If there weren’t the ministry of Deacon in the Church, we’d have to invent it to stay Church!

Today, as every day, I refilled the humidifiers for the organ so that the leather does not dry out and make the organ more difficult to play because the notes get ‘stuck’ with dry leather flaps. After having bought some ‘T’ lights, I replaced the votive candles that had been used the previous day. On Monday I took out the garbage that was left over from our Spring Sale. I repaired the sliding kitchen door which had been broken at the Sale and in the weeks before had built and installed (with help from a member) a new and better notice board for the Church. I replaced the broken light-bulbs, mended and polished the brass for Easter. You might say, as I sometimes do, ‘As a priest he makes a good ‘handy man’.

Is there anything to be said about this apart form the fact that we can’t afford to employ a carpenter?

Well first of all, apart from the domestic chores, I love fiddling. I don’t have a shed in Montreux, so I like taking the opportunities that present themselves to save us money by using the other skills that I have (like making and fixing things) for the Church.

I also feel that because we do not have a lot of money, anything that I can do to save us money is a good contribution of time and talents that I can make apart from giving money.

But there is another, more religious thought that makes me want to take out the garbage and keep the organ going. It is because I am a deacon as well as a priest.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles said ‘It is not right for us to be taken away from preaching the Word of God to wait on tables.’
So they appointed the seven deacons (Stephen among them) to attend to the physical needs of the Church as it was growing and a large number of widows was enrolled on the Church’s ‘social service’ register.    

Now every priest who is ordained is also made a deacon. I spent a year as a deacon before I was ordained priest. Mostly, it is my ‘priest self’ that is uppermost in my consciousness, but lately I have been thinking that the role of a deacon is also one to which I have been ordained. This is a role of service. To be a servant, for me, is to be able to make some possibilities open up for others, which might not otherwise be open. If I didn’t ‘water the organ’ who would? Would we have an organ that worked worse because I, after my prayers, did not take five minutes to refill the humidifiers? Would we have had to pay several hundred franks to have the kitchen sliding doors repaired if I did not have a ‘fiddle’ and fix them? Would our kitchen area look worse if I did not take time to take out the garbage when I saw it piling up? All of these activities which do not appear to be ‘priestly’ in fact are not. They are diaconal.

Sometimes I do ask ‘Would you rather I spent time doing more priestly things for the money I get than these? But then, on reflection, if I like doing the ‘fiddling’ and it saves us money, and I do not neglect the priestly duties, then to be in my ‘deacon self’ is a good thing. It is part of my vocation.

I saw another thing that reminded me of diaconal service this week too. There is a friend of mine who does not come to Church on a regular basis. He says ‘I find myself all at sea with what is going on.’ Nevertheless this friend put in two days’ worth of work for our sale, and is brilliant at promoting our congregation, and gathering in helpers from the fringe who might join us.

The other day he said ‘You know, there is a person who loves the Jazz Mass. I think you should have one of these on a more regular basis. I think it would help to bring more people to your congregation, because it feels less ‘stuffy’.

I thought ‘Hummmm. To do this would mean that we will have to negotiate our way through the Chaplaincy Council and other forms of decision making. But what is true is that this person is giving me genuine feedback from the fringes of our life. I spend most of my time thinking about the things of the ‘temple’. I plan Eucharist, and preaching and think about ways to build up our community life, deepen our faith, and look for opportunities for mission. But this comment started me thinking about the role that deacons played in the early Church. Here is the picture. At the Eucharist, the deacon reads the Gospel and preaches. The deacon leads the intercession. The deacon lays the table for the Eucharist and clears away and washes the vessels. As the priest stands at the centre of the altar and prays the great prayer of thanksgiving, the
deacon stands beside him or her
saying “Do you know that ‘this and this’ is going on in our world? Do  you know that ‘this’ is happening at the fringes of your life?”

The brilliance of the image is that the Church is not just a club which is
concerned with its own affairs, but an organisation whose central image, like that of the Trinity, is the unity of centre and fringes. Where the priest and deacon, centre and fringes stand side by side, joined by the one Spirit. This is something that we have lost by
losing the distinctiveness of the
diaconate and not having them actively every Sunday as part of the Eucharist.

But if I had my way, I would ordain my friend deacon, and have him stand beside me every Sunday, because it is he who is playing the genuinely
diaconal role in our congregation.

We do have communion ministers and intercessors, and these people also play a diaconal role. not because of what they do in the Eucharist so much as because hey are people who have to manage being Christians as well as family people, workers, people ‘in the world’.

So there you go. A reflection on an aspect of Church life which is deeply rooted in the tradition. I am glad to have the ‘idea’ of a deacon because it makes sense of emptying the garbage and ‘fiddling’ to save us money and it makes sense of the role played by my friend which sometimes makes me uncomfortable, but which through the idea of a deacon, I can value. I can look for ways of furthering this contribution to our life.


About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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