by The Reverend Deacon Jean Ruttan-Yates
In 1 John 3:18, we read “little children let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” These words capture the ministry of deacons. Ours is a servant ministry and one of the early orders of the Church. We are called to minister to the church scattered … the homeless, the marginalized, the shut-ins, the lonely, the widows and orphans, we go out into the community, share the good news, we hear of the needs and bring those needs back to the church gathered. We are the hands of Jesus for the church.
The vocation of a deacon is exemplified in service, and sometimes we don’t get to choose what form it takes.
I would like to share two incidents in my life that had a great impact on me and my ministry. Part of my ministry has been working at the Foundation of Resources for Teens (FORT), in Grimsby. The first night after my ordination, I went to FORT and discovered on arrival that the toilet, the one and only toilet had backed up … there was a real mess … a very real and stinking mess, one that had to be dealt with … and tag I was it. I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning … the toilet and the floor. As I worked I thought to myself …”Hmm…I was ordained for this?” And immediately I heard this little voice saying “Yes indeed … so get on with it”. And so I did.
Once when I was travelling in England with my sisters, I decided to take a walk by myself. I bought a sandwich and a cup of tea and headed off. While walking I stumbled, bumped or tripped over something on the sidewalk. Looking down I saw this beautiful dog lying there. Ooh, how I love dogs, my most favourite critters, Naturally I stopped and bent down to pet this gorgeous animal. It was then I realized that sitting there with his back to the fence was a man. A rather dirty, unkempt and apparently homeless gentleman. I sat down beside him, gave him the sandwich and tea. He took the filling out of the sandwich and fed his dog…he then ate the bread. This simple act touched me deeply. We chatted for a while, but what hit me most was, as we sat together on the sidewalk people either ignored us completely, or they bumped into us and then ignored us or after stepping on one of us, walked over us as if we were invisible. I was invisible. He was invisible.
This is how we treat the homeless, the marginalized.
As I sat on the sidewalk I became homeless and ignored by the world that walked by. How awful, how demeaning, how cruel, sad and so very, very wrong. But for far too many homeless folk this is their reality.
Our ministry is one of servanthood. We are to give shape to Jesus’s command “Love one another” and words alone are not enough. Throughout scripture we are given many examples of how to show this love in action. Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food … and they asked him when did we see you hungry and give you food … and Jesus said when you did it to the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”
The Deacon’s Bench is a regular 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. This month’s columnist is The Reverend Deacon Jean Ruttan-Yates, of St. Andrew’s (Grimsby).