By The Rev. Wendy Guyton, Deacon
Every Christian, no matter who they are or what they do, is called to minister to others and make disciples, whether they feel called to lay or ordained ministry. A lay person’s ministry in the Episcopal Church is to represent Christ and his church, to bear witness to Christ, and to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world (BCP pg. 855). You could be a nurse, a business owner, a dog groomer, an athlete, some crazy combination of the four, or anything else, and you are still called by God to serve those around you and tell others about Jesus.
But, what if you feel as though God is calling you further into ministry? All who have been called to ordained ministry are also called to represent Christ and his church, though in more specific roles.
Someone who is called to ordained ministry as a deacon senses that God is calling them to serve Christ, “particularly as a servant of those in need, and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments” (BCP pg. 856).
Deacons are called to live our secular lives in such a way that we point to the power of the Gospel. The ministry of a deacon is not a calling for those who don’t know what else to do, it is for those who can’t do anything else. A deacon is a person who possesses the traits of a spiritual leader, inspiring others to live further into the Baptismal Covenant.
Deacons have many varied ministries: they might serve as chaplains in hospitals or prisons, schools, in the military, or to veterans; they might run food kitchens; they might teach, write, or preach; they might serve in their local parish and/or around their diocese. Many deacons still have full-time secular jobs while ministering (in or outside of the workplace) as an instrument of God’s presence. They are on the frontlines of ministry in the world and inspire others to serve Christ, wherever they are.
The ministry of a deacon is made clear to us throughout scripture. Solomon tells us in Proverbs (31:8-9) to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Isaiah (in 1:17) tells us to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
The Diocese of Arizona believes in the call so much so that, through its Commission on Ministry, there is a formalized discernment process to assist those who feel called further into ministry. This process will help them determine the nature of their calling, whether that call is deeper in lay ministry, to the diaconate, or to the priesthood.
If you have an inkling that you are being called to be a deacon, the following steps will be helpful:
1. Pray. Talk and listen to God.
2. Talk with family members/friends you trust. What do they reflect back to you about this inkling you have?
3. Talk to a leader (rector/vicar/priest-in-charge/deacon/lay leader) at your church about the inkling.
4. Learn about the Diocesan Discernment and Inquiry Process. Visit our Commission on Ministry to find out more.
All Episcopal discernment happens first in the congregational context. You must be part of/known at/involved in your church/ community to undertake formal discernment in the Diocese of Arizona. It is strongly recommended that you are involved at the parish level for a year before beginning parish discernment.
Is God calling you to the diaconate? Pray for discernment about God’s call on your life and let the journey begin.