Recently, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has embarked upon a process to renew the ministry of the diaconate in our diocesan community. Of the church's four orders ofministry (laity, bishops, priests and deacons), a robust order of deacons has been missing in our diocese for a while. Bishop Marianne is committed to restoring the order for the benefit of the church.
The term "deacon" comes from an ancient Greek word that means "servant" or "messenger" and was used to describe Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6:1-7). Stephen famously stood up to the apostles saying that the widows and orphans among the Hellenist Jews were not receiving the assistance that the Hebrews were. He recognized that "food for the soul" was no substitute for real food to those going hungry. The apostles recognized that they could not effectively conduct their ministry of preaching and teaching while managing the distributing of resources to those who had need. And so they called Stephen and six other faithful souls and laid hands on them (ordained them) to the work of deacons.
I am thrilled that two people from St. Margaret's (David Griswold and Janice Hicks) have entered the discernment process for the Order of Deacons. I believe that both of them have gifts for diaconal ministry and that they are called to it.
Still, I find myself confronted and confounded by the question "What do deacons do?" Beneath the question, there often seems to be a suspicion that I find strange. Having been formed in a diocese where having a deacon in your congregation is not only appreciated, but longed-for; I am usually at a loss for how to answer the question. Deacons "do" lots of things. And when they are good at their jobs, you will notice a change in the community in which they serve, an energy around the work of "being church" that just seems to happen. But there is no formula for it; no calculus that makes the process make sense.
Fortunately, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Charleston figured out how to say it, so I offer you his words:
"I have spent the last few days in the company of spiritual heroes, men and women of great character and courage, who embody the best of what they believe. They are deacons. People who come from all walks of life to accept their calling to serve others, servants without pay who moonlight from their regular jobs to serve God, volunteers who go into the streets and homes and hospitals of real people with real lives to do the real work of love. I was honored to be in their presence and learned a great deal about what it means to be faithful. A deacon is what the Spirit looks like when she shows up for work in the everyday world." (The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw)