This is a story of permanent or vocational deacons coming together. Our former Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, once described a gathering of deacons as a “disturbance.” This is how a “disturbance” began and continues to this day.
You will recall when our churches had to close down in March, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we discovered virtual worship and Zoom video-conferencing. In Buffalo, New York, Archdeacon Diana Leaker, director of deacons for the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, had a fabulous and inspired idea as summer approached. She wondered: “Why don’t the deacons of Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania meet regularly by Zoom. Bishop Sean Rowe, bishop of both the dioceses of Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania, approved the con-joint meetings. In June of 2020, the deacons of Niagara joined those of Western New York, and Northwest Pennsylvania and have met together over Zoom every Monday ever since.
You may wonder how the deacons of Niagara got connected with those in Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania. When I began my formation for the diaconate, Canon David Long, then director of ministry support for the Diocese of Niagara, asked me to join with the deacons of Western New York in their formation process. I did so for the next year and as a result made many life-long friends. They came to my ordination and I to theirs. I attended events for deacons in both Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania. A bishop even once declared that I was one of theirs! Diana and I had met at many of these occasions. I reached out to our deacons and so it began. I can’t remember if I asked permission from Bishop Susan Bell but when she heard about it she was delighted.
Niagara currently has 15 active deacons, Western New York has 13 and Northwest Pennsylvania has five. Every Sunday evening Diana sends out a Zoom request to the active deacons in all three dioceses. We meet every Monday morning at 9 a.m.—holidays do not stop us!
While we are all Anglican deacons, there are some differences. The American deacons, for instance, during their formation spend six months in a very different parish than their home parish, and after ordination the bishop can transfer them to different parishes. Nevertheless, we have more similarities than differences. One of our great frustrations has been our inability to meet in person and hopefully, by next spring, we will be able to gather in person.
We talk about many things—we share stories of our ministries as well as discuss the goings-on in our dioceses and churches. We have become a disturbance community.
Let me give you some examples. Deacon Penny from Western New York shared about her trip to an orphanage for children in Honduras that she and her parish sponsor. Many of the Western New York deacons talk about the shortages of priests and how they are forced to cope. Mark McGill and Sandra Thomson, of the Diocese of Niagara, have told of the programs to feed those who need nutrition. I have told of my problems as a Small Claims Court judge dealing with mentally ill litigants. We have joked and cried together.
Monday morning is something we all look forward to each week. Christ told us to gather and worship in community. This is a different and yet wonderful way in a time in which we could not gather in person. Zoom has helped bring us together!
It is my hope that this marvellous exercise will continue. Please pray for us as deacons reach across the border.