For Such A Time as This…

This phrase is taken from a crucial moment in the story of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures when she is persuaded that she must use her royal position to speak out for justice and the end of threat – even though it may cost her everything.

It is also the title of a report presented to General Synod in 2001 presenting the case for a renewed diaconate, for people who want to be permanent deacons to be supported, trained and encouraged throughout the Church of England. It even has an outline job description. Sadly the report was not accepted by synod – but 14 years later we find ourselves still in a time described in the report as a kairos moment. Just like Esther’s time, this time of ours is, as the report says: “…a significant, pregnant moment, a decisive moment in God’s time.”

This morning we all woke up to a significant shift in our political landscape. The party of traditional  liberalism has all but disappeared, the party of fear-mongering had polled 13% of the vote. We know that, in cities like Birmingham, we face five years of cuts, the poorest and most vulnerable people will feel the squeeze of austerity measures the most keenly and the rhetoric around immigration is unlikely to change.

In the middle of this political maelstrom, I am plodding on with my dissertation about the diaconate and I am at the interesting moment where questionnaires I sent out over the last few weeks are coming back in. Many have been filled in by deacons, one from as far afield as Sweden, some Catholics, some Anglican and some Methodist. All doing amazing jobs in many different places.

One of these deacons sent me his homily this week – it was about another kairos moment. The homily outlines the origins of the renewed diaconate in the Catholic church. Drawing on the work of Bill Ditewig, it explains how Nazism was the driver for the church to take deacons seriously again.

He says that imprisoned Catholic clergy in Dachau realised that the Church had failed to warn the people of the danger of Nazism as it began to influence the German people. The Church had become too remote and inward looking to make the connections necessary to avert the crisis. And so, at the Second Vatican Council, the German Bishops, backed by the French Bishops, called for the re-instatement of the order of deacons who would be out and about in the world, connecting with the cares and concerns of family life and wider society.

Fifty years later, For Such A Time As This argued that: “…the diaconate has been particularly important in the Church’s mission at times of acute political and social change and upheaval.

“The special role of deacons is to make connections and build bridges between the distinctive life, the koinonia, of the Body of Christ and the needs of the world.”

The Church of England is making massive attempts to be active in the public square, to engage with civic and public life and to speak out against injustice. But working on the macro level is not enough to change a culture or turn fear into trust, misunderstanding into friendship.

My research has reminded me of the massive potential for a renewed diaconate – the potential of people trained, equipped and supported to build bridges and make connections and most importantly to encourage others to do the same.

Creating trust, enabling compassion, challenging injustice, loving enemies and strengthening communities is unglamorous, painstaking work that requires patience, time, energy and commitment. It is the work of deacons and it is the work of all of us who seek to live like Jesus Christ. It is the work for such a time as this.

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One thought on “For Such A Time as This…

  1. Thank you very much for your blog on the diaconate. As I look back over my ministry I reckon that nearly all the worthwhile things I have done have been the work of my diaconate rather than my priesthood, ie. attempting to build bridges. In my first curacy I told my rector that I saw my role as creating community in the village of Stiffkey where I was reaching out to all 300 of my parishioners, regardless of whether they had anything to do with the Church . In London I shared with my fellow curates a concern both for housing and Christian Aid, both of which ministries I developed later on and in fact on leaving London I spent five years in the diaconal work of Christian Aid as well as trying to help build community at Little Gidding. While at Great Gidding I helped to form the Rural Theology Assocation building bridges between people involved in ministry and people in rural life and Judith and I helped to bring Marriage Encounter into the Church of England, again a work of service, this time to married couples, many of them on the edge of Church. At Dovedale Judith and I did largely diaconal work serving the young people of the Midlands and it was at that time that I helped to form the Peak District Rural Housing Assocation, a vital form of service to all those who were finding it difficult to afford local housing. At the same time I was developing CRUC, Christian Rural Concern, which like RTA was building bridges to all things rural. At Checkley our main work was to build bridges between clergy and laity so that we were all working together on an equal footing. At Brewick my main aim was to take the Gospel right out of an ecclesiastical mode into a form of education which was particularly concerned with environment. This failed dismally but here in Oundle I was able to stimulate the formation of a transition town which is doing a similar thing very successfully. So I would agree with you that building bridges is what nearly all good ministry is about and I am delighted that you are following that path so successfully. Meanwhile we have to think how we can deal with the dreadful hand the electorate has dealt this country. I am backing Sum of Us which is going to try challenge Cameron about some of his worst characterisitics. My personal belief is that the Tories only won because they successfully scaremongered about the adverse effect that the Scottish National Party with influence would have on this country which I believe is totally untrue. They have already helped to bring a new kind of politics into the stale one that is still around. Love from us both Dazza

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