I believe that deacons are not striving to win the Best Actor or Best Actress award. They also pass on winning the Best Supporting Actor or Actress award. Deacons would be more comfortable just meeting the guy who ran but didn’t win, or getting the “Guy Who Moves the Lights Around the Stage Award.” That’s because this is what they do.
Deacons try to be involved with the issues that are important in the life of the community they serve. They try to shine a light on the programs, activities and commitments of that community that support the teachings of Christ. They strive to let it be known they are followers of Christ and do their best to model their lives accordingly. Deacons commit to “serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.” (BCP pg. 539)
There are countless ways to address and live these expectations. In my experience, deacons know in their hearts the area to which they are called, but not, perhaps, exactly what they are to do with that call.
Some of my fellow deacons tell me they first experienced their call through a family member or a friend. Some knew their call all along and knew that this was just right for them. But for that last piece, how to go about the work, they needed a little divine help. The deacons with whom I spoke let me know strongly that help in fact, did arrive.
Early in their career, many deacons have misgivings like, “Is this really where God wants me to be? What if after all the work I have done, I am requested to leave this community because diocesan rules require me to change churches?” When a rector leaves a congregation, the deacons must also leave. But this is not unique to our church, families often move elsewhere for many reasons.
In reality, a deacon’s work doesn’t change just because of a job location change. The culture of the new congregation might be different, the people in the congregation will be different, and the community to be served outside the new parish will also be different than the last one. But the deacon, in collaboration with the priest, has freedom to mold his or her ministry to the new culture. Ministries are portable.
Most deacons eventually learn to relax and grow into their call. They learn to listen to their friends, colleagues, priests and spiritual leaders. They listen to find God’s voice in what these people say, in and out of church.
Gradually, it seems, deacons move towards the notion that a servant’s role is really a relaxed role. If we allow ourselves to be distracted, then it’s not possible to understand what others need or why they suffer, and more importantly, how to address their concerns.
I’ve watched people I admire, and I noticed something common among them. When interacting with people, they treated the others with respect and dignity. The task at hand was of less consideration than the person with whom they were engaged. This was true across race, social status, faith traditions, gender or health. I didn’t know it then, but I do know now: I was being given a free lesson in what the Beloved Community might look like.
One day I attended a funeral in inner-city Cincinnati for a young man shot in an argument, and that evening I went to a meeting of young mothers and their at-risk babies. What was important was the humbling perspective that the people I was with were children of God no matter their circumstances, appearance, language or demeanor. I wasn’t just being a deacon in ministry. I felt like a member of the Beloved Community.
Submitted by the Rev. Jackie Williams