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Diaconal Meditations


The seven meditations below offer reflections on the description of deacons as found in the ordination service. As I composed these meditations, I recognize the profound calling placed upon me—a calling that I cannot fulfill through my own strength, a calling to which I haven't always fully adhered. In truth, I observe elements of the diaconal vocation being realized in my own life, both in its beauty and brokenness. I am undeniably a wounded healer, and these meditations serve as a personal aspiration, urging me to more authentically and completely embody this calling in my life.- Rev’d Jon Swales


'You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength,

but only by the grace and power of God.

Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged

and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.'


——————


Twelve years ago, fresh out of the vicar factory, I was ordained.


There was no audible divine voice, no fireworks in the heavenly sky, but something happened; I became and remain a deacon.



While some talk of ontological change, I prefer to say, blending 'speech act theory,' pneumatology, and church tradition, that I changed in my identity and purpose as I entered into and embraced the holy and humbling vocation of a deacon.


Liturgy & symbolic action in a sacred space—a church service and a public performance embracing the mythic story and history of the Anglican tradition—was infused by the Spirit of God. The result: I, a County Durham pit village lad, beautiful but broken, a wounded healer, former high school teacher, crossed a line, obedient to a sense of calling, and placed myself, my family, and my future within the vocation of being a servant of the church.


There are countless callings and vocations through which one can serve Jesus—be it as a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a retiree, an unemployed individual, a caregiver, or someone who requires care. However, for me, the path that felt most compelling was to weave my life, heart, talents, scars, setbacks, joys, and sorrows into the tapestry of the Anglican church.


The Bishop, drawing on the liturgical resources of the Book of Common Worship, described the task of the deacons as follows,


Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and the priests with whom they serve as heralds of Christ’s kingdom. They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love. They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.


Deacons share in the pastoral ministry of the Church and in leading God’s people in worship. They preach the word and bring the needs of the world before the Church in intercession. They accompany those searching for faith and bring them to baptism. They assist in administering the sacraments; they distribute communion and minister to the sick and housebound.


Deacons are to seek nourishment from the Scriptures; they are to study them with God’s people, that the whole Church may be equipped to live out the gospel in the world. They are to be faithful in prayer, expectant and watchful for the signs of God’s presence, as he reveals his kingdom among us.‘-Common Worship Ordination Services


Meditation One: ‘Herald of Christ’s Kingdom

Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and the priests with whom they serve as heralds of Christ’s kingdom.‘- Ordination of Deacons


Twelve years later, I can reflect on these words, 'herald of Christ’s kingdom,' and how it has to a greater or lesser extent revealed itself in my ministry.


The kingdom of Christ, the government of God, the alternative divine empire, is that which all followers of Jesus participate in and are called to enact.


It finds its root, foundation, and telos in the life and work of the Messiah Jesus. Jesus began his public ministry by announcing, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand.’ He proceeded to exemplify this Kingdom by extending a warm embrace to the marginalized, offering solace to the afflicted, confronting injustice, actively pursuing peace, proclaiming forgiveness, and ultimately laying down his life as an act of self giving sacrificial love.

The kingdom, long hoped for by the saints of old, represented the values and vision of heaven and anticipated the day when all tears would be wiped away.


In ordination, I committed myself as a servant to this kingdom, and my ministry is successful only to the extent that it aligns with the compassionate kingdom of King Jesus.


The vocation of a deacon encompasses a multifaceted commitment. It encompasses a wholehearted embrace of the Kingdom's values, entailing active participation in its unfolding narrative and vision. Simultaneously, it carries the weighty responsibility of proclaiming and heralding the profound message of Jesus and the Kingdom He inaugurated. This dual calling necessitates both living out the principles of the Kingdom through compassionate service and vocally articulating the transformative good news that Jesus brings to the world.


In my last twelve years of ministry, this diaconal vocation has drawn me to speak of Christ to many people from many walks of life.


I have pronounced the name of Jesus and shared His life and work in church services attended by hundreds, but also in intimate encounters with vulnerable individuals who cannot participate in conventional social gatherings.


The emissary of King Jesus can often be found kneeling at a curbside, extending compassion to those desperate for solace, or delivering a message of hope to weary souls behind prison walls. This humble servant whispers the name of Jesus to those submerged in deep trauma, their wrists bearing the scars of profound emotional anguish. It is also spoken reverently at the graveside of those who have tragically taken their own lives.


In the act of proclaiming Jesus and His compassionate Kingdom, I've witnessed a power at work that surpasses my mere words and transcends my human limitations. This extraordinary power, emanating from the very heart of God, has given rise to countless moments of palpable divine love and grace, stirring within the listener an awakening to the King and His Kingdom.


There exists a wondrous potency when we speak of Jesus, where divine love interlaces seamlessly with mercy, and both the herald and the recipient are enveloped in the experience.


The historical Jesus, who heralded the advent of the Kingdom, remains the living Christ, beckoning us anew to enter into His presence. He is the good shepherd, whose voice resonates with His sheep, and His kindness embraces both the servant and the served.


Father of Creation,

God of Compassion,

Your Son proclaimed, embraced, and enacted a compassionate Kingdom.

You have called us as deacons to herald this Kingdom.

By your Spirit, equip us afresh for this sacred calling,

That we would take every opportunity to speak of Christ and his love.

Amen


Meditation Two- Agents of Love


‘Deacons are called to work with the Bishop and the priests with whom they serve as heralds of Christ’s kingdom. They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love. ‘- Ordination of Deacons


The Bishop continued to describe the role and mission of deacons, saying, 'They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love.'


The diaconal vocation is the proclamation of the 'gospel.' This word, rooted in the scriptures of old, has to do with a public announcement, a public proclamation that has less to do with private opinion and more to do with a news item of great significance.


In the words of Isaiah the prophet, the good news is that YHWH, the Creator God worthy of all worship, is returning to his people to save, bring shalom, and reign and rule.


'How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news (LXX euangelion), who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings (euangellion), who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'''


In the Roman world, some saw the Roman Empire and the emperor as good news (euangellion) for the world.


But in contrast to this, the early church proclaimed that the gospel is intimately bound up with the penniless preacher from Nazareth, who, although crucified, is now raised to life and is none other than the world's true Lord and King. To bring in Isaiah we may say that the gospel is the proclamation that YHWH has returned to Zion in human form, that peace and salvation are found in and through the one who was crucified and raised to life.


In contrast to the Roman imperial narrative - PAX Romana with a focus on Caesar - the early church lived and enacted a better story, centred on Jesus, in which sin, death, and Satan are defeated by the world's true King, Jesus, who will bring about the reconciliation of the cosmos.


My diaconal calling is rooted in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus, offering a compelling gospel narrative that stands as an alternative to the prevailing forces of dominance – a narrative shaped by the example of Jesus himself, one that provides an antidote to the excesses of unchecked capitalism, consumerism, and individualism.


Echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation.'


This proclamation by deacons is not confined to mere words; it is a holistic endeavor that involves both verbal expression through preaching and dialogue, as well as living a life that authentically embodies the message. The deacon is not merely a vocal proclaimer but strives to lead a life that reflects and amplifies the message.


This proclamation of the gospel in both word and deed is undertaken as agents and emissaries of God's redemptive love. In a world overshadowed by darkness and influenced by chaotic forces, the insurgency of the Kingdom has begun. As agents of the Kingdom, we endeavor to shine as beacons of light, reenacting the vision and values of our commander-in-chief, Jesus.


This holy revolution is characterized by non-violence and an abundance of selfless, sacrificial love. Expanding the Kingdom, the Father's reign and rule, is inextricably linked to the spread of love, making the tender embrace of Jesus tangible.


In my own ministry at Lighthouse, we have discovered the profound truth that 'in the presence of love, there is always change.' We've witnessed that as we both offer and receive love, miracles of transformation unfailingly occur.


Human beings are inherently wired for love; from the moment of our birth, we yearn for love and connection. In the presence of genuine love, we rediscover our true humanity and fulfill our intended purpose.


The miracle of love sometimes manifests as swift, dramatic transformations, but more often, it is a gradual metamorphosis. Vulnerable adults, made in the image of God, are lovingly molded over time, by a blend of divine and human love, into something more beautiful and whole.


I have come to realize that the role of a deacon involves opening oneself to divine love, allowing it to fill us and flow through us—a love that finds expression in both words and actions.


Father of Creation,

God on a Mission,

You have called us as deacons to proclaim the gospel

as emissaries of love.

By your Spirit, empower us in word and deed

to perform and participate in this miracle of love.

Amen.


Meditation Three: Needs and Hopes


‘They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people.'- Ordination of Deacons


Deacons, the servants and agents of love, are called to live within communities: a community of faith (a church) and a local community. They are tasked with serving this local Church and should be contextual missional realists who can bring the needs and hopes of all people to the covenant community.

Deacons help connect the dots so that the covenant community does not remain distant or aloof from the context in which the church is situated.


When the local community bears the weight of sorrow, it is the deacon's solemn duty to shoulder that burden and bring it to the heart of the church, facilitating a response steeped in empathy and actionable compassion. Conversely, when hope resides within the local community, the deacon bears the responsibility of kindling that hope within the church's collective spirit.


To fulfill this multifaceted role, deacons must possess the unique gift of both active listening to the community's voices and the adeptness to disrupt the complacency of the local church by conveying the raw realities of the external world. In this capacity, the deacon may assume the mantle of a prophet, fearlessly challenging preconceived notions with fresh perspectives rooted in the contemporary world. This prophetic role prevents the local church from retreating into the realm of spiritual abstraction, detached from the pressing concerns of its immediate context.


Deacons are entrusted with the task of cultural exegesis, delving deep into the nuances of the prevailing culture to discern where the oppressive forces of domination inflict pain and suffering. In this endeavor, they must tread with utmost sensitivity, ensuring they do not overlook the cries and tears of those within their own community who are currently enduring hardship.


While engaged in the profound work of cultural exegesis, exploring the ideologies and worldviews that shape the hopes and needs of our time, deacons must be vigilant not to inadvertently disregard the suffering individuals in their midst. Their busyness should never lead them to walk past those who are presently in the throes of suffering and despair.


The deacon lives in two worlds or we may say three. The church, the world and the kingdom, and the life of the deacon work in the interplay of these realms as an outworking of allegiance to Jesus.


If deacons are to fulfill these vital roles within the church, it is imperative that churches empower and equip them accordingly. Churches must be willing to commission deacons to venture into the community, lending a compassionate ear to its voices and discerning its pressing needs. Equally crucial, churches must cultivate a receptive environment where the deacon's insights and findings are not just heard but also heeded.


Father of Creation,

God of Hope,

You have called us as deacons to

listen to the needs of the community

and share this with your church.

By your Spirit, grant us hearts to love,

ears to listen, and a prophetic voice to speak.


Amen.

Meditation Four: Love of God made Visible


They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.’- Ordination of Deacons


The deacon, as a dedicated agent of the Kingdom, bears the holy and humbling responsibility of embodying the love and likeness of Jesus by extending a compassionate hand to the vulnerable, downtrodden, and oppressed within their communities.


Crafting a mission action plan rooted in this vision commences with two fundamental questions: 'Who among us is the most vulnerable in our community?' and 'In what ways can we wholeheartedly respond with love?' This missional stance redirects our focus to those who are often overlooked and pushed to the margins, elevating them to the forefront of the church's mission.


A well-defined job description for a deacon should grant the necessary time and space for these transformative encounters.


The diaconal calling can be likened to that of a rescue ship, venturing away from the safety of the harbor to seek, love, and serve those battered and bruised by the storms of life, those who are close to being dashed against the rocks. The deacon, accompanied by their missional allies, willingly steps beyond the confines of comfort; this is not risk avoidance but prudent risk management. This courageous movement towards the margins is an embodiment of the heart of Christ, who time and time again tirelessly sought out the broken and the wounded.


In our communities, it is perhaps the isolated elderly, the drug addict, the mentally ill, who are embraced in the deacon's missional calling.


In these overlooked corners, whether it's the scruffy bed sits, the rough pub, the care home, or the prison cell, the love of God becomes tangible through food parcels, hugs, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, support with utility bills, a warm meal, and conversations about the kindness of King Jesus.


Father of Creation,

God of the Weak and Powerless,

You have called us as deacons to

seek out the hungry and hurting,

the oppressed and lonely.

By your Spirit, give us courage and compassion,

to leave the comfort of the harbor to reach those in the storms,

that the love of God may be revealed.

Amen.


Meditation Five: Intercession



Deacon’s share in the pastoral ministry of the Church and in leading God’s people in worship. They preach the word and bring the needs of the world before the Church in intercession.’- Ordination of Deacons


The missional outward-focused task of the deacon, to be an agent of love in the community with those who are forgotten, is only part of the diaconal vocation. Although spending time outside of the church, the deacon is also called to the church to take a servant leadership role within the covenant community in pastoral ministry.


God calls people to all walks and fields of life; every moment for every person can be holy, everything is spiritual, and work can be worship. Yet the deacon has a peculiar call to serve the people of God in private—that is, with the tender compassion of pastoral ministry—and also in its public worship through leading worship, preaching and intercessions.


All members of the covenant community can worship, whether young or old, a new believer or a lifelong follower, but this does not mean that church services are a free-for-all. In contrast, church worship, with passion and enthusiasm, is to be both ordered and structured. This order and structure are found through liturgy and Spirit-filled leadership.


The deacon serves through preaching and intercession; she acts as a bridge in corporate settings between the people and the divine by speaking forth the Word of the Lord in the public reading of Scripture and lifting up the needs of the people in intercession.


Intercession brings the needs of the world into focus, so it is important (as mentioned earlier in a previous meditation) that deacons listen for the needs of the world. This intercession role, which involves both listening and speaking, is contextual and changes through time, as the needs of the world differ from generation to generation. Perhaps, at this moment in history as we face ongoing climate breakdown, the deacon should regularly heed Pope Francis' call to ‘listen to the cry of the earth’ and then, in intercession, bring that cry both before the people and before God.


This intercession role, therefore, also has a teaching function, as it instructs the people in how to pray and raises awareness about the needs of the world. The deacon, therefore, is to be a realist who takes the suffering of the world with utter seriousness.


Father of Creation,

To you be praise, honor, and glory.

You have called us as deacons to lead the flock in worship,

to preach the word, and to pray before you.

By Your Spirit,

Help us to exegete and meditate upon your word and the world,

That our worship may reflect your wonder and

the context in which we find ourselves in.

Amen.



Meditation Six: Journey to Baptism


They accompany those searching for faith and bring them to baptism. They assist in administering the sacraments; they distribute communion and minister to the sick and housebound.- Ordination of Deacons



Deacons proclaim the gospel inside and outside the church, but they are also called to journey with those searching for faith and bring them to baptism.


The seekers may not know what they are looking for, but the deacon understands that all souls are restless until they find their rest in Him. The spiritually hungry may attempt to find sustenance in different faiths and philosophies, but the orthodox deacon recognizes that this hunger finds fulfillment in Jesus, who is the bread of life.


Others are searching and know what they are looking for – a higher power, freedom from guilt and

shame, a new identity, or a spiritual experience. The deacon journieswith these seekers, answering questions and sharing about Jesus so that the lost become found and experience the peace, joy, hope, and forgiveness found in the Kingdom of Christ. The deacon rejoices with the angels when others come to faith and return from the far country, and they will guide these individuals, perhaps even families, through the waters of baptism and into visible inclusion in the corporate family of faith.


In addition to the sacrament of baptism, the rite of entry into the Christian faith, the deacon also assists with the sacrament of the Eucharist, the covenantal family meal.


I lack the words to fully describe the theological significance of the Eucharist, but I confess that in this meal lies a holy mystery in which participants commune with Christ in a way distinct from other aspects of Christian worship. The deacon serves this Eucharistic mystery by distributing communion.


The deacon is called to visit the sick and housebound, displaying a preferential option for the marginalized, both in terms of missional activities and pastoral care.


Father of Creation,

God of the Gospel,

You have called us as deacons to journey

alongside the seeker and bring them to baptism.

By your Spirit, enable us to be humble guides,

confident in the goodness of your Son

and the way of his kingdom.

Amen.

Meditation Seven- Watchmen of the Kingdom


‘Deacons are to seek nourishment from the Scriptures; they are to study them with God’s people, that the whole Church may be equipped to live out the gospel in the world. They are to be faithful in prayer, expectant and watchful for the signs of God’s presence, as he reveals his kingdom among us’- Ordination of Deacons



Deacons are called to grow, to be formed and shaped through space and time into the image and likeness of Jesus. They are not called to be static, but to grow and flourish in kingdom character. They are not called to experience burnout or compassion fatigue, but to life long ministry displaying the gifts and fruits of the kingdom.


Deacons commit themselves to meditating on and studying God's holy word, not only for their own nourishment but also with others. There is no Lone Ranger in the kingdom of God, and the deacon is committed to seeing others grow; in fact, we grow together.


The deacon recognizes that they alone are not the missional beachhead for the kingdom; rather, the whole church is the bearer of the good news in the world. The deacon is to equip the saints for works of service—the servant serves the ekklesia so that the ekklesia may serve the wider community.


The deacon is a realist. They understand the pain of the world. But the deacon is also a hope-filled realist who anticipates that the living God is at work in the world. There is no darkness so dark that the love of Christ cannot shine.

The deacon, like a watchman, looks for signs of the coming kingdom breaking into the present, she is sensitive to the move of the Spirit both within the confines of the ekklesia and out in the community.

Father of Creation,

The God who speaks,

You have called us as deacons

to equip the saints for works of service.

By your Spirit,

may we be those who advance on our knees,

study your word,

and discern the presence of your compassionate kingdom.

Amen.


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