I am approaching my one year anniversary of ordination as a vocational deacon in the Anglican Church in North America. It has been a journey from 30 years of ministry in one tradition and now entering ordained ministry in a new (to me) tradition.
The vocational deacon is still being “formed” in the ACNA. It is honored and given the space as ordained ministry, but ask, “What is it?” and you will get as many different answers as the number of people you ask.
Add on top of that we also have the transitional deacon, who is ordained as a deacon for a period of time as they continue work toward the priesthood, and there are some “hiccups.” For one, I come from another tradition as a pastor, so it is assumed I am a transitional deacon. I am a white male… so it is too often assumed I am a priest (if I am wearing my collar) or that I am going to be a priest.
I am a vocational deacon. This is still being formed as to the “what”, but there are a few basic outlines in the liturgy of the Anglican Church. We are to share in the service of our Lord in the service. I am able to read the Gospel on Sunday and serve at the Table, I am commissioned to teach the young and old (specifically in the Catechism), and as directed by the bishop or priest, I am to baptize and preach.
I assist the priest in public worship and through that I am to lead the prayers of the people. I am also allowed to carry the Sacrament to the home bound.
The other aspect of being a deacon is the area where I knew this was my calling in the Anglican Church: “… you are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. It is the Deacon’s office to encourage the household of God to care for the stranger, to embrace the poor and helpless, and to seek them out, so that they may be relieved.”
Here is how I have described it several times: I am to have one foot in the world and one foot in the church. The role of the deacon is not simply confined to the weekly liturgy and bringing the Sacraments to the home bound. In the Anglican tradition, Stephen and Philip in Acts are deacons. Stephen is serving the Hellenistic widows (the marginalized) AND declaring the gospel to others. Philip is found in Samaria preaching and then on a road talking to an Ethiopian eunuch. Both are places on the margins.
I want to interpret the church to the world. I want to bring the goodness of Christ to the world in a way that is full of blessing. I had been doing this in 30 years of ministry prior to coming into the Anglican Church. I had been a “deacon” in this way.
I also want to interpret the world to the church. In my ministry prior to moving to Alabama, I had been in the community and with leaders of other religions and I could bring those concerns and ways of seeing the world to the church and help the church how to communicate better in our world.
This is a particular work of the deacon I’ve been building for the past 30 years. When it came to ordination and the Spirit guiding me into the vocational diaconate, this was what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
Ormonde Plater in his book Many Servants: An Introduction to Deacons, he sees three primary areas where a deacon may function: the care of God’s own people in the Church (pastoral), social care in society at large, and liturgy.
It is the works of mercy outside the church that have been a passion of mine all my life. It is to be with the marginalized in our world and bring the hope of the Gospel to them.
This is an area I am still forming in my new context in Alabama. The work I do outside the church helps inform me. It keeps me looking toward the marginalized, learning about the needs of the community, and then finding ways to communicate that need back to the church.
I am immensely blessed as I reflect on this past year of ordination. My home church has allowed me to flourish. Our leadership continues to push me to find new ways to connect with the community. All of which I am glad to do.
It is a holy calling. It is a developing ministry. This is a place where I find myself immensely grateful.
Thank the Lord for this first year.