Episcopal Diocese of Washington

To draw people to Jesus and embody his love
for the world by equipping faith communities,
promoting spiritual growth, and striving for justice

News & Features

Diaconal Ministry: Welcoming the Stranger

October 14, 2021

Photo from St. John's, Norwood Facebook page announcing coat drive for ADAMS Center

“…I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Matthew 25:35

Refugee resettlement has long been a priority of The Episcopal Church. Many in our diocese have engaged actively in this ministry. Anticipating what the massive evacuation of refugees precipitated by the withdrawal of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in August might require, Bishop Mariann called on the Diocese’s deacons -- charged in The Episcopal Church with “a special ministry of servanthood to serve all people, especially those in need” -- to lead us in taking on this new challenge. Through the new diocesan Afghan Refugee Response Team, our Deacons are responding to fulfill this call. They are working to make “Welcoming the Stranger” a shared, sustainable ministry throughout the Diocese, not only to meet the current emergency needs of Afghans, but also to welcome the many refugees from all over the world who will come to our communities in the future. 

Meeting weekly with experienced lay leaders, the team, co-chaired by Deacon Anne Derse of St. John’s Norwood, is providing information and resources and making connections to assist parishes new to this ministry in getting involved, as well as to support the great initiatives already underway in parishes with established refugee ministries. Deacons Ethan Bishop-Henchman,  Kathryn McMahon and Mary Sebold have established new refugee committees at St. Paul’s K Street, Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, and St. Dunstan’s in Cabin John.  Deacon Terri Murphy at Ascension Silver Spring, with deacon students Adela Vasquez and Melissa Sites, is collaborating with Deacons Sara Thorne, and Adrienne Clamp at Christ Church Kensington and Redeemer, Bethesda to set up homes for newly arrived Afghan families. With support from Deacons Eugene Wright, David Griswold, and Harvey Bale at St. Anne’s Damascus, St. Columba’s, and St. David’s they are also helping the All Dulles Area Muslim Society ADAMS Center collect at least 13,000 coats this month for refugees on military bases. 

At St. John’s Olney, Deacon Janice Hicks and deacon student Nancy Stockbridge are leading the parish in equipping apartments and preparing to mentor new refugees. Our active community of deacons in Southern Maryland, Marty Eldredge, Joan Crittenden, and Steve Seely have united their parishes to raise money, purchase gift cards, and assemble welcome kits for new homes. And the congregation of St. John’s Norwood, supported by Deacon Anne Derse, has just begun supporting a newly arrived Afghan family, and agreed to sponsor two more Afghan refugees for entry to the U.S. Deacons are also working on advocacy for immigration reform, connections with Muslim and Afghan communities, and collaboration with non-profits and community groups supporting refugees. 

The support of faith communities makes a crucial difference in our new neighbors’ successful resettlement in the United States. Working collaboratively, our Deacons are empowering us to ensure the compassionate welcome to the stranger that Jesus calls us to offer.

The Rev. Ethan Bishop-Henchman
Deacon,  St. Paul's, K Street

The Rev. Anne Derse
Deacon, St. John's Norwood

Category: News

Deacons Welcoming Home Their Neighbor

October 14, 2021

The Episcopal Diocese has recently reestablished its Prison Ministry Task Force. The Task Force’s mission is to follow the Great Commission of Christ to respect the dignity of all persons. “Welcome Home Neighbor” is one way that deacons in the diocese are connecting with and supporting returning citizens -- and contributing to the mission of the Task Force.

As part of their work to proclaim the good news and freedom for prisoners, deacons have partnered with the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA) and the “Welcome Home Neighbor” ministry. MORCA is the first legislatively mandated office in the country specifically serving formerly incarcerated individuals, working to remove barriers to reentry, and empowering residents to connect to services for employment, health, education, housing assistance, and family needs. 

Deacon Julie Petersmeyer established the partnership with the MORCA Director Lamont Carey and has sought out deacons throughout the diocese to create partnerships between parishes and MORCA to serve the reentry needs of returning citizens. The Rev. Ricardo Sheppard, Rector of Episcopal Church of the Atonement, and Deacon Antonio J. Baxter have formed a relationship with MORCA and routinely receive referrals from MORCA to provide care packages and a caring relationship to returning citizens. Deacon Baxter has provided about twenty care packages so far to returning citizens which include items such as toiletries, face masks, hand sanitizer, SMARTRIP Transit Cards, gift cards for food, and key rings to aid in welcoming returning citizens with compassion. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this outreach is the opportunity for returning citizens to interact with people who are interested in their story and willing to be partners in their transformation.

In seeking to build a multi-layered approach to restoring human dignity, the Prison Ministry Task Force serves as a resource to educate parishes on the urgent criminal justice issues that impact all of us and includes restoring relationships between and among the individuals in the justice system and the wider community. With the involvement of dedicated and motivated deacons, the Task Force will continue pursuing strategies to motivate increased participation in preventive and reentry programs and seeking to engage and transform the carceral and justice systems. 

The Rev. Antonio Baxter
Deacon, Church of the Atonement, DC

Interested in knowing more about the Prison Ministry Task Force? Contact Hazel Monae, Missioner for Equity and Justice

Category: News

Is God Calling Me?

October 14, 2021

“A call from God has the power of conviction that is not our work alone but is something intended and empowered by God.” Author Ben Campbell Johnson makes this statement in his book, Hearing God’s Call. He asks this question in the third paragraph of the book, “How do I know the call comes from God and not my own unconscious longings or fears or even cultural influences on my perceptions and decision-making?”

Clergy and Laity of the diocese met for a Diaconal Discernment Retreat on Friday, October 1 to follow the Spirit and help six Diaconal Nominees answer that question. St. Paul’s, Rock Creek hosted the people discerning a call to Holy Orders. Worship, prayers, interviews, and social time consumed the day as the Nominees for Diaconal Postulancy had time to reflect and share in these areas:

  • Spirituality, Prayer Life, and Spiritual Disciplines
  • Academic and Psychological Readiness
  • Diakonia and Servant Ministry
  • Support Systems and Collegiality

Discernment is defined as perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding. Spiritual guidance and understanding were the objectives of the day for both those discerning a call to ordained ministry as well as those who were present to help the Nominees on this journey.  

By the time Nominees are invited to attend the Diaconal Discernment Retreat, they have completed six months of discernment with a Local Discernment Committee comprised of laity from their sponsoring parishes. Those Nominees that are discerned for the diaconate are made Postulants by the Bishop. The next step in their journey is to begin academic training in the areas of Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Ethics, and Systematic Theology. These seminary courses are offered in English by the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and in Spanish by our Latino Deacons School. The classes in both settings may be completed in one calendar year. 

After their academic training,  Postulants attend the Diocesan Deacons School for 18 months. Throughout this time there are periodic interviews and evaluations by the Commission on Ministry (COM) and the Standing Committee, along with two internships, one in a social service agency and one in a parish with a Deacon. 

It is a long journey of discernment and formation, two essential elements for anyone who may be called to ordained diaconal ministry. Yet the most important aspect of discernment is keeping one’s ears, eyes, and heart inclined to God and the Holy Spirit. 

The Nominees moving to Postulancy in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington ask for your prayers as they walk this way of following God to a new dimension of their faith and servanthood to the kingdom.

The Rev. Steve Seely
Deacon, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Waldorf, MD

Category: News

A Recipe for Deacons

October 14, 2021

Just how does one make a deacon? Like any recipe, it takes a drop of this and a dash of that, from academics to service internships to parochial internships. For the deacon, the emphasis is on service.

The deacon in formation must successfully fulfill two nine-month internships before ordination, one in a social service agency and the other in a parish. Why would we have them do all that? 

Let’s take a look: The social service internship serves a couple of purposes. One, it creates a network of connections among deacons and service agencies so that we know where the resources of a community lie and how they work. And two, because the social service internships must be in a line of work in which the Deacons School students have no previous experience and where they have no friends, the internship stretches students to establish themselves with new people and helps them to develop new skills. The agencies are vetted by the Supervisor of Internships before any placements occur making sure that the ministry would be valuable to our students and that they will be supervised by a member of the social service agency’s staff.

The second internship occurs in a parish setting where a deacon is deployed. Under their supervising deacons, the student sets goals for the internship, learns the rubrics of the altar and how deacon and priest work together. Parish internships include learning the ministry of the deacon both in the church and in the world. Through regular supervision with both deacon and rector, the student learns the proper roles and responsibilities each order carries. The result is a student who knows the value of collaborative ministry and can carry these skills into ordained life. 

In both internships the student is evaluated at the halfway mark and then once they have completed their service. These evaluations seek information about how the student interacted with the community, whether or not they were helpful and responsive, and if they were valuable to the agency or parish. Students also provide two written verbatims, one from each internship, as part of their course work for the Deacons School. These verbatims are presented to their cohort for discussion and serve as another learning opportunity.  

So, these are two crucial ingredients in the making of a deacon!

The Rev. Terri M. Murphy
Supervisor of Internships
Deacon, Episcopal Church of the Ascension
Silver Spring, MD

Category: News

We've Come a Long Way: Deacons in the Diocese of Washington

October 14, 2021

When I arrived in the summer of 2012, Eric Shoemaker had been serving in Southern Maryland for nine years, the sole deacon deployed in the Episocpal Diocese of Washington. A month later, I attended the first ordination of deacons at Washington National Cathedral. Eric and I had three new colleagues, Ty Jones, Terri Murphy, and Susan Walker. Today, the diocese has 29 deacons serving in 30 congregations, spread throughout all eight regions.

Bishop Mariann called for the Commission on Ministry to explore adopting a more intentional approach to the formation and deployment of deacons in the Diocese of Washington. The group that created the discernment and formation programs for the diaconate researched  the best practices of other dioceses. Two pieces we incorporated into our program that came out of this study are 1) the expectation that those participating in the deacon formation process will complete two internships, one in a social service agency and the other in one of our congregations; and 2) when students do their parish internships, they are supervised by deacons. Going a step further, our group decided that students would undertake their social service placements in areas where they had no prior experience and in parishes very different from their sponsoring parishes, because we wanted these to be situations which would expand their understanding of ministry. At first it was difficult to place everyone in parishes with deacons, as we had so few. Now we have options. 

Two great things have come from these early decisions. First, our community of deacons has both an ever-expanding experience with social service agencies in the diocese and good working relationships with the leadership of these programs. And second, the use of deacons teaching our deacons-to-be is developing strong working relationships between deacons and the congregations they serve. When our students are ordained, they have had nine months of learning in another parish and with another deacon -- deepening relationships, ministry awareness, and collaborative possibilities. 

Our deacons are now in ongoing and lively communication with each other, sharing resources and dreaming of new ways to connect community programs with our congregations and our congregations to the needs and concerns of the world. Two areas currently bringing deacons together in collaborative ministry are the diocesan Afghan Refugee Response Team, gathering and developing responses to meet the needs of Afghan refugees, and the Prison Ministry Task Force, mobilizing efforts to assist with the reentry needs of returning citizens. 

The possibilities for diaconal ministry in the Diocese of Washington are endless -- and it is exciting to imagine what is still to come from deacons and congregations that will further our witness of God's love extended to the world.

The Ven. L. Sue von Rautenkranz
Archdeacon, Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Category: News