Wearing the Collar--Living this New Life

New Life in a Clergy Collar

   For most people, when thinking of the Deacon they picture them in their roles assisting or presiding at the Liturgy, or Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer, for instance).
   In reality, though, the Deacon's main concern is focused on the needs of the community, both inside and outside the Church. Deacons have a desire to bring the Kingdom of God into this world by searching for those who are lost or ignored and bringing them back into the community, whether it's the Church or society.
   How does one satiate this desire to expand God's Kingdom, however, when working a full-time job? This question has been the greatest challenge for me since I've been ordained, particularly since my job requires extensive travel.
   As I meditated on this inner tension between supporting my family and serving
as a Deacon in the world, I thought of Paul of Tarsus, the original traveling servant. 
   Paul supported himself working as an itinerant tent maker, and presumably needed to focus much of his time on his secular career, with only weekly times of Sabbath open to spreading the Good News. Perhaps he collected some followers in his day-to-day activities, like going to the shoreline to wash or dye some fabric.
   As I thought about this more, I wondered how I might encounter people along the way. I realized that I had opportunities while I was traveling to perhaps bring some light or calmness to the people I encountered. I decided I would make myself available to people while wearing my clergy shirt and collar.
   My first efforts at this were in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2018. I had numerous flights between Seattle and San Francisco, and drives along Interstate 5 in Oregon and California. 
   The first challenge for me was not to isolate myself, as many of us do, by being focused on technology like smart phones and devices, or closed off with headphones and earbuds. By being focused outward, rather than inward, I encountered interesting reactions from fellow travelers. 
   Some would see me and quickly glance away. I wondered whether it was pain from a past encounter of clergy (how often we've heard of this in today's world!), or just an automatic response of rejection or isolation.
   Some people nodded and smiled as they continued on, while others stopped to have a conversation. During the Holiday Season many people who are unaccustomed to airports and the ensuing crowds find this part of the Season to be nerve-wracking. They seemed to relax by just having someone to talk to, even when it isn't an overtly religious conversation. A smile and an open ear can go a long way to sharing a calm peace between strangers.
   At one point I was sitting near my gate when a group of young adults (20-somethings) came along, and I moved over to give them space to sit together. When one of their waylaid members came walking up some minutes later looking at a clergy person sitting next to their group of friends, one of their friends piped up with "We were waiting for you to catch up before we started the service" and we all had a good chuckle. 
   It is in these brief encounters of socialization that one can find the mysterious sharing of the Spirit. Jesus said "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there." Bursts of the Kingdom's Light springs from a loving sharing between people.
   As I travel along the Way, I also have come to notice those who also wear their faith--women with hijabs, religious sisters with their habits, turbans worn by those of Hindu or Islamic faith, or hats or yarmulkes worn by those of the Jewish faith. All have one thing in common: a deeply held conviction of their own faith with a desire to live their lives within that faith.
   Wearing religious garb as you're out in the world makes you constantly examine how you are living and behaving. What would people think of a clergy person driving unsafely? Imagine a nun cutting a person off at the supermarket checkout. How would you react?

 A funny thing happens as you wear the clothing of your faith: that inner calm that you hold within your prayer life leaks into the world as you live it. Being stuck in traffic becomes an opportunity to meditate, or take a minute to appreciate the world around you. Desiring to live with an open heart to God leaves you open to consider the brokenness of the world around you. 
   As we live our lives, Christians pray "May your Kingdom Come, and your will be done on Earth (like it is in heaven)". Living your faith, even without religious garb, opens this world to God's love. In essence, you become part of the Light of God's Kingdom. May you be blessed by God as you travel carrying that Light. Amen!

Discerning Vocation

Discerning as a Deacon or Priest

   I am often asked the question "Are you going on to become a priest? You'd be wonderful at that!" While I feel honored that people would like me as their priest, that is not the vocation I feel deeply called to follow.
   In the Episcopal Church there are three ordained orders: Bishop, Priest, and Deacon. Each role has a special place in the structure of our Church. A Bishop provides leadership and guidance to the parishes within their Diocese, and sometimes outside the Diocese. A priest provides the same kind of leadership and guidance within the parish (or other organization) they may be assigned to shepherd.
   The Deacon has a unique role within the Episcopal Church. This vocation has only recently been reinstated as a full and unique order thanks to the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, but dates back to the time of the Apostles, with the Act of the Apostles reporting the appointment of the first seven deacons, including Stephen and Phillip.
   While Diocesan Delegates elect their Bishop, and a Parish calls their Priest by an election at a parish meeting, Deacons are appointed by the Bishop to serve where the Bishop sees a need. Most Deacons are not paid a salary, and are either retired, or support themselves through secular employment (as I do).
   This appointed, non-paid position gives the Deacon a certain freedom of action to follow where the Spirit is calling the Deacon, and their community, to go. It is this freedom of action within the Spirit that really spoke to me about following this path.
   Don't hear me wrong! This freedom doesn't give the Deacon a license to do or say whatever they want!! Deacons serve under the guidance of the Bishop, and also must carefully consider the needs and concerns of the community within the Church as well as the community outside the Church.
   At the central core of any Deacon must be a life of prayer and study that focuses the Deacon's innermost being on listening to what God is saying through the Spirit. Any good formation program for Deacons helps the student find that central, intersecting point where the Deacon is open to the needs of the Church, the calling of the Spirit, and needs of the community. 
   One of the fascinating characteristics of Deacons I've discovered is how each of them bring something with them from their secular careers into the Church, and how that skill is then transformed into service for God's people that was never anticipated before. (For just one example, take a look at The Hub in Stockton, CA https://diosanjoaquin.org/the-hub/ )
   Deacons are inside the Church, but also outside the Church. Deacons work at careers of their own, but also live a vocation of their own. Deacons speak from the pulpit, but also speak on the street corner, or in government meetings, or at social gatherings.
   Deacons roles continue to evolve within the Church, and Deacons are constantly listening for the guidance of the Spirit.
   I often connect my life as a Deacon with the life of St. Paul, who worked as a tent maker while spreading the Word of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world. People were not always happy with his admonitions, but they understood his commitment to his call. At times I wonder how often he made or repaired a tent as a gift to someone in need.
   Since this role of Deacon within the Episcopal Church continues to evolve, I highly recommend "Unexpected Consequences" (by Susanne Watson Epting) to give those who are interested in exploring this path of Deacon an idea of how the role has grown over the years. 

  Through Many Struggles, Faith By Deacon Greg Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 32      In listening to ...