Meet the Deacons: Introduction
Did you know that in the United Methodist Church, deacons are ordained? The Upper New York Conference is blessed to have many ordained deacons serving throughout our churches and communities. Over the weeks ahead, we will share stories of deacons who serve in the Upper NY Conference and the unique giftedness to which God has called them in the Meet the UNY Deacons blog series.
The history of deacons becoming ordained clergy is relatively new.
In 1996, the Order of Deacon was approved as a new order of ordained clergy. According to The Book of Discipline, “Deacons are persons called by God, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a Bishop to a lifetime in ministry of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice to both the community and the congregation in a ministry that connects the two.” We continue to be challenged by how this is lived in the Church and in the world.
Part of the challenge is the uniqueness of each call, of each person’s invitation from God. No two deacons have heard the same call from God and so how they incarnate that call can differ dramatically.
But, what are some of the characteristics that deacons share? In the United Methodist Church, deacons are “ordained”; set apart for ministry. According to Margaret Ann Crain, Author of The United Methodist Deacon, “Ordination is a mark of one whose call is validated by the Church and who is authorized for ministry.” Validation by the Church also requires accountability to the Church and the community in which they serve. These individuals have made a covenant with God and the Church to honor the gift they have received and live as fully as possible into that giftedness in the world. And all deacons seek to connect the community and the congregation in ministry.
An image that is often used is that of a bridge. Once again Crain writes, “’Bridge’ is a powerful image for the United Methodist deacon…the ministry of deacon bridges worship and work or Church and world…Connecting the Word—as experienced in the presence of the Spirit and the promise of the Great Banquet—with the concrete realities of feeding people in the world”. How a deacon serves as the bridge, however, can be very different. Deacons are healers (nurses, chaplains, hospice workers), teachers (sometimes in a classroom but often by modeling a way of life for others), lawyers (family services, legal aid), social workers and psychologists, administrators, musicians, camp counselors, conflict mediators, writers and editors, missionaries. This list is not all inclusive but hopefully helps you begin to imagine how one might serve as a bridge to a world in need.
I have often referred to my own call to ministry as ‘standing in the gap.’My ministry of spiritual direction includes teaching, praying, listening (and helping others listen), companioning, discerning, encouraging. The ‘gap’ I stand in varies; sometimes it’s between the Church and the world, the congregation and the community, but most often it is the very sacred space between God and the other. I found that I was able to “stand in the gap” as a lay person for a very long time, but eventually I accepted God’s invitation to ordination and the community of others who have heard and responded to the call to be part of this sacred community known as the Order of Deacon.