Dear People of St. Peter’s,
By now, I hope you have heard the exciting news about the election of the Reverend Kevin Brown to be our new Bishop. We look forward to him receiving all the necessary approvals and to his consecration in December.
Of course, we are also hopeful that his first ordinations in the diocese will include our own Chris Miller-Marcin. Chris has been in the ordination process for several years and has almost completed all of her preparation to be ordained a vocational deacon. As part of this preparation, she has completed the Education for Ministry program, attended the diocesan diaconal classes, and established a thriving ministry called Feed the Children Heart and Soul which many of you have helped enable to thrive. You may have also noticed her more frequent presence and participation in our liturgies. This, too, is part of her preparation.
The Catechism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, tells us that “The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.” As such, a Deacon not only functions liturgically, but also out in the world, drawing the Church to aid in helping the needy and the marginalized. The action of the Deacon in the liturgy are representations of her/his work in the world. There are four specific liturgical tasks: proclaim the Gospel, Bid the Prayers of the People, set and serve at the altar and give the final dismissal at the conclusion of the service. Let us look at these a little more closely.
Proclaim the Gospel—In our denomination, the Gospel reading is typically reserved to be read by a member of the clergy. Ordination in our tradition is progressive in that all clergy begin as deacons, some go on to be priests and a few go on to be Bishops. Even if you move into another order, you still retain the role of the previous office. This means that all priests are also deacons and all bishops are also priests and deacons. Deacons are servants first and since all clergy start off as Deacons, all clergy are supposed to always remember to SERVE first. Jesus called his followers to be servants, to love and care for others. Reading the Gospel then for clergy is twofold—reminding the clergy to always be a servant AND reminding the clergy to lead others into service. When Chris is ordained as a Deacon, she will usually be the reader of the Gospel whenever she is present.
Bid the Prayers of the People—In the ancient Church, beginning in the Acts of the Apostles, Deacons held all the money of the congregation in order that they could provide for those in need, especially the sick, widows, and orphans. They also maintained the prayer list of the community, usually on a large folder called a diptych, which they would carry down into the congregation to lead the prayers. Following some of the reforms within the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican II, many other denominations followed suit in having the laity lead the prayers, as the 1979 Book of Common Prayer also strongly encourages. Once she is ordained, Chris will continue in the ancient tradition by bidding the congregation to join in the Prayers of the People which will then continue to be read by a member of the laity.
Set the Table—Setting and clearing the table is the task of a servant and Deacons are called to be servants. Jesus came to serve you and me and called us to service (see Luke 22:27). But this role is also symbolic of the work that Chris and all Deacons are called to do in the world—to set “the table” as it were for the laity to do ministry. You can see this in how Chris has intentionally designed and organized the work for Feed the Children Heart and Soul, doing the necessary background and set up work in order that others can actively engage in the ministry. Chris has endeavored to establish a ministry that will continue to prosper and thrive for many years.
Final Dismissal—If you have ever stood in the Narthex at the conclusion of the service during the final hymn, you have heard the Celebrant lead a concluding prayer for those who have been in the altar party. It has become the tradition, inspired by the wisdom of our esteemed Father Mark, to end that prayer with “and the rest of us, get to work!!!” Some of us may crack a smile, but it is a very seriously imperative because our worship is not an end to itself, it is a means of drawing nearer to God so that we may work more intentionally and actively in the unfolding of God’s Kingdom. At Saint Peter’s, because we have not had a regular Deacon, a layperson has usually taken on this role, but once Chris is ordained, (God willing), she will take on this task, reminding us, just like Fr. Mark, to encourage us to get to work, seeking to serve Christ by the love and compassion we bring out into the world.
So, I hope you will keep these things in mind as we continue to pray for Kevin+ and Chris. May God bless them both as they prepare for their ordination. May they be among us as servants, helping us to draw closer to God, and work to serve God in the life of others.
Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are daily in mine.