RECENTLY, I ATTENDED a retreat for the deacons of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, part of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Following that retreat, I felt very engaged and energized by a conversation with one of our diocesan staff; about a week after that, I wrote her and thanked her for generous gift of time.
What I realized, starting with that conversation, was that maybe, just maybe, being out in the world full time and not in parish ministry is right for me, at least at this time.
Increasingly, beginning to ask questions about ministry was the main reason I left parish work. Then I had a second conversation, this time by chance, and this time with a stranger, who may well have been an angel in disguise.
I was out and about with my hubbie at breakfast when I ran into one of the readers of this column, who told me she always read my work and sometimes even clipped out my columns to save, that I had made her think, lots, about her life. And that led me to think more about my work. I’m still not sure about serving in a parish (I think right now at least, it’s not for me, I like life a bit grittier) but that will all work itself out in God’s time.
But those conversations at the deacon’s retreat and, perhaps even more so, that conversation after breakfast, got me thinking again about the nature of my call as a deacon and all of our calls as religious folks.
We Christians believe that our life as a member of the family of God begins not with birth, but with baptism, the entrance into the faith community we know as the Church. This is why we have two feast days: All Saints and All Souls, the former of which commemorates all those in the Church, past or present; the latter feast of which commemorates God’s care and love for all of humanity.
At the moment of baptism, we in the Church believe, there is an infusion of the Holy Spirit that joins the new Christian to the Church, and that gifts and calls are given to specific individuals, some for ordination and some for life as lay people, the vast majority of us. It is that infusion of the Spirit that caused Luther to speak of the priesthood of all believers, not some, but all, each person having God’s plan written on their heart from that moment.
Life after that is a matter of discerning God’s plans.
However, my reader asked me where (not if) I was a priest. That led to a short but intense discussion about the difference about deacons and priests, something that had come up in my conversations post-conference. I don’t know if I expressed myself at all clearly in that conversation. In both cases, we were talking about the difference between priests and deacons and that priests can do all the things I can as a deacon (usually), but that I can’t do all the things priests do. The things that deacons do that lay people either can’t or shouldn’t do also came up.
Fair question, but I think my answer, which got into the nitty gritty, was more of a technical, even scholarly approach.
What I should have done was talk about the far more important issue: God gives a call to all the baptized, all of us in the Church, and all of us from that one primal moment need to live out our calls, whatever they may be.
This is true of all those baptized: we all have our jobs to do, both in and out of the church. Those of us called to ordained ministry don’t have a better call and are not better people. That’s not how this works. We all have our work to do — priests to be living icons of Christ the High Priest, deacons to be living icons of Christ the Servant, and the laity, and all Christians, to show the world a million, a billion different ways to be living icons of God the Three in One working in the world.
So, too, for all non-Christians of any kind, without any need for any further distinctions.
I was talking once to an atheist friend of mine. He believes in no God of any kind. He’s also one of the kindest people I know. He’s good. And once I said something fairly stupid about how God gives us the power to do good things. And he said, “I don’t believe in God. Can’t I do good things?” I knew his work as a teacher. Yes, he certainly could and did.
Those two conversations were gifts I couldn’t refuse. So here’s one answer for us all. As civil right activist John Lewis said before his death, go and make “good trouble.”
We need to shake up the world. And if we don’t, God still loves us — but we may not be quite on task.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a deacon resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.