by The Reverend Deacon Jean Ruttan-Yates
In the beginning there were seven — seven men selected by the early church to be deacons. They were commissioned with the task of ministering to the needs of the early Christian communities.
There’s was the challenge of giving shape to Jesus’s message of love. The needs of the needy were addressed by this diaconal ministry, a servant ministry.
Over time a deacon, at least in the Anglican Church, identified as a person who was to eventually be ordained a priest. It was a transitional role, not really functioning in the tradition of the scriptural diaconal ministry,
In 2003 the College of Deacons was created in the Diocese of Niagara. It would consist of individuals whose ministry would be that of a deacon on a permanent basis. These individuals would be called vocational deacons.
Presently there are 17 active deacons engaged in ministry in their parishes: The servant ministry of love. Their ministries are different depending on the needs of the parish and the gifts of the deacon.
I became an Anglican later in life. My membership in my parish church involved me learning as much as I could about Anglicanism specifically and Christianity generally. At this stage I had no intention of becoming a deacon. That thought was the furthest thing from my mind. I liked my life just the way it was — I had a loving husband, two dogs and a lovely home. I was very much involved in FORT (a resource center for teens), volunteered at the food bank, attended church and bible studies — life, as I said, was good.
Throughout my life, at various times, I felt God’s nudge — a nudge towards something. It was the something that was not at all clear to me. As an Anglican, the obvious was the priesthood. I knew in my heart that was not my call. But if not that, then what? Then one day I heard a woman speak of the diaconate- could this be it? I was hesitant. I knew my life would change, and I liked my life very much the way it was.
Ordination — the word filled me with anxiety. Ordination would involve going to school, and I hated school. A few years passed — when I was very near the end of my Bachelor of Theology Degree (yes — I went to school) I began to explore with my rector, the possibility of becoming a deacon. The seed had been planted.
And so it happened on May 3, 2006 — I along with six others became deacons in the Church of God. We were seven very different people — a rather motley crew. We were full of hope and passion — still somewhat dazed that the church, the people of the church, affirmed our call. I know when the bishop laid the hands on me, I felt my soul take flight. That was 13 years ago.
Over the past 13 years, my life has changed dramatically and my ministry has changed as well. Today I work with widows. I am a Chaplin to the widows of the Ontario fallen firefighters, a role which I hold dear to my heart. I provide support for the rector of my home parish. And currently, I am the director of the College of Deacons Niagara.
What started out 13 years ago was so much hope has faced, as one might expect a multitude of challenges. By and large, parishes with deacons accept and appreciate their ministry. As one can expect there have been occasional hiccups. Those who are deacons continue to provide the servant ministry that the original seven did. We live with our call — to be servants of Christ. We are called to minister to the church scattered, the homeless, the marginalized, shut-ins, the lonely, the widows and the orphans. We go into the community and we share the good news. We are the hands of Jesus for the church.
The Deacon’s Bench is a new feature in The Niagara Anglican. Each month we will hear from a Deacon serving a parish under a Bishop’s Letter of Permission. Each will inform us about the ministry s/he conducts in their parish and the wider community. We begin with The Reverend Deacon Jean Ruttan-Yates, of St. Andrew’s (Grimsby)