March 18, 2009

You’ve heard the old adage that even a broken clock is right twice a day and even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, right? Such was my response to the wonderful news that my dear friend Pete Jeffrey is now a postulant (i.e., in the process) for the diaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

What does that mean? It means that when his training and time of preparation is complete he will become a Deacon in the Episcopal Church:

[The] Deacon is a role in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. In many traditions, the diaconate, the term for a deacon’s office, is a clerical office; in others, it is for laity. …It is generally believed that the office of deacon originated in the selection of seven men, among them Stephen, to assist with the charitable work of the early church as recorded in Acts 6.

…In Anglican churches, deacons often work directly in ministry to the marginalized inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned.

This is great news, not only because Pete is more than qualified to hold such a position is is my view exactly the kind of person this historic office was intended for, but it hopefully also serves as a sign that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is taking a more serious look at growing the diaconate as a tool to expand its own external and internal ministry field.

I’ve always been a huge proponent of the diaconate in the Episcopal Church (TEC); others have as well. I often wondered why so many dioceses refused to consider the rich potential of the office; its existence primarily reserved for those working their way upwards towards the priesthood. Not only was this a short-sighted practice in terms of the realities facing TEC over the past several decades (where declining church membership and the practical realities of priests needing to make a living have resulted in the typical parish budget overly concerned and/or consumed with their priest’s salary and benefits package), but it also meant turning a blind eye towards an important and ancient Church tradition and practice (no surprise there for TEC), and the rich pool of talented people in dioceses who felt called to ordained leadership in the Church but for whatever reason didn’t fit the mold of what the diocese might be looking for in priests.

Allow me to explain. Say, for example, you had a knack for or interest in a particular form of ministry – it might be a prison ministry, some other form of social outreach, evangelism, assisting parishes in trouble or turmoil, or a particular kind of prayer ministry. Certainly, no one could prevent you from performing that ministry, say, in your local parish. But what if you felt God’s call to have that ministry sanctioned and consecrated (i.e., ordained) for service to the Church at a larger level? Basically, you were screwed since your diocese and/or bishop had little interest in providing this kind of avenue – whether it be because they hadn’t a clue as to what the diaconate was all about and/or its potential, or (as I suspect) they were afraid of something that was more difficult for them to control directly.

Pete’s one of the lucky ones. In my own TEC travels I’ve known a number of people who not only had amazing gifts in terms of the ministries and talents God had given them, but whose dioceses would have been truly blessed had they been savvy enough to offer them an ordained outlet for those talents and ministries via the diaconate. Instead, because their dioceses didn’t see them as worthy to be priests, they were basically cast aside and left to feel rejected or unwanted (or both), and either pursued ordination in another diocese or another denomination, or disengaged from active church participation – the end result being a loss of talent the diocese could have otherwise made wonderful use of had they had the vision or creativity to see the potential of a vibrant diaconate.

Who knows? Had such an option been available to me back when I was deemed unworthy of being made a priest in the dioceses I pursued my own calling in things might have been different. Instead, my days as an Episcopalian are over, and the only calling I feel now is to live out my days in exile in Arizona conjuring up new arrangements of surf and tropical music to play while hanging by the pool and the tiki bar whenever an endless stream of 12-14 hour workdays permits. Which is OK, it’s all good. As Brian Wilson once sang, “these things I’ll be until I die“…

Knowing that Pete (and hopefully more like him) is on his way to having his calling ordained by his Church and diocese gives me hope that maybe – just maybe – TEC has finally decided to allow the Holy Spirit a little more wiggle-room in its own ordained leadership through a revived and vibrant diaconate. Perhaps such a change of heart and strategy is nothing more than the equivalent of rearranging some of the deck chairs on the Titanic given the otherwise sorry state of things in the Episcopal Church these days, but it can only help.

God bless you and your journey towards ordination, Pete – no one I’ve ever known has been more called or deserving.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 23:04 | Comments (0)
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