Blog | Diakonos


The Path of Discernment

Diakonos (Greek): a servant, minister

From An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: "In the ancient Greek-speaking world the term “diakonos" meant an intermediary who acted or spoke for a superior. Christian deacons were agents of the bishop, often with oversight of charity. Since ancient times the liturgical functions of deacons have suggested the activity of angels. As they proclaim the gospel, lead intercessions, wait at the eucharistic table, and direct the order of the assembly, deacons act as sacred messengers, agents, and attendants."

January 22, 2018 was the day I went to my priest to tell her I’d like to explore discerning my call to diaconal ministry. Once I cracked the door open I couldn’t push it shut, even if I wanted to, thanks be to God. 

The process to ordination in the Episcopal Church begins with discernment. For Christians, each of us is called to serve as members of the body of Christ whether clergy or laity. (1 Cor 12) Once a person steps forward and expresses a desire to openly explore a call to ordained ministry, next steps are taken to gather a group of parishioners to help the inquirer discern that call.

Throughout the summer and spring of 2019 I met regularly with my discernment committee, a group of five thoughtful, prayerful, and inquisitive parishioners. In our meetings, the committee would pose questions to me to help suss out the depth and breadth of my call to ordained ministry and to even help me discern if there was in fact a call at all. The process was intensive and, at times, exhausting. It was also life-giving and inspiring. I’m grateful to my committee for their intentional work and commitment. 

In the fall of 2019 I, along with several other discerners, was invited to a weekend at St. Margaret’s Convent in Duxbury to be interviewed by members of the Diocese of Massachusetts Commission on Ministry and Standing Committee, along with The Right Reverend Alan M. Gates. This was an opportunity for the Commission to get to know me a bit better and to further understand my call and how I might answer it in the diocese through ordained ministry. Then in December I was formally invited into postulancy for holy orders to the diaconate, beginning officially June 1, 2020. 

Fast-forward to October 29, 2020 and I am well into my postulancy. I’m an intern for a year at Epiphany Parish in Walpole, MA under the supervision of the Rev. Christen H. Mills where I have opportunities to participate in the liturgy each week by reading lessons, assisting with set up for communion, preaching, facilitating formation activities, attending business meetings, leading morning prayer, and so on. Additionally I’m in ‘deacon school’ through the diocese. My cohort meets once a month for three days and we worship together, study scripture, liturgy, homiletics, theology, history, etc. with some of the most knowledgeable members of the diocese. 

The postulancy process is about a year and a half and then I will apply for candidacy which is also about a year and a half. The Canons of the Episcopal Church state that candidacy is “a time of education and formation in preparation for ordination to the diaconate, established by a formal commitment by the candidate, the Bishop, the Commission, the Standing Committee, and the congregation or other community of faith” (III.6.4). During this time, education will continue and I will pick up an internship with a secular institution or other project that’s suitable. At the end of candidacy there will be an examination to test proficiency in several areas of theological study.

Finally, God willing and the people consenting, once I’ve made it through postulancy and candidacy, I will apply for ordination to the diaconate.

Deacons in the Diocese of Massachusetts are placed into parishes that have expressed the need for a deacon. Once placed, posts usually last a few years before the deacon moves on to another church, though that’s not always the case. Some deacons stay with the same parish for quite some time. 

To learn more about the diaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts, please visit this website.


Election Prayer

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer p. 822

I Will, With God’s Help

Homily 11/8/2020
Epiphany Parish, Walpole, MA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God,
our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I will, with God’s help.

These words are so familiar to many of us. We’ve spoken them countless times on days just like this. We’ve said them in the presence of a crying baby or maybe a sleeping one. Perhaps we’ve said them in the presence of an adult at an Easter Vigil. I said them to my own baby back in January.

I will, with God’s help.

What are we saying when we agree to this? What do we mean by publicly proclaiming these words?

We’re in fact making a pact. We’re taking vows. We’re entering into a covenant. We might not even know the parents. Many of us certainly haven’t held this lovable baby yet. And yet, here we are, speaking these words. These incredibly important, weighty words.

I will, with God’s help.

In this morning’s fiery reading from Amos we see a prophet who’s expressing that God is fed up with the people of ancient Israel. Amos, a shepherd, was called by God to become a Prophet. Amos took this call very seriously and began to prophesy to the ancient Israelites who’d lost their way. They had become swallowed up by pursuit of the wrong things. The people were following the laws by having rituals or liturgies, making burnt offerings to God, observing the Sabbath, etc. but their intentions weren’t authentic. They were going through the motions and doing the bare minimum while the poor were abused and taken advantage of and the wealthy were living extravagantly. People had fallen short of God’s expectations for them and righteousness and justice were nonexistent. And they had stopped caring for those who needed care the most. In his book,
The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel explains the mutuality of the covenant between God and God’s people, “There is a living God who cares. Justice is more than an idea or a norm. Justice is a divine concern. What obtains between God and God’s people is not only a covenant of mutual obligations, but also a relationship of mutual concern.”1

Basically, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) 

Now, fast-forward almost 2,600 years and we find ourselves in the presence of this special child who is about to be baptized and with whom we will create a covenant and in doing so reaffirm our own covenant that was made when we were baptized. God trusts that we will keep our covenants out of love for God but also out of love for one another. In our desire to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being”, will we fall short? Will we hurt one another? Will we become blinded by our own self-serving desires? Of course we will, often. But God expects we will confront our mistakes, confess our sins, make relationships whole again, and get back on track. But, we can’t do this alone. Especially in times of great fear, uncertainty, selfishness, and hate we cannot depend on ourselves alone to stay out of the path of giving in to the things that separate us from the love of God. And so by entering into a covenant together we’re stating that we will support and hold up one another and in so doing, we carry this commitment out into the world.

I will, with God’s help.

When we arrive at The Baptismal Covenant in today’s service, I encourage you to pay close attention to what it is you’re committing. Not just as your commitment relates to Mabel, but also as your commitment relates to God and the world around you. This little child will grow up in this world. How can we better live out our baptismal covenant in ways that will make this world a better place for Mabel and all children?

I will, with God’s help.

Amen.

__________________________

1 Heschel, A. J. (1969). Amos. In The Prophets. New York: Harper Colophon Books.


Mikvah

Homily 12/6/2020
Epiphany Parish, Walpole, MA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Here we are, talking about baptism yet again. Quite honestly, baptism is one of my favorite things to talk about. 

Baptism comes from the Greek word, Baptizó and it means “a thorough change of condition accomplished through immersion.”

The scene described in today’s gospel isn’t actually that unique. John’s followers, being Jewish, were familiar with baptism, or ritual cleansing. Mikvah is a Hebrew word that means “collection, or pool, of waters.” Mikvah has been used for centuries for ritual cleansing before prayer, before marriage, after menses, and so on. A 2014 article from the Washington Post states, “In recent decades, the mikvah has enjoyed a revival among less observant Jews who see it as a way to mark transitions in their lives. “Open” mikvahs — those that welcome Jews for reasons not required by Jewish law — encourage people to immerse after a divorce, after chemotherapy, to celebrate a new job or to find closure after an abortion, among other reasons."

So, John wasn’t introducing something new in this ritual cleansing per se, in fact, he was imploring his followers to do something that they were already doing regularly. But what John was preaching was new. His Messianic message was to tell these followers that this time, this cleansing, this baptism was preparation for an entirely new beginning. In this story of John the Baptist we see a prophet bringing comfort to a people yearning for God to intervene. This evangelist was bringing hope through assurance of the arrival of the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And further, John was telling his followers to basically get their stuff together and repent in preparation for new life in Jesus Christ. 

So what does this mean for us? For modern Christians? What does this mean for this second week of Advent as we find ourselves still in the grip of this pandemic, wandering in our own wilderness? We’re still in lockdown, some of us are even quarantined. Each of us likely knows someone who has or has had the virus. And some of us know someone who has died from it. How do we, in the midst of this turmoil, pause to remember the Holy One who came to be with us? How do we glimpse the hope that John proclaimed and how do we prepare for the arrival of this one whom John the Evangelist, the Baptizer, the Prophet, so greatly revered? How might we cleanse ourselves to invite the incarnation?

The season of Advent for Episcopalians also marks the start of a new year. It might still be 2020, but at least in the church we’re moving on! This new liturgical year offers us an opportunity to reset, reevaluate, and repent. To clear the pathway between ourselves and Jesus. To create a way for God to enter into our lives. I encourage each of us to strip away the things that come between us and the coming of Jesus. Send that kind letter you’ve been meaning to write. Clean out that one closet where stuff piles up week after week. Set up a video chat with someone you haven’t laid eyes on in a while. Call your loved ones. I desperately need to clean out my car that’s been decorated by my toddler. Between straw wrappers, cheerios, and Pepperidge farm goldfish, I’ve managed to lose my sense of self, I think. And above all, continue to pray. The wilderness, whether literal or metaphorical, represents the fringe of society and the place where one can encounter God. This wilderness can be our opportunity for transformation if we clear pathways for Christ to enter in. Even in these days there are ways to find hope and renewal, and opportunities for us to help others find hope too.

I’d like to share this poem with you written by one of my favorite writers, Mary Oliver:

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice — it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances — but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Amen. 

 



© Margaret Lias 2020