Bridging the Church to the World

Bridging the Church to the World

Ascension Day holds a very special place in my heart in that it is the Anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate. May 21, 2009 was Ascension Day and I along with a colleague who now works in the Diocese of Toronto were ordained at St. Michael and All Angels Cathedral on this day, Ascension Day.  

The timing of Ascension Day and my anniversary to the diaconate has worked well for us as a parish because we have just completed a series of cottage meetings exploring the question about our direction as a parish and the opportunity to raise up or invite a deacon to become a part of the clergy team and fabric of the parish. Ascension Day is a great day for an ordination to the diaconate because the readings highlight the unique and special role that deacons have in the church.  

Deacons remind people, us, the church of where the needs of the world are and how the church can and should respond. They are the angels in today’s reading from Acts. In many ways deacons serve as natural agitators in the church because they cause us to pay attention to things we would rather not, if given a choice. During one of my interviews with the Examining Chaplains, one of the official discernment steps in the process for ordination, I was given a very clear and useful description of the work of a deacon that has stayed with me to this very day. When describing the role of the deacon, the Examining Chaplain described deacons as those people who build bridges between the Church and the world. While they are a part of the church, they find their best work in the world where they bring to the Church the issues and concerns of the world. Another way of looking at this is that deacons get excited about the “Dismissal” or “Sending” during the liturgy. This is their indicator that they can go back into the world bringing the church with them, to where the work of the Church is needed most. This is why typically the Deacon of the Mass sends or dismisses the congregation. At the “Sending” in our liturgy we are being invited to engage with the world in those areas where God has given us responsibility.    

In our reading from Acts we hear of how the disciples are left gazing up at the sky where Jesus has just ascended before them. They must have been in a state of shock and confusion about what to do next. This person Jesus who has completely and utterly changed their lives forever has now gone. It is at this point when the disciples are wondering what to do next that the angels – the deacons – arrive on the scene. They tap the disciples on the shoulder and remind them that Jesus, God, came into the world for the world and will come again. They are to stop gazing at the sky and engage with the real world issues and pain that they and the People of God are facing.  

So the disciples, after getting their ‘wakeup call,’ are sent to Jerusalem. They are to go back to the scene of the crime, the epicenter of the turmoil that they and the People of God have endured for so long. There can be little doubt that this is still a very volatile time with tensions running high on all sides. They will have their work cut out for them for sure.  

Not much has changed since this scene from Acts. We still live in volatile and changing times. The pain of the world and the tensions we live with are very real. We live in a world that yearns for a deeper relationship and connection with the Divine. This is where the work of the deacon is so valuable for us.  

We at St. Martin’s are developing as a parish. Our pastoral care work and education and spiritual formation opportunities are expanding. These are two natural areas where deacons find themselves located. Often deacons will find employment, not with the church, but in the secular world. In this way and in other forms of ministry they help build the bridge between the church and the world.  

We need deacons, those angels in our lives, to continue to point and coerce us, the Church, to attend to the needs of the world because if we don’t, there is not much confidence that anyone else will. The work of the Church is hard. This is why we need deacons to remind us of where we need to be, even if we don’t want to go.  

So I invite you to continue to pray and discern who are the deacons in our midst and how they can be of benefit to us in our space and time.