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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Ready or not…

The last few months have been taken up preparing our son Rowan’s book for printing. the PDF is already available, but each time we go over the ‘final copy’, we realise that it is not quite perfect. There’s a full stop missing, or a slight inconsistency, or something which could be strengthened… Many tiny details, all being polished to make the book as good as it can be.

I started wondering whether we are like books too. As Christians, do we hesitate to let ourselves be released onto the world until we are perfect? Do we wait until we have all our ducks in a row before we feel we can share our faith with others? Well, we are none of us perfect. And we never will be, so why not live dangerously, let ourselves be unleashed on the world, imperfections and all. If we are too perfect, we will be like a smooth glass wall, with no toeholds for a climber. No little edges and inconsistencies to use. We will be impossible to relate to, because of our smooth façade of non-human perfection. BUT, if we allow others to really see us, faults and all, there will be toeholds, chinks in the armour, where they can get to know us. The real us, not the shiny one. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, it’s those bumps and knobs which lock us together with other people.

Many Christians try to be good – and that’s not a bad thing – but they use it as an excuse to not engage. We can use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle again. When we are looking for pieces to fit in, we can try and see what is the same – all the sky bits in one pile, for example. or all the yellow bits. In a church context that would be like trying to find those who we really identify with. Those who are the same. But there’s another way of progressing a jigsaw puzzle. How about looking for the places where the texture changes? The edges between the sky and the land? The bits that contrast? These will help the jigsaw get filled in , and if we use this principle with people, we look for the differences between them and us. We don’t judge these differences, but we use them to create a bigger picture.

This New Year, may you embrace the different in your life, remembering the vast originality of each person as the Creator’s handiwork.

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

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

Sermon: Flesh and Spirit

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Sermon 6 April 2014 St Mary’s Whitby

Ezek 37:1-14,Ps 130, Rom 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Today’s readings all deal in some aspect with life and death, with flesh and the spirit.

I like watching medical programmes on TV, and one of my current favourites is ’24 hours in A and E’. I was watching this last week, where someone had been wheeled into Resus, when I noticed the sign for the Resus department on the wall. R.E.S.U.S. It’s only one letter away from Jesus. This got me thinking – is Jesus our Resus?

In our culture we are so frightened of death, and our medical protocol often involves lots of technology to prolong life – the image of the paddles charging up, the doctor calling clear! as the patient’s heart is shocked into life is very familiar from our TV dramas. (I’m thinking maybe I watch too much TV?)

There is a finality about physical death that we all rail against, wanting life to be resuscitated no matter what the intervention.

No one wants to think that physical death is the end of the story, and every society and religion over many thousands of years has had some sort of understanding that life goes on after physical death. Continue reading

Sermon:Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation. This is traditionally the theme of today’s reading. There are many things that are tempting in life, but let’s pause and consider why they are a problem. If we are tempted to follow the fleshly path, such as desiring food, safety, power, as Jesus was tempted, these things can become idols. Yes, it’s important to look after our bodies, but putting needs like food, safety and power at the top of our list can become a bit compulsive if we let it. If you have ever been on a diet you will know what I mean – when I was trying to lose weight many years ago, on a strict regime, all I could think abut was food, and how I would spend the extra calories I was allowed each week. I would plan all week, which cake to buy at the bakery. It had become an obsession, an idol for me.

No, Jesus tells the devil. God’s word is more important than those other needs. If we are tempted to worry too much about the world of ourselves, we can follow Jesus’ example and go back to God’s word in scripture.

As we get older, our physical needs change. We may no longer be tempted in ways that we were earlier, but the desire to have functional, painfree bodies becomes important to us. This scripture challenges us – and it is a hard challenge – to trust God for those things, and not to think of looking to the flesh and the devil for solutions. Maybe this means not being tempted to unhealthy ways in order to distract us from pain. One of the temptations as we age is to try everything in order to regain mobility and function, and there are many ads on tv for various supplements and vitamins that promise all sorts of benefits. What’s the harm in that? you may ask. Good question, and it’s fine if you can afford it. But that’s the problem. Many of these things are unproven and are very expensive – a single trip to the chemist for a small bag of potions can cost upwards of a hundred dollars! People who spend this money risk losing their financial security as they spend money they need for other things, like food and heating.

Jesus’ message for us here today is to trust God, no matter how tough things get. No matter how hungry, lonely, or hurting we are. Jesus had to trust his heavenly father to care for him in the wilderness, and we can trust him too, to be there for us, no matter what is going on in our bodies and our lives.