Can I ask who likes a good Sunday evening TV series?
I think we have variously enjoyed: The Onedin Line, Morse, The Night Manager, Poldark – of course - and years ago, when we were first married a series called Ballykissangel. Anyone remember it?
Well, over the next two Sundays we have an opportunity to embark on a small mini series of our own and the subject matter is aspects of mission and ministry or mission and evangelism. Today in episode one I would like us to consider the ministry of the deacon, or diaconal ministry; the ministry of the church which Mark is to be ordained into next Saturday. Next Sunday, when we celebrate Peter and Paul, our subject matter will be catholic and apostolic ministry.
I am immensely pleased that our patron, at this church, is Laurence; a true hero of the early church. Laurence was, of course, a deacon. He was never ordained priest, still less bishop. Laurence’s ministry was one of service, looking after what James described as the ‘widows and orphans in their distress.’ As a deacon Laurence would have spent considerable time with the poor and needy, possibly taking the sacrament to them and making sure that their physical needs were being met. Deacons, in this sense, remind us that the line between the sacred and the material is a thin line indeed. The deacon was supposed to be the embodiment of what Tobit describes as ‘righteousness.’
The deacon’s theological remit is to keep the legitimate claims of the poor and marginalised firmly lodged in the church’s consciousness, where this is to be done through their preaching and the way they order their lives. The deacon exists to make sure that the church’s priorities are properly ordered. This is an important task. The deacon exists to remind the church of the very real need that exists outside of her doors.
The liturgical role of the deacon is to ask the people of God – you and me – to go and seek out the marginalised, the abused, the hurting, the neglected and the poor and to then do something. This is why it is the deacon who at the end of the service mandates the congregation to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ What the deacon is imploring us to do, all of us, is to go into a deeply hurting world and be ‘as Christ,’ to those in need. Diaconal ministry isn’t just the responsibility of the deacon, it is instead a shared, collective, communal responsibility, that the deacon always keeps before us. So, there you go Mark!
St. Laurence is of course one of the church’s finest examples of diaconal ministry. Laurence was contemplative, compassionate and courageous (Bishop Steven’s diocesan values). Laurence’s spirituality was a lived spirituality. Laurence, like all good deacons, reminds us that authentic Christianity makes real demands on how we live our lives in the here and now. Laurence, the deacon, reminds us that mission, ministry, evangelism mandates us to do two things: first, to seek ‘to transform the unjust structures of society and to challenge violence of every kind,’ and secondly, ‘to respond to human need by loving service.’ Doing this will take courage, unlike Laurence it will probably not lead to us offering up our very lives, but it will mean risking ridicule, rejection and loss, for the deacon always invites us to become a poorer church.
I have specifically asked the PCC to reflect on what it might mean for us to be a more missional and evangelistic church, a more diaconal church, can I ask the whole church to do likewise?
Mark, on Saturday you are to be ordained deacon. Can I gently suggest that you reflect this week on the life and witness of St. Laurence, and can I ask that in the coming year you keep firmly before us, through word and deed, the importance of authentic diaconal ministry? Amen.