Greetings from the Episcopal Dioceses of Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania!
First, I want to express that it has been my honor and my absolute delight to meet weekly for almost two years now with deacons from the Niagara diocese and the partnership dioceses in the States. The bonds of friendship that have developed around our shared ministries during a difficult time are nothing short of precious. Out of the darkness came light!
Let me talk about my role as archdeacon and what the deacons are doing in this time of transition within the church, from pandemic to post-pandemic times, from times of social injustice ignorance to times of being “woken up”, from times of full-time rectors in each parish to part-time working priests. As the church has changed, so has the role of the deacon. We are slowly evolving and finding our place within this new landscape. I find that my job is to listen, encourage, listen, walk alongside, listen, convene, listen … you get the idea.
With so many Episcopal churches functioning without a priest, the role of the deacon has become more complicated. We have always been called on to lead worship and administer the Eucharist from pre-consecrated elements when a priest is not available. Most of the time, it is within our own parish; however, in more recent times, we have been asked to lead worship occasionally in other congregations.
With many smaller congregations feeling isolated, the deacon is becoming a significant part of a process to bring groups of people together through ministry work in the wider community and opportunities for study. We are no longer just visible in one parish, and some deacons are taking on the role of “deanery deacon”, ministering to a group of churches. My role is becoming one of helping deacons discern and grow into their new callings. We empower the laity to be leaders of studies and prayer services, as we ourselves lead and teach.
We have deacons assisting in the organization of the collection and support for the Afghan Evacuee Resettlement project, writing grants that aid refugees in resettlement, socialization, and acclimation in the Buffalo area.
Some Deacons are passionate about creation care. They are working on a diocesan committee, looking into ways to bring alternative liturgies and forms of spirituality that focus on our connection with nature, in new ways. They also sign petitions, preach, and march.
The very complicated issues surrounding racism and white elitism are also involving deacons in the dioceses. I am personally on a commission that has been working to find ways to encourage all parishes to enter into the tough conversations that will lead us to a place of reconciliation with people of color.
Pastoral care brings its own challenges as more churches are without priests and populations are aging. The deacons have stepped up to assist other congregations with visitations to their parishioners, bringing God’s love, communion, and a smile. Some lead worship monthly or weekly in facilities and are waiting for the pandemic restrictions to end so they can begin again. Prison ministry is poised also. A new “parish nurse” ministry among nine churches has begun, and deacons are involved as spiritual support for aspirants in the ordination process.
I am so proud of all the work the deacons are doing, but especially how they embody God’s incarnate love and represent the church in the community by walking the Way of Love, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would say.