FEAST OF ST STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven… Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his [Christ’s] name… Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven… Now, at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exults, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered a multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven. (St Fulgentius)

Gracious Father,

who gave the first martyr Stephen

grace to pray for those who took up stones against him:

grant that in all our sufferings for the truth

we may learn to love even our enemies

and to seek forgiveness for those who desire our hurt,

looking up to heaven to him who was crucified for us,

Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

(Common Worship, Collect for Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr)

(image from The Stoning of [Saint] Stephen. Artist: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM …

Deacon Jess Foster reflects on a land and peoples she is coming to know and love.

Bethlehem skyline from Church of the Nativity

                      Image from Daniel Case 

I bet nearly everyone reading this blog has heard this Christmas staple in the past few weeks. I wonder how you responded to it?  Does it jar, inspire or are you numbed by familiarity? Does it occur to you that Bethlehem is a real place, a place in the midst of conflict, the home to thousands of people who share your dreams, your hopes and your passions.

If you have spent any time at all there, you will know it’s rarely still. Traffic is a major problem for the city’s residents as they are unable to build by-passes, tunnels or flyovers and the roads in the town are choked and congested. The Church of the Nativity often looks like a traffic jam too – as tourists stand nose to tail in hour long queues to visit the grotto. There are sounds of life too – busy markets, children in schools, coffee shop chatter and the buzz of friendships gathered round sheesha pipes in the bars and restaurants across the city.

Sometimes there are other noises in the night, the noises of tanks rumbling into refugee camps, shouting as an arrest is made, the heart-stopping sound of weaponry which might be followed moments later by the haunting call to prayer that wends its way over the hills and valleys of this holy place.

When I first visited the Holy Lands I felt as if I had woken up in the land of Cinderella, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. Walking past a signpost that simply says Sion on it makes me shake my head in disbelief – the concrete reality of biblical mythology is a faith transforming phenomena for many. But I no longer visit these lands to walk in Jesus’s footsteps – I now visit to walk with people who live as Jesus lived.

Back home in Birmingham much of my work revolves around interfaith social action and it is often cited that the ‘Golden Rule’ is found in all the world’s major religions – the rule to love your neighbour as yourself.

But in the Holy Lands of Israel-Palestine so many people I meet have gone beyond this baseline and challenged themselves to love their enemy – in the midst of conflict, fear, oppression and injustice.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and people of no explicit faith have followed their calling and allowed themselves to be broken open to love the other in small ways and large ways. Some Palestinians can’t meet people who live in Israel, but they work to prevent the spread of violence and despair by empowering women, giving young people ways to articulate their pain or by investing in training and development for those trapped in poverty.

Jewish people and Palestinians together run programmes to help both peoples confront and heal trauma, bereaved parents meet across borders to seek comfort, solace and reconciliation in their loss and former soldiers join forces to wage peace.

Living in an occupied land is not easy. Water is rationed, this month there have been power cuts across the West Bank, movement is limited, violence can and does flare up; everyday there are many injustices and restrictions to navigate.

But so many people refuse to hate, they refuse to teach their children to hate and their lives speak instead of compassion, hospitality and generosity.

These people are human and sometimes I do hear a complaint – not aimed at the Israelis, or their own Government, or at Donald Trump but at us, the Church and particularly the church in the West.

Why have we forgotten the Palestinians? Why are we not in solidarity? Why do so many Christians support the Occupation and ignore the presence of Christians in the Holy Lands. One Christian leader suggested it was because we in the West have hardly any concept of Kingdom and thus of kinship. Our faith has become reduced to a ticket to the Good Place, our discipleship to a matter of personal morality and convention.

Perhaps another reason is our guilt. The Christian roots of anti-Semitism and our collusion with the holocaust is truly shameful part of our history and practice. How many people have recently  sang Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending  and in particular the words:

‘Those who set at nought and sold him, Pierced and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, shall their true messiah see’?

Are we really longing to bring Jewish people to a place of wailing and do we still want to perpetuate the accusation of deicide that has caused such harm over two thousand years? We cannot deny that our ill treatment of Jewish people over millennia has had deadly consequences and therefore shouldn’t we recognise and support the establishment of a Jewish state as a place of sanctuary?

But I believe this is not a zero-sum game. Being for one thing does not mean being against another. Jesus teaches us that. He loved all who crossed his path, he healed the sick child of an occupying soldier, he bantered at the well with a Samaritan woman and went to tea with a tax collector. But he was still passionate about justice, freedom and kindness.

I have friends in both Israel and Palestine – Christians, Muslims and Jews. I hope there is room for me to be passionate about equal rights for everyone in the land. I hope there is space to grieve at the pain of generations slaughtered by Nazi ideology and to hear the hurt of a Palestinian family who lost their home, livelihood and father in the Nakba of 1948.

I don’t go to the Holy Lands to ‘do’ anything special. There are enough peace-making experts, theologians and reconcilers there already. I go to listen and learn. I take others to listen and learn. I go because the people there have become my friends and I want to be in solidarity with them as they live lives that speak of Jesus. I go too to learn how I might live here, as we become aware of the fragmented and fissured nature of our society. Who needs to be heard? Who needs to grieve? Who is living like Christ with a heart broken open with love for the ‘other’ refusing polarities, binaries and the comfort blankets of self-justification, blame and scapegoating? How do we see what God is doing through ordinary people and join in, in Birmingham, in Bethlehem  or wherever God sends us.

If anyone is interested in visiting the Holy Lands please contact me at jess@nearneighbours.com.

See Jess’s blog here:  https://distinctivedeacon.blog/

 

HOW LONG IN DISTINCTIVE DIACONATE BEFORE EXPLORING PRIESTHOOD?

As warden of the college of St Philip the Deacon in Exeter diocese, I work to a diocesan steering group who recently asked me to provide a short paper on how long people who have been ordained distinctive deacon should spend in the diaconate, before they could start candidating for priesthood.

Most deacons will be aware of the steady trickle (and it is a trickle, not a stream) of people moving from one to the other, for reasons we know well (mentioned in paper). Of course it goes without saying that if someone is being called by God into priesthood, then they should heed that call.

However, concerns are raised every so often as to the speed that some people do this:  they are only DDs for a few months before they start exploring priesthood.  My steering group wanted to think through the issues. This very short paper has been approved by them, and I thought it would be of wider interest.  Do let me have your reflections.

DIOCESE OF EXETER

HOW LONG SHOULD DISTINCTIVE DEACONS REMAIN IN THE DIACONATE BEFORE EXPLORING PRIESTHOOD?

Background

The Church of England has always subscribed to the threefold ordained ministry of bishop, priest and deacon.  Although the diaconate was originally understood as a ministry in its own right, over time it gradually lost its emphasis on caring for the needs of the poor until it was seen merely as a necessary stepping-stone to priesthood. This is how most people in the church understand the diaconate today.

Issues

Although the focus and trajectory of the distinctive diaconate is now much clearer than it used to be, the waters are still muddied by the dual aspect of this ministry, in that it is seen both as a preparation for priesthood for some, while being the goal and fulfilment for distinctive deacons. This is a particular issue for those who see the diaconate as primarily a liturgical role, in which case priesthood can be understood as a short step towards liturgical fulfilment. The outcome of this and other considerations is that some who candidate and are ordained as distinctive deacons start exploring priesthood very early in their curacy.

Vocation

Since the revival of the social aspect of the diaconate in the nineteenth century, there have always been people who believe that God’s calling to them was to diaconal ministry in its own right, the so-called ‘distinctive’ diaconate. Distinctive deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking, community-minded ministry with the hallmark of mission through service. They prefer to be out and about, making contacts, building relationships, identifying and meeting needs, creating stepping-stones between God and the world. They often have a particular concern for issues of poverty and justice.  Although the deacon’s ministry is fed by and returns to the Eucharist, the primary focus for distinctive deacons is always outward-facing, located on the margins of church and community and committed to enabling the diakonia of the whole church.  This is the ambassadorial understanding of the diaconate in the diocese of Exeter in use by the DDO and vocations advisers when meeting diaconal enquirers.

Considerations

Although a personal call to priesthood is always to be respected, diaconal vocation is not just about an individual calling but also about the ministry itself. There is a continuing need to educate the church that the diaconate is not an inferior order or a waiting room for priesthood but a robust and vigorous ministry in its own right.

This indicates that deacons who have been through several years of discernment and have been ordained with a clear diaconal call should be encouraged to take some responsibility for a decision which has been made prayerfully and communally and publicly witnessed in ordination.  Time is needed for distinctive deacon curates to explore the diaconate. The facets noted in our diocesan diaconal dispositions include relationship-building, pioneering, the meaning of servanthood, community networking, trust-building, starting new projects, teambuilding etc as well as poverty and justice issues. Beginning to inhabit the diaconate in this way cannot be rushed.

Recommendation

There is precedent in the Nordic church as well as in the diocese of York for a minimum term in the diaconate (seven years) for those ordained as distinctive. The diocesan steering group for the College of St Philip the Deacon considers that the three years of curacy is a minimum length of time for those who have been ordained as distinctive deacons to do justice to some of these areas of diaconal ministry.   As a result, it recommends that it should be made clear to distinctive deacons that no exploration of priesthood will be considered until these three years have been satisfactorily completed as ministers with a primarily diaconal calling.  If after three years they are of a mind to consider priesthood, they would be free to raise it with their bishop in their end-of-curacy interview.  This would help to ensure that such priesthood candidates understand more fully the differences between diaconate and priesthood, and can show that they have taken this ministry seriously.  It would also help to safeguard the integrity and uniqueness of the distinctive diaconate and contribute to the clarity of the whole church on this much-misunderstood vocation.

Rev Deacon Gill Kimber

 

 

TOWARDS A RENEWED DIACONATE

Methodist deacon David Clark and Methodist presbyter Maurice Staton have produced an interesting response to the recently published Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective, edited by Deacon Michael Jackson.

Michael says in his foreword to the paper,

I note in particular their emphasis on the diaconate’s missional role in building a ‘kingdom community’ (a favourite phrase of Deacon Clark) beyond ecclesial structures.  While the missional dimension is implicit throughout the book, David Clark and Maurice Staton challenge us to place it explicitly at the forefront of diaconal ministry.

He commends it as a ‘valuable complement and sequel’ to the book.

Read the article here:  clark and staton Towards a renewed diaconate Nov. 2019

Image result for kingdom community clark

(image from River Methodist Church)

MESSY, UNTIDY AND GLORIOUS VOCATION: deacons talk (3)

A Whatsapp conversation recently was sparked off by a diaconal enquirer, who had been to see her DDO in a diocese which does not currently support distinctive deacon vocations (!)  She said “He is warming to the idea of me being a deacon, especially SSM but I have a lot of rough edges.”

Image result for stone rough edges

(image Champlain stone)

(Peter, Deacon in training)  “Don’t we all! I am in my first year of training as a DD and still marvel that God would want someone as broken as me! But his love and grace have been my guide.”

(David, Deacon curate) “I’m convinced that we are called to our diaconal vocation not despite our rough edges but because of them! It is only through our own rough edges – dependent on God’s grace – that we can hope to minister to those we meet with their own rough edges. May God bless all of those of us who have this messy, untidy, glorious vocation!”

Peter:  “I feel absolutely called as a DD. The most common question I get asked about it is ‘do you think you will go on to be fully ordained?’ My answer is always the same ‘Yes, as a Deacon!’ Everything seems to fall in to place for me as a Deacon.”

David:  “Q. “When will you become a proper minister?”

A. As opposed to an improper one, do you mean?”

Deacon Chris:  “Are you ordained?”  Err yes all clergy are deacons –  some go on to assume other posts/ hats.”

Deacon Stephanie:  “Messy, untidy and glorious! I love those adjectives, David. I was asked (by a Reader!) when I was going to be properly ordained but questions in the parish seemed to stop after our interregnum when I took on extra roles. Sometimes I joke, ‘you’d better ask the bishop who ordained me’. Sadly those occasions don’t often offer the time for intelligent conversations about the three-fold ministry. I haven’t posted before on here but am cheered by all the comments. Thank you all.”

Deacon Debbie:  “Reading all you have written today having come home from voluntary Hospital Chaplaincy, I too love those words Messy, Untidy and Glorious. I too get those questions, when are you going to be properly ordained or when will you be fully a Minister? I have never been more fully who God called me to be as a Deacon. ”

Peter:  “I have always found myself drawn to the edge of wherever I am and that is one of the things that affirms my calling to the diaconate for me.”

Debbie:  “Peter I too always find myself on the edges of places and people and longing to be alongside those in the darkness, deepest places saying I Love you, God loves you.”

Image result for untidy Holy Spirit

 

 

DEACONS’ LAPEL PIN NOW AVAILABLE!

Deacons’ champion Bishop James Newcome (Carlisle) has encouraged us to wear this badge, as a sign of our distinctiveness, and in ecumenical solidarity with our Roman Catholic permanent deacon friends.

They don’t appear to be available in this country, but after extensive research we’ve tracked them down to https://www.terrasanctaguild.com/deacon-cross-lapel-pin.html in the States:

They have very kindly offered us a discount on bulk orders, so the badges have now arrived and are available for sale from Deacon David Bean.

All the details about size etc can be found by clicking the terrasancta link above.  The price will be £4.66 each which includes P&P: or £8.49 for 2 and £12.32 for 3.

Please send your order to deacons@tutanota.com

Be distinctive!  Image result for distinctive

SAINTS STEPHEN AND PHILIP: WHAT DEACONS SHOULD BE

With many thanks to Rose Wilson for drawing this to our attention.  Rose has recently been recommended for training as a Distinctive Deacon in the diocese of Lichfield.

Saints Stephen and Philip: What Deacons Should Be

 

The first seven deacons were chosen from among the brethren of the Jerusalem Church to assist the Twelve because the Hellenists, or Greek-speaking Jews who had emigrated to Jerusalem from Roman settlements, were complaining that the Hebrews were neglecting their widows in the Church’s daily distribution of goods.

Acts 6 gives us this history. The seven chosen were Hellenists, each a man with a good reputation who was filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. They were ordained by the Twelve through the sacramental sign of the laying on of hands.

We read in Acts that the apostles ordained these men to the duty of serving at tables so that they could dedicate more of their time to prayer and preaching, or the ministry of the word. The general view is that what is meant here by serving at table is that the deacons would care for the temporal needs of the Christian community while the apostles would care for the spiritual.

Yet in the depictions of Stephen and Philip that follow in Acts neither is seen serving at table, an incongruity noted by a number of Scripture commentators. Instead, each is shown to be a man of deep faith, prayer, wisdom, and knowledge of the Scripture and the Lord’s as yet unwritten Gospel; each is shown to be concerned with bringing the Gospel out into the world with fervor; each is shown to be a master preacher and evangelist.

The inclusion of the experiences of Stephen and Philip in Sacred Scripture tells us much about what the early Church thought about the role of deacons outside of liturgy. While deacons are mentioned in Scripture, and others later are shown to be ministers of the Church’s temporal goods in various writings of Church Fathers, the preachers and evangelists Stephen and Philip receive more attention in Scripture than most of the apostles.

The preaching and martyrdom of Stephen

Stephen is a man “full of grace and power,” a wonderworker. His preaching so upset the various groups that heard him that they conspired against him. He was accused of blasphemy against God and Moses and was taken to the Jewish council.

Before the council and the high priest, Stephen preaches. He masterfully examines the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament. He ends by denouncing the Jewish people, and the council, for failing to heed the prophets and persecuting them, and for the betrayal and murder of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

He says to the council: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” (RSV-CE)

When the council grows angry, Stephen keeps his sight on Our Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit he has a vision. The heavens open and he sees God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.

The council casts him out of the city and stones him to death. Those stoning Stephen leave their garments at the feet of Saul. Yet while he is being stoned, Stephen calls on the Lord to receive his spirit. And like Our Lord on the cross he asks forgiveness of his murderers.

Commentators on Acts 7 have noted the similarity between Stephen and Our Lord’s death. In reading Acts, we see Stephen falsely charged, praying the prayers of Our Lord on the cross, asking the Lord to receive his spirit as Our Lord asked the Father to receive his, and forgiving those who stone him as Our Lord forgave those who crucified him.

From the time of the early Church until today, deacons have been considered as being configured to Our Lord in a special way and being icons of Jesus Christ in the world. Stephen’s preaching and martyrdom illustrate this. He was so configured to Our Lord, so much an icon of Our Lord, that he suffered death by stoning.

We do not know what happened to those in the crowd who left their garments at the foot of Saul, but we do know what happened to Saul. He witnessed Stephen’s stoning and later was converted. He became an apostle, evangelist, missionary, and writer of letters included in Scripture. As can happen with men chosen by God for great things, Saul’s name was changed to Paul.

Scripture shows us how the witness of the Stephen, a deacon, prepared the way for Our Lord’s direct conversion of Saul.

Philip’s preaching, healing, and baptizing

Philip’s story, told in Acts 8, almost immediately follows Stephen’s. Before we get to Philip, however, we read how Saul consented to Stephen’s death and persecuted the Church.

That this persecution comes between the stories of Stephen and Philip only further shows the power of Jesus Christ and the importance of men like Stephen and Philip in following the Lord and bringing the Gospel to others. That the conversion of Saul follows their stories in Acts 9 illustrates the connection between the preaching of Stephen and Saul’s conversion.

Despite the persecution, Philip, later called the Evangelist, and others continue to preach. In Samaria, Philip proclaims Christ and is so filled with the Holy Spirit that his preaching drives out unclean spirits and heals the paralyzed and lame.

Philip’s preaching also overturns the magic of Simon Magus and many were baptized, including Simon himself, although Simon soon falls away and is later cast as the first heretic by St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

Philip’s preaching prepares the way for the apostles Peter and John, who lay hands on those baptized so that they receive the Holy Spirit, an action we call today the sacrament of Confirmation in the Western church or Chrismation in the Eastern churches. The passage marks a clear distinction between deacon and priests-bishops. Philip, as deacon, could baptize, but he could not Confirm or Chrismate, which remains true today.

After Samaria, an angel of the Lord tells Philip to travel to Gaza. There he is sent by the angel to the Ethiopian eunuch, a minister in the court of the Ethiopian queen. The Ethiopian is reading Isaiah, and Philip asks him whether he understands what he is reading, a perfect question from a master evangelist.

When the Ethiopian asks Philip to explain the passage he is reading, Philip opens the passage to him. The Ethiopian is so moved, he asks to be baptized. Once baptized, the Ethiopian rejoices and the Spirit of the Lord sends Philip on to preach in new places.

The Church teaches that the deacon is to be a living icon of Jesus Christ, and that this is the foundation of the deacon’s spirituality. With Stephen and Philip, two of the first deacons, we read of the Church’s Archetypal deacons who lived this spirituality fully.

Please see original article here http://www.thechristianreview.com/saints-stephen-and-philip-what-deacons-should-be/

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