In the first reading this coming Sunday we hear of the death of Stephen at the hands of his accusers among whom is Saul (aka Paul). It is a particularly powerful passage with its reminders of the death of Jesus who also prayed for his accusers and whose death like Stephen’s took place “outside the city.” What is of particular interest is that Stephen is the first Christian martyr (one who dies for the faith) and so he is known as the Protomartyr. But according to Acts 6:1-6 Stephen (“a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”) was one of the first seven Deacons set aside with the laying on of hands and prayer to assist the Apostles with a ministry of service (the Greek “diaconos” simply means “servant”). Later on we read of women deacons also including Phoebe a deacon from Cenchreae (Romans 16:1). So in Christian iconography Stephen is always shown in deacon’s stole (worn crosswise from the left shoulder) and dalmatic.
Tomorrow, May 13, our own Gene Bourquin, who has been with us for some years as a candidate for the diaconate in training, will be ordained deacon at the Cathedral of St John the Divine. This Sunday he will be the liturgical Deacon at the 11am Eucharist for the first time. We both congratulate Gene and pray for him as he embraces this diaconal ministry. Of course, we are happily familiar with the Ministry of Deacons here at Holy Apostles with Deacon Bob Jacobs as part of our regular team. What we see on Sunday, that is the liturgical actions of the deacon like reading the gospel, laying the table, leading the confession, helping with the distribution of communion and giving the dismissal, is only a part of the ministry. Bob is at the Soup Kitchen 3 days a week acting in a typical diaconal role welcoming, supporting, listening to, praying with, and sometimes gently settling down our guests. Gene has been doing similar ministry as part of his training.
There has been a revival of what we now call the “Vocational Diaconate” in the past 40 years. Up until then the diaconate was largely seen as a “stepping stone” to the priesthood (what we now term the “Transitional Diaconate”). For instance, I was ordained deacon in 1971 and then priest in 1972 and Mother Susan likewise at a rather later date! But following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1966) there has been a general revival of the Vocational Diaconate in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other Protestant churches. The emphasis of this diaconal ministry is one of service to the church and to the world, with the deacon being the “bridge” linking the two.
It was Bishop Grein, the XIVth Bishop of New York who revived the Vocational Diaconate in this diocese. Our own Deacon Bob Jacobs was one of his first candidates and will be celebrating his 25th Anniversary of Diaconal Ordination on May 30. Congratulations to Bob on this important milestone and our heartfelt thanks for his quiet, faithful and sacrificial service here at Holy Apostles.
For those interested you will find the service for the Ordination of Deacons on Page 537 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Deacons are part of our Anglican heritage of the three-fold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, all of which together mirror the Ministry of Christ who is at one and the same time our Shepherd (bishop), our priest and our servant. All of us, ordained and lay, are called to share in and live this ministry.