Thursday, September 24, 2009
It has been way too long since I put in my last blog post. I realized too that I had not really written anything specifically about my upcoming ordination as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. Many of my friends and family have been aware that for the last three years I have been in the formation process for ordination in the Episcopal Church. The question I get asked over and over is, “what does this mean and why?” So here we go, let me “splain”...
My calling to the ordained ministry is to become a vocational deacon. I do not aspire to become a priest. That is a different calling and different ministry all together. So let me explain a little more for the benefit of those folks that might come from different Christian traditions and backgrounds, which might not be as familiar with the Episcopal/ Anglican traditions.
A deacon in the Episcopal Church is defined this way by the Church:
“Deacons are members of one of three distinct orders of ordained ministry (with bishops and presbyters or “priests”). In the Episcopal Church a deacon exercises "a special ministry of servanthood" directly under the deacon's bishop, serving all people and especially those in need (BCP, p. 543). This definition reflects the practice of the early church, in which deacons were ordained "not to the priesthood but to the servanthood [diakonia, "ministry"] of the bishop" (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition). In the ancient Greek-speaking world the term diakonos meant an intermediary who acted or spoke for a superior. Christian deacons were agents of the bishop, often with oversight of charity. Since ancient times the liturgical functions of deacons have suggested the activity of angels. As they proclaim the gospel, lead intercessions, wait at the eucharistic table, and direct the order of the assembly, deacons act as sacred messengers, agents, and attendants. The revival of the order of deacons in the twentieth century has emphasized social care and service. Many bishops in the Episcopal Church expect their deacons to promote care of the needy outside the church. In addition to those ordained deacon as a permanent vocation, there are also "transitional deacons" who are ordained deacon as a preliminary step toward ordination as a priest. This practice is required by the canons of the Episcopal Church, but its theology and usefulness has been questioned by those who favor direct ordination to the order for which one is chosen.” (Source: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/19625_14159_ENG_HTM.htm) Deacons are typically non-stipend clergy and assigned by their bishop to a particular parish to work assisting the priest in many of the activities of that parish. However, it must be noted, as mentioned above, a deacon’s ministry is primarily “in the world” and not a particular parish. Ultimately he/she reports to the bishop and not the congregation to which he/she is assigned.
The Episcopal Church is the descendent of the Church of England in America. Even today it is still part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. I grew up as a Baptist. I come from a heritage of church folks of which I am very proud and cherish! Some of my kinfolks were “ministers” and some “deacons”... In the Baptist tradition, the terms “minister” and “deacon” have a different connotation than it does in the Episcopal tradition. A “minister” or “pastor” within the Baptist tradition is a clergy person. A deacon on the other hand, is a layperson who is elected by a congregation for a term as an administrative leader (much like a vestry member in the Episcopal Church). However, deacons in the Baptist Church are ordained, but it is still considered a lay order. In the Episcopal Church, however, a deacon is considered and holds the title of a clergy person (ie., “The Rev.”)
As I mentioned before, my calling is to the diaconate; being a deacon. It is a difficult thing to explain in words being “called” into ministry. It is something almost purely experiential in nature, and at the same time there are definite signs and roadmaps along the way. I think though the seeds to my calling into the ordained ministry were planted early on in my life. My Baptist roots are still there and have been an integral in my formation as a follower of Christ. Nevertheless, my heart is with the Episcopal Church. My attraction to the Episcopal Church is due mainly to the sacramental and liturgical nature of its worship. The Episcopal Church is also theologically grounded in tradition, with a devotion to the study of scripture that is balanced with reason. The Church uses this “three legged stool” of, devotion to scripture, tradition and the use of reason as the sources of its doctrine and authority; this too is one of the many things that brought me to the Episcopal Church. As The Rev. George Ann Boyle put it, “The beauty of the Episcopal tradition is that it is open to questions and new possibilities, as well as ancient teachings. Imagine a spiritual practice that is both grounded in tradition and open to new possibilities.” (Source: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/visitors_33028_ENG_HTM.htm) The Episcopal Church is where I have found my connection to God. It is also what continues to draw me in and compels me to take the path that I have taken in life.
The other part of being called to the ordained ministry has centered around my experiences in working with the poor and neglected both locally and abroad. As a result of being touched by the lives of people who are suffering both physically, emotionally and spiritually, my life has been irrevocably changed. I can remember distinctly, about eight years ago, listening to a presentation by my friend Pete Borg about some work being done in Honduras with some children’s shelters. I remember feeling and thinking to myself, this is something you MUST get involved with. Little did I know at the time, that would be the beginning of my involvement with Osman Hope and also my calling to become a deacon.
So eight years later I am on the verge of becoming ordained. I have nearly completed my formation process, which has involved intensive study of scripture, theology, church history, homiletics, liturgy, ethics, canon law and modern issues. I have met with the examining chaplains and they have given their “stamp of approval”. So, by the grace of God and the consent of the people of God, I will be ordained into the Sacred Order of Deacons by The Right Revered Charles vonRosenberg, 3rd Bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee on December 5th, 2009 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kingsport, TN.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 540)