By The Reverend Deacon Ann Vander Berg
I am sitting on the deacon’s bench pondering. As I write, it is a beautiful, sunny, breezy Sunday morning in mid-August. I am wearing my best linen. The heat has been scorching and it offers some reprieve. This bench provides me with some shelter, too, as it is nestled within a cluster of tall, strong, vibrant, living trees. Today was Canon Mike Deed’s last service as rector of St. James, Dundas. It was also the first Sunday since the pandemic began that I could serve in church as a deacon. I was glad my gown fit.
In March 2020, on the last Sunday before the pandemic was declared, I offered a homily. It was based on the Scripture passage where Jesus walked on water and Peter came out of the boat and walked toward Jesus. That Sunday, I decided to get out of the boat around the lectern and spoke from the centre aisle; nervous, yet determined. I have been outside of the boat ever since. Not always walking on water, trusting in Jesus.
This month, October, marks my second anniversary as vocational deacon at St. James parish. Just before I was ordained, Mike said to me, “God bless you.” Words that broke into my heart. After I was ordained by Bishop Susan, I burst into tears.
Five months after my ordination, with the announcement of a global pandemic, I was catapulted into isolation and into the vortex of spiritual care in a healthcare setting; something I slowly started to emerge from earlier this summer. During that time, I was prayed for directly or indirectly by members of my parish, diocese, and community, along with people around the world, perhaps more than any other time in my life. Like many, I find it difficult to talk about the past eighteen months. They were a season of prayer and work, prayer and work, prayer and work—often entering a mystery and eventually a trust, beyond my understanding and even beyond my desire to understand. In my leisure time, one of the things I learned how to do was sew clothing, something I would not have dreamed possible in a thousand years.
Every morning for the past thirty years or so I have lit a candle, written in a private journal, and prayed. Sometimes, I write a grocery list. As I came out of isolation, my soul was being restored. I had the strength to experience God weeping for me, for you, and for creation. I had the strength to feel the pain of oppression as a universal human experience connecting me with the oppressed throughout the world. It felt good and I felt both solace and joy, because if I was really paying attention, how much more is God paying attention?
I had the strength to experience God’s response to a single prayer. And in the dwelling place of love I recommitted my life to God.
Today I pause on the deacon’s bench before I continue my travels and reach a fork in the road. At the end of August, Mike would no longer be rector at St. James. As one way of saying goodbye, he invited members of the parish to meet with him for fifteen-minute segments to pray together. I met with Mike. We prayed.
I am amazed how my season of praying with Mike in liturgy—and in quiet—helped me to find words for my experience of prayer and of work, in both my personal and professional life. I have been blessed.
Mike, “God bless you.”
Deacon Ann serves at St. James Anglican Church in Dundas