After perhaps 5, perhaps ten, perhaps forty-five years of formation I became a deacon on Sunday. It was a glorious beautiful day full of fun, laughter, sunshine, joy, family, friends and Holy Spirit. In some ways I had been stressing about the day – I was worried I had not got a clear understanding of what would happen and I found it hard to define what would change and what wouldn’t. Would being ordained stop me being ordinary?
Now in this first week, having spent one day off, one day in clergy training, one day in work and one day in the parish, I wanted to reflect on what has changed and what has stayed the same.
Being in the parish wearing a dog collar a lot has changed. People either make noticeably more eye-contact than before or noticeably less. I have chatted to a PCSO about a road accident, answered a question in the garage about ecclesiology and joined other clergy for Morning Prayer in my new church. In the parish I am first and foremost an ordained person and with my dog collar on I cannot forget for a moment that I am a visible sign of the church.
But in a way nothing has changed. For the last 20 years I could have answered the questions I was asked in the garage, I would always have wanted to know how the person in the accident was doing and would certainly have prayed for them as I walked away and I have been joining morning prayer at my home church for at least the last four years. So I have not changed but the way people respond to me has changed and the dog-collar has brought to the surface the faith and theology that lies within every follower of Jesus Christ. So I am asking myself the same question – should all Christians wear a visible symbol of their faith? Or should ordination to the diaconate be a next step for most Christians? Should it follow on from baptism and confirmation and affirm the lifelong commitment to discipleship made by many people who are not ordained?
People told me the day of ordination would be like a wedding. While there are some similarities I was wary of this imagery. I do not want my new ministry to be in any way a rival to my marriage, which is also a vocation and one I try to take seriously. However it some ways it was like a wedding, the presents, speeches, the sense of not having time to talk to all the wonderful people who have gathered to support you, the service itself, the symbolic clothing and the parties which in my case finished in an ice-cream parlour at 1 am on Monday morning. But on a deeper level it was not like a wedding. And when I collapsed exhausted at the end of the day, sitting next to my husband in my normal clothes it was as if nothing has changed. I am still me, he is still him and our relationship is unchanged. It’s the same with the children and at the moment I have decided not to wear my dog collar in the house.
It’s also, for me, the same with God. While being prayed for by the Bishop in the service was amazingly moving, affirming and equipping and the sense of God’s presence filled me with an incredible lightness my relationship with God remains unchanged. I am not in a special elite gang nor do I now have to earn favours through overwork and grovelling.
So Sunday meant the world to me. The buzz was incredible and I still feel like I am floating on air. (Monday was terrible, I am sure I had a Holy Spirit hangover and I had to nap most of the day). It seems to have meant a lot to my friends too and my family and the cards, presents and kindness I have received have been overwhelmingly generous.
But what it also says to me is that there is a vast potential for ordinary ministry by ordinary people in all sorts of ordinary settings if we are willing to make visible our love for God, our compassion for our neighbour and our commitment to our communities.