Deacon School

Last week I had the privilege of attending the National Deacon School, ably run by the Ven. Anne Russell-Brighty. It was a gathering of deacons from all around NZ, about 26 for the weekend reunion, and 12 of us continued for the next few days. It was an opportunity to learn, but also to let off steam. One of our number has written a paper about all the negative sides of being a deacon, and I thought I would explore this side of it a little. First, there are not many negatives about serving as a deacon. Not, that is, when you consider the vast privilege of washing people’s feet, showing our world how Christ would want them to live. But it’s not the calling itself that is frustrating. It is the misunderstanding of that calling in the wider church. The Vocational Diaconate is fairly recently arrived on the scene, having been revived from the 1960s. That is, unless you count the way the church operated  in its first 4 centuries or so. Nowadays, the church is very priest-focussed, very hierarchical, and people don’t know what to make of deacons. The understanding of the role is also muddied to some extent by experience of the Pentecostal church, where the Pastor has a combined role of priest and deacon.

Often the priests don’t know what a  deacon does, and congregation certainly don’t. Many of us have been asked when we’re going to ordained ‘properly’, or we are commiserated with for ‘missing out’. On being priested, that is. Maybe we should express our sorrow that someone has been ordained priest, and isn’t allowed to stay a deacon… Now I’m being naughty. That raises another point though. Many in the church have the understanding that a priest is still a deacon, but that is not the case. These priests had a year as transitional deacons, where they were being trained for the priesthood, with a nod at what a deacon is. The roles are very different. In the ordination service, candidates are asked if they are called to the work of a deacon, and those who are to be priested later blithely answer ‘yes’, although they have been discerned as priests in training. Our ordination services do not adequately reflect the different roles of Vocational Deacon, and priest-in training. It should not be called Transitional Deacon. This is where the frustration lies.

Being a deacon is not a way to have a glorious career in the church, adding more titles to your name, and more fancy copes each procession. We get to lead the processions in the cathedral, clad in our albs and crossed-over stoles. We stand apart for that reason, but we are also ready for action. Our stoles don’t flop all over the place when we are trying to do something. In a liturgical setting, we may be assisting with  the ablutions, or pouring the wine. We don’t need to be worried about our vestments. That’s a good reason why our stoles are tucked away. In the community, most of us are not robed, although wearing a clerical collar is always useful when you are trying to visit the hospital outside of visiting hours!

Most of us receive no payment for our work as vocational deacons, but that gives us freedom of hours and places where we can minister. Being a deacon is not about working in a particular place at a particular time – eg on a Sunday morning in a building with a cross on top of it. It’s much broader. Whenever we are present with people, we are doing Christ’s work. And we are called to be infectious, encouraging others to join us, loving and serving the Lord in our communities.

There is a different personality-type that seems to attract deacons too. It has been described as the grit that irritates the oyster, so that a pearl is formed. We can be a bit annoying, a bit in-your-face, a bit challenging. That’s part of our job – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s not always an easy fit in the political world of the church, but I seem to recall a certain Carpenter who was a bit challenging too.

The wider church has a treat in store as it discovers more of the potential of the Vocational Diaconate. Several deacons in every parish would make such a difference to the world!

Sermon: Life comes at a cost

Sermon 26 October 2014 St Mary’s Whitby.Rev Felicity O’Brien

1 Thess 2:1-8, Matt 22:34-46

Paul was a man who didn’t hesitate to go the hard yard. He was shipwrecked, beaten, arrested, and in many other ways his life was not easy.But his greatest driving force was to share the gospel with everyone, no matter what the reception.In today’s epistle reading, we hear how Paul has been shamefully treated at Phillipi, but has come on to Thessalonica anyway. He didn’t retreat to lick his wounds, or to take a course and change his career path!

Sometimes we are treated badly, even as we struggle to live out our Christian witness. Do we let it put us off? Some people do. I have spoken to many people who used to go to church, but something happened, there was an offence, and they walked out, hurt, and never came back. They didn’t keep on trying to worship God in fellowship with others, because of some past injury. Now, I am in no way belittling the hurts than can happen in a church community. I know they are very real, because real people both hurt and heal each other. I have often pondered about this – to take an analogy , if you had a mechanic who treated you badly, who was rude, would you stop going to mechanics? Many years ago, when I was a single mum, my Honda shuttle was not very well. I took it to the local mechanic, who told me that it needed a lot of work on it, and I said, bother! I was hoping to go to the tip this afternoon. He said, were you going to leave it there? Now, it does seem funny, especially when the car, let’s face it, was probably heading to the wreckers’ yard, but I relied on that car, it was my sole means of getting to work and all the other things. I felt offended and vulnerable at his comments.But did I stop trying to fix the car? No, I didn’t. I just found another mechanic, and made it clear how important the car was to me. I guarded my heart against its vulnerability, and tried again. Continue reading

Sermon: Noticing

Sermon. 31 August 2014
Rev Felicity O’Brien
St Mary’s Whitby
Exod 3:1-15, Rom 12:9-21, Matt 16:21-28

Moses was a man who noticed things. Maybe this was to do with his upbringing – at first he was raised by his mother, in the Hebrew culture, and then he was returned to the princess who had adopted him when she took him out of the river. Imagine how different life would be at the court of Pharaoh for the young boy – he would have had to watch carefully to learn what to do, how to behave, even learn a new language. He was educated in all the Egyptian ways, and learnt a great deal. Continue reading

Sermon: Seeds

Genesis 25:19-34, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Sermon 13 July 2014 St Anne’s Porirua
Rev Felicity O’Brien

The story of Jacob and Esau could be a story from today. There are two boys, one is beloved by one parent, the other one favours the other boy. Now, we who are parents know that it’s not a good idea to have favourites. Sometimes my kids accuse me of having a favourite – usually when I have had to tell off the other one. It’s not fair, they say. He’s your favourite. or She’s your favourite. You never tell him or her off!
So then I tell them that I don’t have a favourite, but I have a least favourite, glaring at them. And there are often several least favourites.
Many troubles in families arise when parents play favourites. Isaac loved his outdoorsy, hunter son Esau. There was something about their personalities that just clicked. I’m sure he loved Jacob as well, but we just get on better with some people than others. On the other hand Rebekah loved Jacob, the quieter boy, who loved to grow things and tend the field. Maybe she felt protective of him around his more vigorous, rambunctuous brother. I’ve often felt the need to protect my weaker child against the stronger too. Continue reading

Same-sex relationships and the Anglican Church in NZ

Archbishops’ letter       Motion 30

Over the last week our General Synod have been sitting, and debating, amongst other things, the response that the Church should be making to same-sex couples. While it is still early days for a real change, some very significant things have come out in the report.

the Church is “both affirming the traditional doctrine of marriage, exploring the recognition of those presently in life-long monogamous same-gender relationships, and seeking a process and structure to enable the possibility of a rite for blessing life-long monogamous same-gender relationships for those who wish to offer this rite.”

The Church is also apologising to those of the LGBT community who have been unfairly treated in the past by church decisions.

Well this is good, but just as pulling nails out of a piece of timber doesn’t leave it pristine, so apologising can never erase the hurts. Forgiveness can though, and there is a fertile field for this here. Continue reading

Short talk: Flesh and Bood

John 6:52-59

Short talk for Rest Home.

Eating flesh and drinking blood? You can imagine what some of the first-century people thought when they heard these words. It sounds quite gruesome really, and some people accused Christians of literally eating and drinking flesh and blood.

But, like so many other things in the bible, it’s not meant to be taken literally. Jesus spoke in parables so much of the time, that for this one to be taken at face value would not make sense.

Jesus is using the term flesh to mean himself. Eating his flesh means taking part in him. If we are what we eat, we can be assured that whatever we take into our beings, both physically, mentally and spiritually, with nourish us and affect us, whether for good or ill. That’s why it’s not a good idea to eat too much chocolate, and why we shouldn’t watch horror movies if we are having trouble sleeping!

Jesus tells us to take him on board, to let ourselves become so filled up with the person of Christ, that he will transform us. If we do this we will become one with him! What does that mean? I think it means that we will see others with the eyes of Christ – when we see suffering we will have compassion and love. Even if we see evil, we will not hate, only have sorrow, and pity.

Jesus also tells us that if we share in him in this way, we will have eternal life! That’s a wonderful promise isn’t it? Living like Jesus lived, seeing others with his eyes, and becoming more like him throughout our earthly lives will mean that when our bodies finally wear out and cannot support life, the rest of us, our soul, will go on, in the presence of God! That’s a wonderful promise to look forward to. May we all be comforted will the hope of eternal life in Christ.

Sermon: Doubt and Faith.

Last week we celebrated the great feast day of Easter, when the highlight of the story is Jesus’ resurrection. This week our readings look at some of the witnesses to that resurrection, and their reactions too.

Our Gospel reading tells us simply that Jesus came and stood among the disciples, saying Peace be with you. He appeared even though the door was locked! This is a clue to the nature of his resurrection body – there is something different about it. It is not the same as his earthly body. And yet he was still physical, still made of flesh. He showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and side, establishing that it really was he that stood with them. Unfortunately Thomas wasn’t there, and had trouble believing the story that the disciples so excitedly related to him. Let’s wind the clock back a couple of weeks where we met Thomas before, in the story of Lazarus. You may remember that it was Thomas who urged Jesus and the disciples to go to Lazarus, even though Jesus had just told them that he had already died. Thomas believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, at that point. Continue reading