In 2005, under the watchful eye of the correctional officer, I was one of three parishioners from St. Columba’s standing in a circle, praying with fourteen men in a general population unit at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. I began the prayer and several men added their prayers and petitions. As the prayer concluded, there was a spontaneous, raucous round of applause, startling me. I could not recall a circumstance in which the response to intercessory prayer was–applause.
Over the course of our ministry, I acquired an experiential understanding of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s familiar quote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” I developed a spiritual awareness of human interconnectedness. My liberation was tied to the male inmate praying next to me or the female inmate sharing her story with me. We are all joined together and in this connection, Jesus is made even more present. Relationships were formed with inmates and I realized that our ministry is not for others, but with and alongside others.
My fellow parishioners and I began our prison ministry moved by our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Our baptismal covenant also called us–and calls us–to strive for justice. My interest in advocacy for criminal justice reform was a natural extension of our parish’s prison ministry and led to my current work with an advocacy group in DC. My passion for justice and advocacy developed into a calling to serve as a deacon where I encourage others to discern their calls to strive for justice.
As Episcopalian Christians, we follow Jesus and his way of love. It is often said that justice is ‘love out loud.’ Jesus crossed boundaries and got close to those on the margins of society–he formed relationships and knew people by name. He spoke truth to power in seeking justice and empowered the disciples to do the same.
In Acts 6:1-5, as the number of disciples increased, there arose an issue regarding the daily “diakonia” of food for widows (“Diakonia” is the Greek word for ‘service or to serve’ and the word from which ‘deacon’ is derived.). Widows of Hellenist Christians were being neglected and discriminated against by Hebrew Christians who oversaw the daily food distribution. One outcome of this justice issue was identifying new leaders–deacons–to the ministry of serving others. Deacons engage in the close work of serving and being in relationship with those in need where injustice is often identified and addressed.
Every single one of us has a role in serving others and striving for justice as we are called by our baptismal covenant. The COVID pandemic has shed a light on systemic racism and economic inequity making it even more clear that all of us, as the body of Christ, are not only called, but needed.
Deacons work to encourage, connect and empower the laity to action in serving and in justice ministries. Serving and working for justice will look different for each person according to one’s gifts and passions.
What we know for certain is that Jesus is calling each of us to serve others and to work for justice–to love out loud–in the community.
Where have you been or will you be Loving Out Loud?
The Rev. Julie Petersmeyer