News & Features
September 17, 2020
In 2005, under the watchful eye of the correctional officer, I was one of three parishioners from St. Columba’s standing in a circle, praying with fourteen men in a general population unit at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. I began the prayer and several men added their prayers and petitions. As the prayer concluded, there was a spontaneous, raucous round of applause, startling me. I could not recall a circumstance in which the response to intercessory prayer was--applause.
Over the course of our ministry, I acquired an experiential understanding of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s familiar quote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” I developed a spiritual awareness of human interconnectedness. My liberation was tied to the male inmate praying next to me or the female inmate sharing her story with me. We are all joined together and in this connection, Jesus is made even more present. Relationships were formed with inmates and I realized that our ministry is not for others, but with and alongside others.
My fellow parishioners and I began our prison ministry moved by our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Our baptismal covenant also called us--and calls us--to strive for justice. My interest in advocacy for criminal justice reform was a natural extension of our parish’s prison ministry and led to my current work with an advocacy group in DC. My passion for justice and advocacy developed into a calling to serve as a deacon where I encourage others to discern their calls to strive for justice.
As Episcopalian Christians, we follow Jesus and his way of love. It is often said that justice is ‘love out loud.’ Jesus crossed boundaries and got close to those on the margins of society--he formed relationships and knew people by name. He spoke truth to power in seeking justice and empowered the disciples to do the same.
In Acts 6:1-5, as the number of disciples increased, there arose an issue regarding the daily “diakonia” of food for widows (“Diakonia” is the Greek word for ‘service or to serve’ and the word from which ‘deacon’ is derived.). Widows of Hellenist Christians were being neglected and discriminated against by Hebrew Christians who oversaw the daily food distribution. One outcome of this justice issue was identifying new leaders--deacons--to the ministry of serving others. Deacons engage in the close work of serving and being in relationship with those in need where injustice is often identified and addressed.
Every single one of us has a role in serving others and striving for justice as we are called by our baptismal covenant. The COVID pandemic has shed a light on systemic racism and economic inequity making it even more clear that all of us, as the body of Christ, are not only called, but needed.
Deacons work to encourage, connect and empower the laity to action in serving and in justice ministries. Serving and working for justice will look different for each person according to one’s gifts and passions.
What we know for certain is that Jesus is calling each of us to serve others and to work for justice--to love out loud--in the community.
Where have you been or will you be Loving Out Loud?
The Rev. Julie Petersmeyer
September 17, 2020
During his time as bishop, The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane paved the way for diaconal ministry in the Diocese of Washington when he granted postulancy to Ty Jones, Susan Walker, and Terri Murphy, the ones who would become the first “home-grown” deacons to be raised up, formed, and ordained in our diocese. In September 2012, we were ordained by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and called into service, but really, our diaconal work began much earlier.
The three of us served as an experiment of sorts, with a mission to establish and grow a diaconal program that would serve the parishes and communities of the diocese. But things were run a bit differently at the start of our formation process. With no deacon school, this was a challenge. All three of us had earned seminary degrees and we worked with the then-Canon for Vocation, Preston Hannibal, on a monthly basis. Our education was rounded out by consulting with clergy from the diocese and Virginia Theological Seminary to explore the realities of parish life, preaching, and polity (the governance structure of our church). We also attended required conferences on community organizing.
When The Venerable Sue von Rautenkranz arrived in the diocese, the heavy lifting of creating a formal deacon school began. A taskforce of priests, deacons and laity was formed under the Commission of Ministry (the COM oversees the discernment and formation of persons in the ordination process). From this, the diaconal discernment process, as well as a vision for the deacon school, began to take shape. In September 2017, we ordained our first cohort of five deacons and in September 2018, the second cohort of twelve followed close behind. We have another nine readying themselves for ordination soon and our fourth cohort of eleven members is in the middle of their deacon school experience.
As the ‘bridge’ order between the church and the needs of the world, deacons serve from the doorway of the church, with one foot inside the church (assisting in liturgy) and one foot outside the church (with eyes always on the needs of the world).
At this writing, there are, in addition to the archdeacon, nineteen active deacons in the diocese serving a total of twenty-two parishes as well as working with a variety of ministries in the world including: immigrant ministries, homeless ministries, food banks, ministries for handicapped persons, educational ministries, elderly ministries, disaster chaplaincy, international peace and justice ministries, interfaith ministries, jail ministries, and ecumenical ministries, to name a few.
Some of the agencies that our deacons and deacons-in-training work with include: Shepherd’s Table, Bethesda Cares, Casa of P.G. County, L’Arche, Kids for Peace, Loaves and Fishes, Samaritan Ministries, Montgomery County Government, FEMA, HHS, Montgomery County Police and Fire, AFEDJ, State Department, Catholic Charities, Sasha Bruce Agency, Asbury Methodist Village, D.C. Jail, Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Melwood and Lutheran Social Services.
It is our hope to keep growing these affiliations over the years as the numbers of our deacons also increase.
The Rev. Terri M. Murphy
Deacon, Church of the Ascension, Sligo Park
September 17, 2020
What do St. Stephen, St. Phoebe, and St. Francis of Assisi have in common? From the title of this article, yes, you’d be right to guess they were all deacons!
Stephen was among the seven original deacons mentioned in Acts 6:1-6. Stephen was the first Christian martyr; he was stoned to death in about 36 AD (Acts 6:8-7:60). Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans in Rome. And St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) epitomized servant ministry – to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world, and inspire and help coordinate the service the Church is to do. Francis served the poor and recruited lay people to help the poor (in his case he recruited them to his monastic order). An image for deacons is the servanthood of Christ who washed the feet of the apostles. The word diakonos appears in Romans 16:1-2 meaning “through the dust,” which indicates the deacon’s role of messenger out in the world. The first deacons served widows, orphans, and the sick in Jerusalem.
Originally, deacons helped the bishop, while presbyters (priests) served outside the city where the bishop could not travel. The idea was that the deacons, as servants, “waited on tables”-- that is, took care of the food parts of the worship service, the Eucharist and the agape meal (a communal meal shared among Christians. In fact, the diagonal stole of a deacon’s vestments represents a towel thrown over the shoulder in readiness for food service).
The first seven deacons were “ordained” -- the apostles laid their hands on them. Today, as with potential priests, potential deacons go through several stages of preparation and formation, including discernment, postulancy, candidacy, taking courses in scripture, theology, and history, attending a diocesan deacons’ school and appearing before the Standing Committee and Committee on Ministry, who attest to their formation and readiness for ordination (The Ordination of a Deacon, The Book of Common Prayer p. 537).
The Episcopal Church reintroduced permanent deacons in 1970. Becoming a deacon no longer meant that a person would go on to the priesthood. Whereas priests absolve, bless, and consecrate the bread and wine, the deacon’s role in liturgy symbolizes their work in the world. We proclaim the gospel (share the good news to the world), bid the confession (invite the church to repent of our wrong-doings), set the table (serve the community gathered), and dismiss the people (send the community out to serve). Deacons also preach from time to time. Rules for deacons appear in the Church Constitution under Title 3: Canons 6 and 7, with the goal of building up the Church “wherever the Church is in transaction with the world.” For more information, see the Association for Episcopal Deacons website.
In the Diocese of Washington, the emphasis for the diaconate is to serve as a bridge between the Church and the world, particularly on issues of justice.
Deacons are deployed by the Bishop to develop collaborative ministries. We are led by Archdeacon Sue von Rautenkranz. Deacons generally sign a three-year letter of agreement. We discern with the parish those broken places in the neighborhood, county and world where we can respond with love in our work together, as we all grow “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
The Rev. Dr. Janice M. Hicks
Deacon, St. John's, Olney
September 17, 2020
Like so many churches, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I serve as deacon, is not large and does not have an unlimited budget--which necessarily means we must have a laser focus on what social outreach we undertake. In the best tradition of “feed my sheep,” we long ago decided to concentrate on food ministries. And to that end, our members are supporters of Shepherd’s Table, a soup kitchen style establishment in downtown Silver Spring, noted for serving 3 meals a day, 365 days per year, for over 20 years. We provide brown bag lunches for a men’s shelter in Rockville, and we serve a meal at Center Global, a Washinton,DC-based organization offering support to LGBTQ asylum seekers from around the world. We contribute to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church’s Food Pantry, which supplies food to families in DC and Silver Spring.
But COVID-19 has changed the food needs of our communities.
Thousands of people in Montgomery County have lost jobs, as quarantines were imposed and institutions shut their doors. We have long had a large minority and immigrant population who provide labor for DC and Montgomery County businesses of all kinds. Many of this population are not eligible for unemployment insurance or any form of assistance such as Food Stamps. Some who are eligible find it difficult to negotiate the application and qualification process. The result is an ever increasing need for food in more and more households.
Donations to area food banks have decreased just as the need suddenly increased.
This summer, therefore, Good Shepherd began a Food Drive ministry. Every two weeks we hold a drive-by food collection in our parking lot. Congregation volunteers, masked and practicing social distancing protocols, meet on Saturday morning to receive the food donations handed through vehicle windows. The food is then packed into cars and taken to Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg.
We will continue this ministry as long as it is needed.
As the food insecurities of Montgomery County rise, we continue to search for more opportunities to help stave off the growing problem of hunger. As a Christian community, we stay tuned into the ever-changing needs of our neighbors and seek ways to adapt how we help. While maintaining our current ministries, we are now looking into supplying food and meals to Shepherd’s Table, who are also feeding a growing population. We try to fulfill our baptismal vows by seeking out the hungry and needy in our community, and finding new ways to fulfill Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep.”
The Rev. Kathryn E. McMahon
Deacon, Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver Spring
August 20, 2020
Young Ailyn of St. Paul's Piney Parish with her piggybank
4 year-old Ailyn, along with her parents and little brother are members of St. Paul’s Piney Parish in Waldorf, MD. On June 28 at the virtual coffee hour after online services, Ailyn heard Mother Maria Kane talking about the families the parish is helping from the partnership with their neighborhood elementary school. Ailyn wanted to help too and she went and got her piggy bank. There was $73.32 in her bank and she told the folks online at coffee hour she wanted to help those families too and she gave it all.
And a little child shall lead them. Ailyn’s gesture has turned into over $2,000 so far with matching donations. Ailyn’s mom, Emily comments, “She keeps having a bigger and bigger impact, like ripples in the water.”
In addition, the folks of St. Paul’s are working on ways they can help with school supplies and other things as students and parents work to adjust to the start of another school year.
The contents of the piggybank - a generous haul!
This year, back-to-school looks different than any year we have ever experienced. Most students are beginning their school year in their bedroom or living room or around the kitchen table. Others are in classrooms with a mask on. Parents are full of questions and apprehension. And teachers, well let’s just say they are taking what they learned in the Spring and making the needed changes to ensure their students get the best learning and experience possible. They need all the help and support they can get.
The big question is how do our parishes fit into this new world? The traditional school supply drive, does that help? Let’s look at what some of our parishes are doing:
- Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda held a drive for tablets through Housing Up. The cost was $50 per tablet and the drive netted 70 tablets.
- Washington National Cathedral conducted their “Lunches & Laptops” drive. Partnering with United Planning Organization, they filled two big pick-up trucks with crafts, games, notebooks, art supplies and lots of healthy snacks and foods for children across the city.
- In Prince George’s County, there are 2 elementary schools in the neighborhood of St. John’s, Mt. Rainier. Deacon Sandra Bramble says the way to help is to pick up the phone and call the school principal and offer. And then, be ready to work.
- St. Andrew’s, College Park has been partnering with McCormack-Langley Park Elementary School for a number of years. They do school supplies in the fall and a warm coat drive in the winter.
- At St. George’s, Valley Lee and Ascension, Lexington Park, Deacon Martha Eldridge is working on details to set up an internet zone in the church for the families who do not have access in the rural parts of St. Mary’s County.
- At St. James, Indian Head, they have boosted their Wi-Fi so that the community can come to the parking lot and have access to the internet while staying safe in their cars.
This school year, it is more important than ever to be involved. When asked about help, teachers are often not sure what to ask for. Parents and kids are figuring this out as they go. As for those of us in the parishes of the Diocese of Washington, back-to-school this year will likely last throughout the school year. We need to stay in touch with our families and the teachers and administration of our schools and be good partners… all year long.
Don’t wait for someone else to do it or organize it because 4-year-old Ailyn is already way ahead of us.
Complied by Deacon Steve Seely, St. Paul’s Piney Parish, Waldorf, MD