Missional Renaissance contends that, “the way forward for churches that want to redefine their position in the community will be through service and sacrifice.” What better way for us to embrace service and sacrifice than holding up the role our ordained leaders have as deacons. The very first call of all the ordained is to bear witness to service and to sacrifice. Further to that we will be most effective and really hit our stride when we intentionally harness the greater responsibility the ordained share with all the faithful as promised in our baptisms. Followers of Jesus promise that we will “seek and serve Christ in all persons and love our neighbour as ourselves. That we would strive for peace and unity among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”  

To do this we may have to shake off the heavy cloak of the church scorecard that calls us back to comparing numbers and budgets to embrace the call to service and action.  We have to begin to do what those deacons were called to do on the feast of St. Andrew – look outside and see where there is need and go be present to that need.  Having heard the diaconal orders again, and having heard our Bishop remind us that we are a people in exile and as such we have to harness our gifts to seek to be present to others, I listened to the beautiful music of the Cathedral choir during communion and was reminded of these words of Reggie McNeal that I had read earlier that day:

“Externally focused ministry leaders take their cues from the environment around them in terms of needs and opportunities. They look for ways to bless and to serve the communities where they are located. Much of their calendar space, financial resources, and organizational energy is spent on people who are not a part of their organization. These ministry ventures may or may not improve the organization’s bottom line in terms of traditional measures (attendance may actually go down if people are released to mission). These leaders increasingly look to network with other leaders and organizations who are serving others.”

We are living in exciting times in the church as we work to find new ways to be the Body of Christ. Better put, due to our current climate we are being forced to examine the roots of our faith and look back to times when we were last in exile, when we raised up people for ministry in the church specifically to address the needs of the people of God who were most vulnerable.  Because of our current position of exile we might see with clearer vision that serving, seeking and witnessing in our life the love and forgiveness of Jesus is our first and primary task.  

How wonderful than that we have held up eight new leaders to remind us of what and who we are called to be. I pray that with them we may all seek to be present to the people around us that we may serve the communities where our church buildings are located and seek to spend energy and resources on people who are not a part of our organization and who may never be — because Jesus said we should! 


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