7 May, this coming Sunday, is Vocations Sunday and this blog of course celebrates vocations to the distinctive diaconate. It was great to read Gerrie’s story and I’m delighted to post the vocation journey of Deacon Chris Saccali, assistant curate in the Greater Athens Chaplaincy in Greece. Oh yes, there are distinctive deacons in the Anglican Diocese in Europe too – the Holy Spirit gets around!
My journey towards ordination
Reverend Deacon Christine Saccali, Assistant Curate Athens
I was licensed as a Reader in Belgrade in 2007 and since then I enjoyed a rich and diverse Reader ministry in Athens and beyond. Friends and colleagues used to ask me about ordination with one clergy friend stating: “you will know if God is calling you to ordained ministry.”
I had certainly felt a “holy prod or niggle” before being selected for Reader training but I could not discern the same feeling at that time. But in 2012 events in Athens, and the continuing economic and humanitarian crisis in Greece, forced me to take another look at the direction in which God was calling me. In hindsight, I think this sense of calling to ordained ministry had been growing within me for a while, but I had only confided in one soul friend, so my incumbent was quite surprised when all these feelings poured out of me one day. After some discussion with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, it was agreed that this vocation needed to be tested. I felt I had raised my head above the parapet and could not duck down again or avoid my call. However, I trusted that if this was a true calling, through the grace of the Holy Spirit I would take each step one at a time.
Firstly, I needed to understand where God was calling me; after prayer and reflection a moving and affirming answer came at the Diocesan Vocations Enquirers’ Conference I attended in London, when I heard a Deacon speak about her own vocation. That conviction of a diaconal calling has remained with me throughout my training towards ordination, which has been a steep learning curve. I have had to deal with the “three Ts” as I call them – Travel, Technology and Theology – plus a fourth – the Tiredness factor. Studying alongside others in the UK, which I left over thirty-five years ago, has been a privilege and gift on this journey with God. I was able to take part in two placements: one in a hospice in Northern England, and the other in a parish in the south, which were both invaluable experiences and ones of deep hospitality.
Visitors, diocesan colleagues, friends and family came to St Paul’s Athens on 3rd July from all over Europe to celebrate the wonderful and joyous occasion of my ordination to the Distinctive Diaconate, a fulfilling and humbling ministry which I embrace. Since then, I have slipped into the role and title of Deacon Chris through God’s grace. I concentrated very much on the parish and my liturgical role in the first few months, but I soon discovered that there is no end to learning and formation.
During all this time there have been further changes in the political instability in Greece, Europe and the Middle East. The humanitarian and economic crises have been deepened and complicated by the refugee crisis, a challenge to which the Anglican Church here has directly responded. We had been praying for someone locally to come forward for a part-time position as Refugee Response Facilitator for the Anglican Church in Greece sponsored by USPG, and to my surprise I was suggested for the post.
I needed time to think and pray about it, not least because my husband is an atheist and it would mean more household duties for him! We went away for a week to talk it over, but he has always been supportive of my ministry otherwise I could not exercise it, and I am so grateful for that. My Director of Training and both Bishops were in favour of this innovation to my diaconal role. It means a lot of juggling for us, and the ongoing learning is challenging, but I am enjoying my new diverse ministry in Greece and thank God for all his grace and guidance.