Last Sunday (26th June) I was ordained as an Anglican Minister. Technically, I am now a Deacon. Next year, God willing, I’ll be ordained again but as a priest/presbyter.
For the last few years, whilst I was training, I had already been part of the staff team of a number of parishes in South Wales. I took services, engaged in mission and evangelism, carried out pastoral visits and prepared candidates for baptism, as well as organising and assisting in baptisms, weddings and funerals.
This morning, I had the first supervision session with my Training Incumbent (the vicar who mentors me for the next few years) as a Curate.
“So, what’s changed?” was his question. On one level, nothing. I’m still the same Dean who has been working in the parishes for the last two years. I’m still human, I still have my strengths and weaknesses.
But on another level, there have been subtle changes. Firstly, I’ve only been a Deacon for five minutes but I have become, this week, more aware of the ministry of presence. Even though I’ve been very present in my village community and in the other parishes, the wearing of a dog collar does make things different. It has opened up renewed conversations with those I have formed friendships and acquaintances with, but also introduced me to many new people, even in this very short space of time. I can only speak from this limited experience, but I’ve noticed that people are beginning to share with me a lot more about their feelings and concerns. I have a feeling that this is a form of washing feet.
Secondly, a close friend of mine asked me what the deal was with wearing the stole over my shoulder like a sash. I explained that it symbolises a towel, for when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. They then asked whether I would use my stole to wash someone’s feet. “It’s too expensive for that!” I exclaimed, suggesting that I would use an actual towel instead. “But what if that was the only thing you had?” came the reply. I said that if nothing else were available, then I would use my stole. This seems like a silly conversation, but within it lies an important call of the Deacon – to serve and not count the cost. My ministry this week has been one of conversation but also one of furniture moving. This is no bad thing.
Thirdly and finally, the importance of being on hand to teach. Before my supervision meeting, I decided to go to the midweek Eucharist in one of the parishes. I was asked to take part in the service. Before the vestry prayer, I was asked whether I could preach “off the top of my head”. I didn’t like the idea of that – especially as I hadn’t seen the lectionary readings for the day! But, the service started, we prayed and heard the readings, I read the Gospel, and at that point, God had given me the words to say, so I preached… off the top of my head, on Hosea. I mentioned that Hosea was called to marry a prostitute, in order that Hosea may experience a glimpse of God’s heart for the people who had turned away from him. We too grieve God’s heart and yet God remains faithful. It is part of our call to be grieved because of the world’s fallenness but to remain faithful and committed to the proclamation of the Gospel as the truth which can save and redeem.
One of the distinctive roles of the Deacon is to teach and preach! I’m not suggesting that deacons take every single opportunity to preach off the top of our heads, but that rather we are always ready to give an account of the hope that we have. On this occasion, in the context of a liturgical service, it seemed fitting. Rather than preaching for the sake of it, I suppose what I think God is saying is to trust that the Spirit will give the words we need, whether that be in a sermon or in everyday conversation, or prayer. Indeed, it is only by the power of the Spirit that we are able to do these things anyway.
This weekend I will be taking services but it will be a highlight to go to the Cathedral once more for a celebration of the ministry of all God’s people, where thanks will be given to those who serve Jesus and His Church in so many different ways. It will also be good to see the licensing of some Lay Ministers, one of whom will be serving in our parishes.