Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kim's a Deacon at Last

So…at last…Kim is a Deacon!  I know she’ll want me to thank everyone who came to the Cathedral yesterday, so support her, Barbara and Damon.

Three ordained ministers in one day, from one parish!  That’s got to be some kind of record – and it’s a testament to all the love and support that the people of this parish have given to the three of them during the last few years.

Today is tinged with sadness, though.  It’s a sad reality that most people who are ordained are rarely able to serve their curacy in their home parish.  I had to leave mine, and Damon left us last year when he was made a Deacon.  Now, as of today, Barbara has also moved on – though thankfully only to the neighbouring parish of St Mary!  It’s quite an important principle – that Deacons and Priests do not offer themselves to their own church, but to the whole church…and often they are called outside the walls of the church in which they were nurtured.

But not for Kim!  By a set of circumstances related to her health and her marriage, and possibly by a little bribery and corruption on my part(!), Kim, we get to keep!  Halleluiah!

Kim has been ordained as a Deacon for less than 24 hours - and they don't come much newer than that!  In a few moments, I'm going to invite her to read us the legal declarations which she must make on taking up her appointment.  But before that, I thought it might be helpful to make sure we all understand what a deacon is!

Let's start with what a deacon is not!  A deacon is not a sort of 'baby priest' - or a priest in waiting.... although there is something of that in Kim’s situation, because we fully expect that she will be ordained as a priest in not too much time.  But actually, being a deacon, is at the heart of what it means to be a minister in the church today.  And it’s worth remembering that no priest ever stops being a deacon.  Even a Bishop is still a deacon...something that Bishop Christopher demonstrated very powerfully yesterday by washing the feet of the all the new deacons.  Some of you might have noticed that when the Archdeacon was with us for our Patronal Festival, I wore my stole across my shoulder, as a deacon – for much the same reason.

The word 'deacon' comes from a Greek word, diakonos - which meant 'servant', 'waiting man', 'minister' or 'messenger'.  The first deacons were appointed by the Apostles, who found that during the early days of the church, when everyone was eating together, they were spending too much time in waiting at tables, and in general administration...they were neglecting their primary call to be the theologians, leaders and teachers of their community.

So a deacon is a servant....and in serving, the deacon represents the service to which every Christian is called.  In many ways, all of us in this parish have diaconal ministries.  We all serve one another, and the world around us, in many different ways.  Working in the cafe, cleaning and maintaining buildings, sitting on committees, singing, visiting the sick, serving at the Altar, teaching at Sunday School, administering the papers and finances of the parish...all of these are diaconal roles.  But Kim and I, and all the other ordained ministers in the Parish, have been called to represent that diaconal role in a particular way.  We are called to model it as a way of life to which all Christians are called.

So when you see one of us with a hand down a U-bend, or lugging tables, or painting a wall, or making the coffee, or filling out the endless paperwork of the Anglican Church!...we're being deacons - called to a ministry of service, just like everyone here.

But as ordained deacons, we are also 'set aside' by the church for some particular ministries.  We have been given rather expensive training for particular specialist tasks...especially the tasks of preaching and teaching and leading worship. Ordained Deacons are 'set apart' from some of the day to day servant-tasks of all the people - because communities need leaders, and teachers, and experts in that all that is said and done in our worship can be of the highest standard possible.  Ordained deacons also have a particular role in the worship of the church – which is reflected in the roles that they take during the Eucharist.
Kim has been carrying out those roles already among us, as what we call a Liturgical Deacon.  That’s because it was Church Law which prevented her from being actually ordained until now – as a result of her re-marriage to Iain.  But the Bishop instructed us to use Kim as a deacon, in all but name.  So you will already be used to hearing Kim lead parts of the service.

And why does she – as a Deacon – do this?  It’s because deacons come from the people. They speak on behalf of the people, and to the people.  They call us at the beginning of our worship to prepare ourselves to meet God in Word and Sacrament.  Then they call the whole congregation to confession, before the Priest offers absolution.  Then, again as the act of someone who is a part of the community, from the community, the Deacon calls the congregation to share peace – ‘saying ‘Let us offer one another a sign of peace’.  This is the Deacon’s instruction, because the Deacon is the one who is set aside for the role of pastoring and nurturing the congregation…the Deacon is the one who best knows which relationships within a congregation are in need of peace.  After the sermon, the Deacon calls the congregation to declare their faith – because the Deacon is the Teacher, the one who nourishes the faith and teaches it to us.  And finally, the Deacon is the last voice we hear at the end of the service, when they encouraging us to go out in faith to love and serve the Lord.

Perhaps it might help if I draw a little bit of a further distinction between the roles of Deacon and Priest.  As I’ve already said, being a Deacon is my primary calling.  Almost everything I do, as a minister, is essentially a diaconal role.  That’s why I can say the Deacon’s words in the Mass when there isn’t another Deacon around.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that 99% of my daily ministry is the ministry of a Deacon.  The other 1%, is the additional role of priest.  It is only a priest who may consecrate the elements, offer absolution, and pronounce the blessing of God.  So, my priestly roles are only really exercised for a few minutes on a Sunday…the rest of the time, it’s deacon, deacon deacon.

I hope that helps a bit - to understand something of what all of us up here in the fancy clothes are attempting to do with our lives as we respond to the call of God.  I also hope it will help you to see Kim’s new role as anything other than some sort of ‘second-class’ priest.  Priestly duties are special duties, not ‘better ones’.
This ministry is something we desperately need your prayers for... so please pray for us, and especially for Kim, as she formally takes up this vital task.  We, both of us, are called to be present in this community of 20,000 people – offering the love of God in a thousand different ways.  We need your prayers, and God’s strength to carry out such a massive task.

One thing that Kim is going to have to get used to is the wearing of her clerical collar.  Kim’s collar, like mine, is a important symbol.  It resembles the collar of a slave....a ring of steel round the neck.  It's a collar which is meant to remind all of us deacons that we are called to be servants of the servants of God.  You are the servants of God...that is your calling...but we are called to be your servants!  It's pretty mind-blowing, really!  We serve you by offering you leadership and teaching...teaching which we pray will be transformational for us all!

Now, before I ask Kim to read her declaration to the church, which will mark her formal acceptance by us as our new Assistant Curate, I'm going to offer her three symbols of the particular ministry she is called to exercise - as we all are.  I'm going to invite him to accept these symbols, and then to lay them upon the altar, as a sign of offering these ministries to God.

First a Bible:  Teach us, Kim, from these pages.  This book contains all that is necessary for us to obtain the salvation of our souls...and we don't know it well enough.  Teach us...for we need to know what it contains.

Do you accept the charge you have been given?

Secondly:  A Chalice.  Kim, you are called to serve this parish through worship.  During your ministry, you will administer the Holy Communion of Christ to the people of this parish whom you will hold in your heart through prayer.  In worship you will both call and lead the people to repentance, to faith, and to action for Christ.  

Do you accept the charge you have been given?

Finally:  A towel:  Kim, along with every member of the Body of Christ you are called to a ministry of service to other Christians, and to the wider world.  You are called to exemplify that ministry, so that we may all be challenged and encouraged by your example - learning from you the power of serving Christ in one another, and loving as he loves us.

Do you accept the charge you have been given?

{Kim then reads her Declaration to the Congregation, and is welcomed into the Ministry Team as  Deacon}

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