By The Revd Phil Wales
Last Saturday 16 women and men were ordained in the Cathedral and so became deacons in the church. It was a profoundly moving occasion. Once commissioned they were led through the great west doorway into the warm autumnal sunshine to celebrate. By now they will have started living out their vocation to serve both their congregations and others in the wider communities which surround them. In time, many of them will go on to be ordained as priests. Yet all will remain deacons and disciples.
Traditionally a deacon’s ministry is characterized by acts of humble service to those around them. This is in part because one of the most well-known accounts of the origins of the diaconate is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (6.2-6) (though the word ‘deacon’ is not used in the passage). Luke (the author of Acts) describes how, after Jesus’ ascension, the church began to be formed:
The twelve [apostles] called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
But alongside this there’s another dimension to the office of deacon which we see in Phoebe, who is entrusted deliver Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is the deacon as a commissioned agent, someone who is sent by God to deliver an important message. And the message? God’s love for all of us and His invitation to live in relationship with Him. Of all the choices we make throughout our lives which will lead us in many different directions, there may be only two directions that really matter: closer to, or further away, from God. And so deacons look out for those who may sense a desire to respond to God’s call to them – whatever shape that calling may take. What a great adventure!
Our shared calling from God is to live the life God intends for us here on earth, knowing that God loves us just as we are. Each one of us with our own gifts and abilities, and, yes, of course those things which we may consider to be our failings (though God may see them quite differently to us!). In all the twists and turns, the fullness, richness, sorrows, untidiness, and messiness of our lives we may not always experience this life, and God’s love for us, as miraculous; yet miracles they are. And the more we become aware of God at work in our lives, then the more we allow ourselves to become God’s commissioned agents to others.