September 22, 2018, Bishop Mariann ordained twelve deacons in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. I was one of them. The liturgy for ordination can be found in the BCP beginning on page 537. There are many important promises that the twelve of us made to the church that day. I didn’t know it then, but the most impactful words are found on page 543, “…and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.” I remember Bishop Mariann commenting that this was her favorite part of the ordination liturgy.
That should have been a sign to me.
What is it like to be a deacon serving in a congregation? A deacon has liturgical responsibilities. They are important to the deacon’s ministry but a small part of it. Liturgically, the deacon proclaims the Gospel, invites the confession, prepares the altar for the Eucharist and gives the dismissal. Deacons also preach from time to time.
But, the real ministry of the deacon is the living, breathing fulfillment of the ‘other duties as assigned.’ It is, to borrow a cliché, where the rubber meets the road. Let me give you an example.
It was summer of 2019. The number of students in transition (without permanent housing) in Charles County where I serve is between 700 and 800 kids. Churches all over the county were planning their back-to-school supply drives. These churches and the people of the church have great intentions, but the average drive yields an odd assortment of supplies that make only a limited impact.
So, what does the deacon do? Ask the question: what if churches worked together to make a true impact for these students?
I partnered with Deacon Susan Fritz from Christ Church, Durham and St. James, Indian Head, and we devised a plan to collect 4 things: notebooks, pens/pencils, crayons, and glue sticks. The congregations we serve threw their hearts into the drive, and at the beginning of the school year, we were able to deliver nearly 10,000 pieces to the school system to help the students who need it most.
Other duties as assigned: who could have ever predicted?
The deacon is called to get the laity involved in taking on the needs of the world and energizing the church to meet those needs by either bringing those in need into the church or by taking the church out into the world to meet those we can serve where they are.
Our ministries, while sometimes well-defined in our ordination vows, more often fall in Bp. Mariann’s favorite words, “…and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.” It is in these words that I have the very presence of the Holy Spirit as I live into the words and promises of ordination.
These are the words, too, that invite every person in every congregation to live into the love of God and share that love in big and small ways in our communities, with friends and strangers alike.
God is calling all of us to the world to live and share His love. Who knows what will happen when we answer?
The Rev. Steve Seely
Deacon, St. Paul’s, Waldorf