Sunday, April 26, 2009

Diaconal To-Do List - Week of April 20

. . . and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.

come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace
9am - county courthouse - provide "no-contact" pastoral care silently & across courtroom
6pm - pick up N from geiger correctional
streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise

teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above
8am - self-examination - sin of pride
praise the mount! oh, fix me on it, mount of God's unchanging love

here I find my greatest treasure; hither by thy help I've come
4:30 pm - arrive at parish hall - welcome volunteers
5:30pm - welcome 75 for dinner
5:45pm - respond to grief - murder victim's aunt
7pm - bus tables, bag dirty tableclothes, tuck notebook with guests' prayer list in bag
9:30pm - wash tablecloths
and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God
7am - pull what's left of prayer list notebook from washing machine
9:45am - pastoral care - am I doing it right?
10:15am - self-examination - living for others' approval vs. living for God?
12:00noon - don't forget you have a day job
he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood

oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be
9:00am - god-talk with spiritual friend
7:00pm - ministry weekend - topic: processing the process (of preparation for ordination)
let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee

prone to wander, lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
8:15am - overwhelming gratitude for my call
8:30am - ministry weekend - topic: pastoral care
8:00pm - bake Jesus-bread for communion
here's my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above

come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace
9:00am - unlock parish hall - remind church lady of community norms: "failure to use at least 8 scoops of coffee may affect your worship experience"
9:01am- receive lecture about Great Depression
9:15am - prepare sanctuary
9:59am - prepare self
10:00am - welcome (congregation) guide (acolytes) hear (Word) chant (psalm) bid (prayers) receive (elements) prepare (table) turn (pages) receive (communion) offer (chalice) praise (God)
5:00pm - study scripture
streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise . . .

Vanity Check

Does this alb make me look fat?

And of course, that's beside the point. I keep thinking I'll finally get over myself, that my first thought won't go to trivialities. But that's the work of it, I guess: saying yes to God over and over--which necessitates a no to self.

Here I am, clearing the altar . . .

Thanks, Sally, for the pic.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beyond the Chancel

You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God's Word and Sacraments . . .

On different occasions, two people on the Commission on Ministry (COM) asked me the same question in an attempt to help me discern whether I might be called to the priesthood or the diaconate:

"When you are serving at the altar, do you have the urge to shove the priest out of the way and take over?"

Strange as it may seem, this is the most helpful question I've been asked during my discernment. It seems a small thing, really--almost an aside. Do you have the impulse to consecrate the bread and wine? It takes a whopping ten minutes per service--hardly dominating the priest's schedule. And yet, it's one of the main things. This question cuts through the confusion around orders of ministry--the muddiness generated by our tendency to define the orders by task and role, not what I call "heart stance." What the question really asks is: on the sacramental level, are you a priest?

Some folks have suggested my answer should be "Yes." I tend to be a take-charge kinda girl. I'm comfortable leading worship, preaching, praying, and doing all the other stuff that wraps around the Eucharist. I'm a passable thurifer (incense swinger). Once, in a pinch, I even chanted the psalm--by myself, in front of everybody--and I didn't die and the congregation didn't run screaming from the pews. But when I'm at that table, I don't want to be the one to invoke God's blessing. I can't tell you why.

I want to be the quiet servant--the one who is always in the right place at the right time, who moves along with the priest anticipating her needs, always ready to hold a book, turn a page, lift a chalice. I want to be the one who smooths the liturgy so that it seems effortless, the one who mutes distractions so that the focus is on God.

I prepare the way for the priest, setting the table, pouring wine. And, a proper servant, I clean up afterwards, restoring chalice and paten to their places, covering the consecrated host. And in between, there's the moment where I enact the deacon's call. Receiving the chalice from the priest, I carry it beyond the chancel to the people, each step a sign of the breach I'm called to cross each day.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Church Whisperer

You are to interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.

The prophetic voice: a central part of the deacon's call. We're the breach-standers--a foot in the church, a foot in the world, translating between the two. When I first began my discernment two years ago, I thought, Prophetic voice? I'm your girl. Rattle the cage? You betcha. Unfortunately, this is not a call to be a troublemaker. So I began to pray that I could be a voice for the world in a helpful way.

It's a tribute to my inflated sense of self that at first I thought this meant church with a capital C--Church, the institution. As a deacon, I'd shift the system, rage against the machine. While Jesus was a kayak, light and maneuverable through the complexities of the world, the Church is more often like cruise ship. Railing against the Church, I'd be heading straight for the spiritual breakdown lane. Thankfully, God seems to enjoy messing with my delusions. He gave me a chance to reframe this aspect of the diaconal call, and His approach was surprisingly and unusually gentle.

During the recovery from my surgery, I missed two nights of HT's Dinner Table ministry. For those of you who don't know about Dinner Table, it's a weekly free meal for our neighbors--not a soup kitchen, but a sit-down family style meal complete with tablecloths, real dishes, and food you'd serve to guests in your own home. You can read more about it here. I've been heavily involved in the founding of the ministry, but lately I've been stepping back. The deacon is called to be a catalyst for new ministry, then turn it over, and move on to the next need God presents to us. These were the very first Dinner Table nights I missed, so the surgery was an invitation to step back and see what would happen without me.

Like the Federation in Star Trek, Dinner Table has a prime directive: We treat our guests as we would welcome our friends into our own homes. A simple standard in a complex context. We serve a motley mix of homeless men and women, single moms with their kids, struggling families, and lonely elders. Some of our guests arrive drunk, disorderly, unwashed, unwell, and unhinged. From this, we try to weave community. All the while, we are welcoming new volunteers, many of whom have never served anyone different from themselves.

My fellow ministers rose to the occasion. It's always humbling--and liberating--to realize how easily things go on without you. At the same time, as I began to surface from the pain medication, complaints appeared in my inbox. Nothing big. Just here and there, reports of volunteers who had been rude to our guests.

At our next Dinner Table leadership meeting we talked about the primary pitfall of ministry: our expectations. Too often, we serve with expectations that those served will respond in a particular way--the way we would respond. We enter a world marked with the fallout of addiction, poverty, and abuse, and we expect it to conform to our reality. Most dangerous of all, we expect those we serve to become like us. When our expectations are denied, we judge, reject, or punish. We talked about what it looks like for a church determined to move into the world, hell-bent, if you will, on sowing the seeds of the kingdom in some very rocky soil.

It takes a certain fortitude. When we serve as Christ did, we risk true intimacy. We will love them. We will lose some of them. We must trust our own strength in the face of disappointment, and strip ourselves of our defense mechanisms--the guise of charity, our insistence on assimilation. And so the deacon not only invites, encourages, exhorts others to respond to the world's needs. She also accompanies those who would serve, calming fear and deflating expectation. Her voice is a mere whisper as she travels in a broken world.