I am honoured to be with you today on Vocations Sunday at a time when the Diocese of New Westminster is taking steps to actively promote vocations to diaconal and priestly ministry. It brings back such wonderful memories of when I first began to discern my own calling to the diaconate back in 2008. At that time, I was working as a speech-language pathologist with preschoolers within Vancouver Coastal Health. One work-day, I was having a conversation with two colleagues about a co-worker who was going to start chemotherapy for a rare cancer. As we talked I found myself saying to them: “I’ll continue to hold Clara in my prayers as she’s on my prayer list”. We concluded our chat and as I turned away one of my colleagues, Maria, asked me if and where I went to church. We talked a bit, she told me she was a Christian and that she too attends an Anglican church. We shared our feelings about church and prayer life and she shared some of her story with me. She then said to me “would you put me on your prayer list too?” I assured her I would (which I did) and then we left to begin our day.
This may seem like a simple and inconsequential event but the impact it had on me at the time was tremendous. I thought: “YES!, that was a diaconal moment!” I allowed myself to be an instrument of God, to let God work in me to share the good news of caring for one another. And by listening to the story of my co-worker, showing concern for her needs and responding to her in such a way that she felt confident in asking for my prayers, I became a conduit of God’s grace and an agent of God’s love. Since that moment those years ago, this has happened to me on many occasions.
I have read that the number of people who attend church in our country has drastically dropped over the years yet the number of people who seek some form of “spirituality” in their lives has increased. The common stressors in everyday life seem to be mounting and people are becoming disillusioned and depressed more and more. From the simple and mundane to the complex and overwhelming, stressors are affecting everyone and so it seems that all anyone is trying to do is to find peace: peace of heart and mind and peace in all places in their lives. Some find it in community in their places of worship and some find it in solitude in their private beliefs. But not everyone feels a sense of hope or a sense of peace. I feel particularly drawn to these words of the Ordination Rite of a Deacon: “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”.
The Deacon by his/her calling carries that wonderful and grace-filled mission of God’s unfailing love to others by inspiring them to hopefulness. The Deacon brings the good news of God’s infinite and unconditional love to those who yearn for peace of heart and illuminates them with the light of Christ.
A few years ago, I was standing on the dock of a friend’s home in Jacksonville, Florida, the city of my birth. The wide expanse of the St. John’s River stretched before my eyes. The city and its bridges were to my left, and to my right the river quietly meandered past beautiful homes with large, lush lawns and impressive docks. It was early in the morning and rush hour traffic noise dominated the bridges. What struck me so profoundly was the incessant and loud roar of the traffic which filled my left ear and reverberated in my left side yet a sense of silence and stillness totally filled my right ear and right side. At that moment I thought: “This is a metaphor for my life!” I live in the busyness, the everyday stresses of life but I strive for the inner peace and calmness of spirit and of heart. And I felt at that moment that Christ was at the very centre of my being as Christ was the bridge to take me from one side of my mind and state of being to the other. Christ was making his infinite love known to me at that very moment. He was grounding me in the world and helping me accept the “noise, the roar” by taking me, through him to that place where I can be refreshed by his peace and love. It was an extraordinary awareness.
I continue to use that metaphor of a “bridge” in my diaconal work. The Deacon is from the people, of the people and for the people. The Deacon forms a bridge between the people and the church and between the people and God. It’s even been said that the Deacon finds the troubles of the world and brings them to the church; the Deacon then carries them across that bridge as he/she serves the people of God. The Deacon’s role is neither inferior to the role of the priest, nor superior to the role of the laity, but instead is a complimentary part of the ministry of the whole church. As our Diocesan Deacons Handbook expresses, deacons exist to remind all Christians that the nature and character of the ministry to which all baptized Christians are called is service. The Deacon is a visible symbol of the church and by his/her words, actions and deeds, continually cares for God’s people, encourages and shares hope with God’s people and relates to God’s people on a level that is in the world. The Deacon carries the good news to those in need and offers them comfort, joy and hope. I believe the Deacon is “God’s Bridge”.
The Ordination Rite of a Deacon includes this statement of ministry: Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. 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 Bishop Melissa states, “Deacons help us become kin with those we had never dreamed were our kin”. As a Deacon since June 2010, I am sweetly amazed by the “kin” who have come into my life, especially those I serve in residential care. Today’s Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus links agony or comfort around how we treat others. In my role as Deacon, I try all in my power to bring a measure of relief to others, hoping that through my words, actions and deeds others will know God’s unconditional love for them and how God desires us to care for each other. So why have a title? As stated, “Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit”. Each of us as Christians should act this way, sharing love and charity in demonstrable ways.
This goes to my view of “credibility” or, if you will, “authority”, not control or domination, but something that tells others that there is a special role for a person within the church, something recognizable that says “I have a special commitment to you and our church”. The title of Deacon shows the Christian world that someone has gone above and beyond to serve God and carry the message of the Gospel of Christ not only to the church community but to those beyond church walls who are the least, the lost, and the lonely.
So, at the end of the day and at a time such as this, having another form of leadership such as the Deacon is important for a number of reasons. Bishop Melissa continues to say that “not only does the Deacon help us to become advocates for those we serve, the Deacon proclaims the Gospel, assists at the Holy Table, and dismisses us in that the Gospel is the source of commitment to just action, the Table is the place of feeding for compassionate living and the dismissal is our encouragement to go forth and be Christ-like in and for the world”.
The Deacon allows the people of God to feel that in an increasingly stressful and troubled world, there is someone they can connect with - a “bridge” - who can interpret their needs to the church, who will listen to their voices as they speak out, and who will assure them that their voices will be heard, listened to and responded to as best as possible. That person is the bridge that carries back to them the Gospel of Christ, which is the “Good News” of mercy, forgiveness, hope and love. May God bless the people, clergy and laity of this wonderful parish of St. Martin in all that they do to bring this “Good News” message to their community and beyond. AMEN
The Rev. Christine MaGregor
Deacon: Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral