I have realised that I have named the blog Distinctive Deacon but not really talked about why or what it means to me.
This week (well a week ago) women across the country were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their ordination to the priesthood in the Church of England. There were some amazing women at that gathering at St Paul’s who faced huge obstacles and opposition as they sought acceptance of their calling to serve as Anglican priests. Some of those amazing women I am really proud to call my friends.
But for many of those women the diaconate (the being a deacon) was where they were parked while the church decided if they thought women could be priests or not. Having been trained and ordained deacon in faith that they could one day be priests they waited in a kind of limbo – unable to preside at the Eucharist or have primary responsibility for the church.
So when I say I want to be a permanent deacon some people find it uncomfortable. How it works is that all priests are deacons for one year – a kind of appprenticeship. After a year they are ordained priest but the ‘deacon’ bit stays part of their priesthood and they combine the two ‘orders’ in one vocation. For me it will not be part, or subsumed – it will be my whole calling. I will be a distinctive deacon.
When I first really heard what a deacon is called to do – at an ordination service about 10 years ago – the hairs on the back of my neck literally stood on end.
This is what I heard: “Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and the priests with whom they serve as heralds of Christ’s kingdom. They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love. They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.”
There is so much I love about this but two things stand out. The first is that you do it with others – fellow members – and the second is the phrase ‘forgotten corners of the world.’ There is place for focussing on ‘low-lying fruits’ – a popular church expression to mean people close to Christianity – but I also think that God is keen that we get out of our comfort zone and into the dark and dusty corners. And when we get there we’ll be amazed what we find. I am so glad that this does not say that we take the love of God there because it will already be there – all we can do is make it visible, perhaps give it a name.
When I was exploring all this I was asked where did I see myself in the church building and while many priests might answer at the altar – my reply was at the door. I see myself like the guys you see on holiday who are outside the restaurant badgering you to come in.
I think this job could be done by someone without a dog collar but I think ordaining people who work outside the church reminds people that their work outside the church is also holy, that the world outside church is holy and that God’s love is not confined to large victorian buildings but is expressed in a myriad ways, by a myriad of people doing a myriad of things.