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!

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Sermon: Eagle’s Wings

Sermon St Anne’s Porirua 8 Feb 2015

Rev Felicity O’Brien

Today’s reading from Isaiah paints a splendid picture of power. God is sitting above the circle of the earth – and it would be many centuries before people generally agreed that the earth was indeed a sphere – and God has power over everyone and everything on earth.

He blows on us and we wither.

This sounds a bit horrible really, as if such a big power could be cruel. But no, he calls us all by name, and not one of us is missing. Here we can see the compassion of God, that He truly knows us.

Have you ever felt that no one knew you, really knew who you were? There are times when it’s easy to feel anonymous, defined by a particular label. Continue reading

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

Ten thousand reasons

Today my blog received its ten thousandth visitor – someone form the United States was looking at my essay on the New Zealand prayer Book.

Ten thousand reasons is a great song to sing in worship too – meditate on the words as you sing it.

Thank you to all of you who read my blog – you may have noticed that the content has changed a bit as I have now finished studying, and most of what I am writing is for sermons, either at our Sunday morning services in Whitby and Porirua, or at our local rest home.

What else am I doing? Working as a deacon in Whitby, and our priest-in-charge is leaving soon, so I may be getting busier. I have also had problems with sick children. My daughter Rachel has been struggling with anxiety recently, and as part of helping her to recover we have acquired two new feline members of the family – Jacko is Rachel’s cat. He is a young, playful boy, black with white markings and lovely green eyes. Sylvia is the family cat – a mature lady, with torotiseshell markings, and the softest fur you ever felt. She sits on knees and purrs.

it’s been a few years since our last cat died, and I had forgotten about their capacity for food. Don’t you love the way a cat will you plaintively up at you, from its empty bowl on the kitchen floor, and makes the faintest, most pathetic miaow, as if it’s too starving to even miaow properly? And how about the way the next sucker to go into the kitchen gets the same treatment? Several times I have been about to feed a poor starving creature, too faint to miaow loudly, when Kevin hears the cat biscuits box rattling, and calls out – I’ve already fed him!

I think we should be like cats too, not hungry for excessive food, because that would not be good, but hungry for God’s Word, and for God’s justice, and for God’s love. If we were like cats, we would take advantage of every possibility that we might be fed – whenever we have time to read the Word, or to talk abut God, or to pray, if we could be hungry always, just like a cat. And when we have had enough of one sort of food, there’s always room for something else. Just like the cat who wants a drink of milk is quick to let you know, we too can seek after more nourishment.

Jesus said, ” My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34) May this be our food too.

 

Sermon: Social Services Sunday

Sermon July 27 2014 Social Services Sunday
St Mary’s Whitby
Felicity O’Brien

Micah 6:8-12, James 2:14-17, Matt 25:31-45

Today is social services Sunday. This is a staid and somewhat self-righteous-sounding description of what is truly our duty every Sunday, every day of our lives, as Christians. What is social service? It must surely mean serving people. That can never be a dull thing to do. Serving others can led you to all sorts of places you may not have been – wonderful exotic locations like hospitals, mental health care facilities, hospices, rest homes – and these are some I have been in just this last week! You may even be fortunate enough to visit prisons, and private homes!
But hang on, you may be saying. Surely it’s not about the place, it’s about the people! Yes, exactly. We are called to love and serve people, no matter where they are. Whether they are in the most derelict accommodation, or in the swankiest hotel. We tend to focus on the former rather than the latter, but everyone is in need of Christ. Continue reading

Many roles

When I first started this Blog, I was expecting to be ordained priest a year after being ordained deacon. The plan was to re-name it ‘Speaking as a deacon and a priest.’ My path has gone in a different direction, but I’m still not sure that the calling to priesthood has gone away.

After the very busy time we have had as a family, I could call it ‘Speaking as a deacon and a mother’. My son Josiah has been in hospital recently for appendicitis, which he is now recovering from. I find the mothering role quite demanding, because there is no plan to it. Yes, he had his operation, came out of hospital with three small wounds, but it took a week for him to recover from the anaesthetic, and he still has pain in his tummy which has restricted him from joining in the Kapa Haka festival and other physical pursuits.He gets really grouchy too! As a mum, I cannot plan when I may have to give him a ride, persuade him to take pain relief, and many other things.

Added to that, our daughter is struggling with life at the moment, especially with the transition from childhood to adolescence. I won’t go into details, but please pray for her!

We all have many roles, and my deacon role is not compromised by my mother one. No, rather it is enhanced. Our congregation cares for all our family, and in sharing some of our troubles and triumphs, I can become fully embedded into the church family. I think it’s important for deacons to do that – maybe the priests need to be a little more aloof, but incarnational ministry for a deacon must surely mean going deep with our church, being real, letting ourselves be known, warts and all. Only then can we fully appreciate each other.

The parish where I work is going through a time of change – our wonderful priest-in-charge has just announced that she is to leave us in a few months to focus on God’s call for her to concentrate on Missions in Polynesia. What will this mean for me? I will be journeying as part of the congregation during the change, during the self-searching as they/we look at themselves to discover how they feel they need to be led gong forward. I love working at this parish, with these people. There are different opinions among them over many things, but surely my role as deacon is to encourage everyone, to nudge them a little step forward on their discipleship journey, whether I agree with them or not.  I don’t believe it is my task to impose my ideas on them, but rather to enter into dialogue and encourage creative discussion. I love doing this!

May God bless you all as you find your way forward in the journey God has for you this week.

Felicity