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DEACONS INTERRUPTED: Deacons in Discussion with Al Barrett and Ruth Harley

I’m delighted to say that we are offering DEACONS INTERRUPTED, an autumn zoom for distinctive deacons – and anyone interested – to discuss the diaconal elements of Al Barrett’s and Ruth Harley’s best-selling book, Being Interrupted.  This book is making waves this year, and is a radical look at how we do mission.  It’s a long time since I was so excited by a book ! – because so much of it turns out to be diaconal.

This zoom is the start of what we hope will be a series of ‘Deacons in Discussion’, and is free.  Please find further details here and book in:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/deacons-interrupted-for-distinctive-deacons-and-anyone-interested-tickets-178650738167

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SERMON PREACHED AT ORDINATION OF DISTINCTIVE DEACONS: Deacon Gill Kimber

SERMON FOR DEACONS’ ORDINATION AT CARLISLE CATHEDRAL

MICHAELMAS

SATURDAY 4 SEPTEMBER 2021

carlisle ordination

ACTS 6:1-7

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Distinctive Deacons are called by God to be ordained, but not to be priests, and people often find this very odd.  But deacons have a long spiritual pedigree, because we started right at the beginning of the Christian church, and our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us how this came about.

There we find that the church is growing so quickly, its efforts to feed the needy widows are failing.  In order to address this, the apostles gather all the believers together and put the problem to them.  They ask the church to choose seven men to have the responsibility of meeting the needs of those who are being pushed to the margins of the church.

Why do the apostles do this?  Why do they not themselves feed the hungry?  After all, that’s what they did with Jesus when he fed the 5,000.  The apostles’ answer to this question is very interesting.  ‘‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”

For the longest time, this has been interpreted as the apostles doing the really important work, of preaching and praying; while the seven do the secondary work, of meeting the needs of the poor.  But is that really what the apostles are meaning? Why are they so concerned about this complaint, concerned enough to call the whole church together, several thousand people?  And the people themselves thought it important enough to bring to the apostles, rather than dealing with it themselves.

So important, in fact, that the apostles would have had to leave preaching and praying, in order to address these needs.  Of course they could not do so; it was their primary calling.  So they authorised others to take on that responsibility.

It was not just an authorisation, though.  It was full-on apostolic authority, formal divine authorisation that comes from the Holy Spirit, and the laying-on of hands of the apostles in what we might see as the first recorded ordination.

So this diaconate, as we now call it, was not just an afterthought, it was not just administration.  If deacons didn’t do what the church should do by caring for the needy, the apostles knew they would need to do that work as well. Their time spent on preaching and prayer would have been robbed.  It is not too strong to say that the mission of the church would be subverted and would no longer look like Christ, who fed the hungry as well as preaching the Kingdom.

So, this caring for the poor and defenceless, this reconciliation work with an ethnic minority, so relevant to our own day, turns out to be central to the life of the newly-forming church.  Without it, the church can not be fully the church.

This care is central to what the Holy Spirit was doing in the young church.  That’s why the seven had to be people full of the Holy Spirit, and wise.  Christ was working through his body, through prayer, preaching, and caring for the needy.  So diaconal ministry, at ease on the margins of the church and society, caring for those who are unjustly treated, is crucial for an authentically Christian church and is part of its very identity.

There’s something else here too.  The apostles are very clear about their primary focus, and are also clear about when they needed to say no.  I sometimes wonder whether our own Church of England ministries might not benefit from being clearer about the primary focus of each vocation.  For example, for a long time now the diaconate has been seen as ‘the servant’ ministry.  And of course, it is.  However, surely all ministry – indeed, the calling of all the baptised, is to servanthood as modelled by our Lord.  We all need a servant heart.

A servant heart is fundamental to the church’s identity, and the deacon stands as an icon or image of Christ the servant to remind the church of this.  But God the Holy Spirit does not continue to call people to be deacons in order to be just a reminder.  The distinctive nature of our calling is still found in that primary focus inspired by the choice of the Seven in Acts 6.  You will still find us on the edge of the church, holding the door wide to those who are needy.  You’ll find us on the margins of society, amongst the dispossessed and voiceless.  You’ll still find us going into the streets and alleys of the town, the country lanes, to bring the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame into the kingdom. You might not always find us inside the church building.  But you will find us in the community, making friends, building relationships of trust, working collaboratively with others, making connections between the love of God and those who have not yet experienced that love, so that all of us together may meet people’s needs with the down-to-earth gospel of Christ.

It is also the deacon’s task to animate and enable the diakonia, the servanthood, of the whole church. Ministering with priests and lay ministers, we work out in practical terms how we can learn as Christ’s body to look outwards, to open our arms and hearts, our money and our time, to that community outside our doors. Our diaconal vision is quite simple.  How can we help our churches to see themselves as Christ the Servant in our neighbourhoods?  Because that’s what we are called to be and to do.

The Church of England is currently engaged on renewal of mission and ministry, working towards a simpler, humbler and bolder church.  We’re told that we need lots more priests to make this happen.

We need more deacons.  Lots and lots of deacons, working in ordained partnership with priests and lay ministers, side by side in God’s vineyard.  We need deacons at national level on General Synod, where some of the debates focus on issues of justice and the powerless in our society.  Deacons are those who go out into the forgotten corners of the world, and as such we have something important to contribute.

In the last couple of years General Synod has decided to plant churches on every major estate in England.  From the start, I have thought that we should have some kind of recruiting ‘drive’ to identify and train distinctive deacons for estates ministry. As the Faith and Order Advisory Group report says, deacons are those who cross boundaries, make connections, bring people together:  they are well-placed to move into challenging new contexts, with their network relationships of mission and evangelisation.  It is part of a deacon’s DNA.

Deacons stand in a liminal space, between church and neighbourhood, and it is part of our calling to interpret the one to the other, to understand the different cultures in our work places and communities, educate the church when necessary, and together work out, under the Holy Spirit, how best to incarnate the gospel in our localities.  In this we follow our Lord Jesus Christ, who was himself incarnate in our locality, grew up in one of our human cultures, and was therefore able to speak his message of grace and life in a way ordinary people could understand.

It’s not always an easy space for a deacon to be in.  Because of this, friends, family, relatives and church friends, you are of the greatest importance to your deacon.  There isn’t always a template or a model for what God is calling us to do, because some of what we do is new, it’s pioneering, it hasn’t been done before.  We have to move forward not always knowing how to do things. Your prayers are critical for your deacons, so that they are supported as they listen to both God and the community. Your love is a place where they can be themselves.  And sometimes, you need to be the ones to bring your deacon back to earth, to stop them overdoing things because there is always more to be done.  Help your deacon to recognise when they need to say that important word ‘no’, when they should be turning off that mobile phone.  Deacons, like everyone else, need to recharge from time to time.  You’re the people who know them best – help them to do it, to be the best God is calling them to be.  And perhaps to remind them sometimes, only God is indispensable.

The church needs the diaconate, because the Gospel must be done, as well as prayed and preached.  The gospel lies at the heart of diaconal identity and ministry and is the very nature of the church.  We deacons are heralds of the gospel, called to proclaim it in word and deed. It is our greatest privilege and highest honour to read the gospel in public worship, because the gospel is our Lord Jesus Christ. Without the gospel of Christ, we have nothing.

Deacons, may the wind of the Holy Spirit fill your wings, as you go out into the world, and proclaim that Gospel with everything God is giving you.  Amen.

The whole service can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpBZ1sMN9gY

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REFLECTING ON THE USE OF DISABILITY TERMS

I am grateful to Sarah Roberts Gardiner for this article on a subject very much under current discussion in the search for a more inclusive church. She says she offers this reflection

from a place of having my own disabilities: cerebral palsy, dyspraxia and hearing loss as well as sight issues, and being a family member and friend to those with additional needs.

sarah roberts gardiner

Sarah Roberts Gardiner

Reflecting on the use of disability terms in wider society, scripture, and liturgy.

‘Deafness, blindness, dumb, mute, and crippled’ are some of the words used by society as a whole, amongst others, to describe disabilities.  But they are used so frequently, and in a negative way, that people don’t even know they are doing so.  Please don’t use these words unless it is to describe an actual condition.

Imagine if I used descriptions like ‘blue or brown eyed’, ‘creative’, or ‘reflective’, in a negative way. These are just characteristics, and any characteristic that makes you you is beautiful and to be respected, EVEN IF it also causes limitations or frustrations sometimes. It especially needs to be respected if society sees a characteristic like this as negative.

Yes, most things have their downside; for example, to be creative is sometimes to be anxious; but why not celebrate who people are, rather than using those terms in a derogatory way?

Of course, if there is a blind or deaf person in Scripture that’s different, because it is describing someone’s physical state; its the metaphorical use of the term which doesn’t help.

Sometimes disability terms are used to indicate a character flaw, an attitude that causes a problem.  For example:

‘Deaf’ should refer to Deafness or hearing loss, rather than meaning someone is uncomprehending, unwilling to hear, or displaying wilful ignorance.

‘Blind’ means being blind or having sight loss, not that a seeing person is deliberately or accidentally not noticing something, or refusing to perceive a concept.

‘Dumb’ means literally being without speech, non-verbal. It’s not about being fearful or stupid.

Other words are simply quite difficult for some people.

‘Crippled’ – for some people this word has been adopted, others like me have their reasons for hating this word; try ‘unable to/finds it difficult to walk’.

Instead of using the disability term as a shorthand for something other than a medical condition, it would be kinder to those with actual disabilities to say what we actually mean.

For me, it’s not about being Politically Correct; it’s about honouring people and their experience of life.

The Bible is ancient, our liturgy is traditional, and sometimes wider society still uses these terms automatically, but let’s not use language that puts people down.

Sarah Roberts Gardiner 

Sarah describes herself as:

DIstinctive Deacon Ordinand in Gloucester Diocese and clergy spouse, passionate about inclusion, loves spending time on the fringes of church, writing poetry, reflections (like these!) and working on the social side amongst those living with dementia and their carers. Christian togetherness runs through her veins as does chocolate. And the thing she gets up for in the morning is her dog Charlie 😄

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MY VOCATION STORY: Alice Smith, Head of Mission for CAPuk

Alice Smith, Head of Mission for CAPuk, has recently been recommended for training as a #distinctivedeacon (diocese of Chelmsford).  Here’s her story.

Although it has been a two-year process, I still find myself surprised to be at this junction, this next step in my Christian life! I’ve been in church communities since the age of 14 and, in that time, lots of people have suggested to me that I should consider ordination. By ordination, most people mean ‘collar, cassock, christenings’ or being the main Church leader. That has never felt a comfortable fit for me – and I have definitely been of the view that one member of clergy is quite enough for any household!

What I did know, quite early on in my Christian life, is that I was called to work with young people and have been much more comfortable starting new things and being part of the messier aspects of church and community life! With Andy’s discernment journey and training towards ordination for the priesthood starting in 2011, we entered a period of significant change and upheaval, moving 3 times before landing, finally in Hutton in 2017. That settled-ness has given me the space to stop and consider again what God is doing in my life.

A number of helpful conversations with significant people introduced me to the Distinctive Diaconate and I was challenged to at least explore the possibility. The oldest ‘order’ of ministry in the Church, with St Stephen listed as the first appointed deacon (and martyr) in Acts 6, deacons were called to serve the wider community, bringing the needs and hopes of all the people into the Church, through relationship, prayer and active service.

The words of the ordination service itself were also really helpful, with Deacons being described in this way:

They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible.

A more outwardly focused and intentionally ‘edgy’ feature of this call is becoming a significant part of the conversation about how the church responds to and grows in our post-modern and highly complex world:

As those who cross boundaries, make connections and bring people together, deacons are well placed to move into the challenging new contexts, with their network of relationships, of mission and evangelisation. (Bishop James Newcome)

Distinctive Deacons have been part of the church forever, and yet majority of those who offer for, train and are ordained serve for just one year as a Deacon, an apprenticeship almost. It becomes a transitional year, learning the ropes with an experienced Priest and eventually going on to be ordained again, this time ‘priested’, at which point they are able to preside at the Eucharist, marry people and go on onto ‘Incumbent’ status or solo Church leadership.

So, what does this all mean for me now? Without wanting to describe these next steps in negative terms, it might be helpful to describe what I’m not going to be doing!

  • Firstly, I’m not going to be leaving my job – I’ve been selected to train as a Self-Supporting Ordinand so will continue to work 4 days a week as Head of Mission at Christians Against Poverty.

  • Secondly, I’ll not be doing any formal academic training, but will take part in a range of modules and formational training tailored to being a Distinctive Deacon. I’ll train at St Mellitus College at Chelmsford Cathedral on a Thursday evening for a year and will, God willing, be ordained in Autumn 2022.*

  • Thirdly, I’m not going to be stopping what I am already involved in within the Parish. Daily Prayer, Rooted Community, Children’s Ministry etc. will continue to be key areas for me, where I am standing on the threshold of church and community and being a bridge and connection between the two.

  • Fourthly, I’m very clear that, while I’ve discerned this particular path for my life, together with Andy and affirmed by the wider Church, this call is not just for me! As a Deacon, my role is to embody the church in mission and encourage all of you in this area too!

It is a releasing and empowering ministry, standing as a reminder and a demonstration to the wider church of their call to worship, proclamation and pastoral care too.  Rosalind Brown: Being a Deacon Today

Being part of this Parish, the friendship, faithfulness and encouragement that is so present here is a huge part of God’s call and I look forward to where this journey and the next few years will take us all. Thanks be to God and please pray for me!

(image of St Phoebe from Wikipedia)

*Alice has given me this explanation on Whatsapp as to why she is doing less training than is normally required, and I have permission to use it:

[17:53, 26/08/2021] Alice Smith (Chelmsford): I have an MA and PGCE so I’m not being asked to do any further accredited study.
[17:58, 26/08/2021] Alice Smith (Chelmsford): Probably also worth adding that, until June I also worked as a tutor at St Mellitus, involved in formation for ordinands and lecturing youth ministry BA student. My understanding is that DD training, under the new selection characteristics will be more bespoke in time but that will depend on institution and individual background etc. I’m expecting to do modules on sacramental theology, a research project, an alternative placement and probably some modules around mission and apologetics across the year.

With thanks to Alice.

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CHANGING FACE OF DIACONATE IN A CHANGING WORLD

The Roman Catholic International Diaconate Centre has invited us to their conference next month.

Study Conference and General Assembly 2021

Titled “The Changing Face of the Diaconate in a Changing World”, the International Study Conference and the General Assembly of the IDC will take place from September 15 to 18 2021 as a zoom webinar.  Find all the details on their website  (scroll down)vhttp://diaconia-idc.org/#5

The webinar will address the question

How do deacons respond to ecological, economic,cultural, social and health crises in the world today?

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DIARY OF A DEACON PRISON CHAPLAIN: Sarah Gillard-Faulkner (Church Times)

Insider’s view

sarah g-f

MY MOTHER is a good, Anglican, Church-in-Wales-going woman who, when the possibility of my being ordained first arose, exhibited some nervousness. A few years ago, however, when I told her I was heading for prison ministry full-time, she said she was relieved. “Why?” I asked. “Because you are not very good at being a parish cleric,” she replied. Grateful as I professed myself to be for her candid response, my inward reaction was rather different.

I’ve since discovered, however, that my present job has given her great cause for hilarity with unsuspecting folk. When acquaintances, or friends of hers, ask after me, she wryly responds, “Oh, she’s in prison. . .”

Spiritual uplift

NOT much in prison is DIY. There is very little anyone — prisoner or staff member — can actually do for themselves. Each part of the community relies on others to play its best, for the whole thing to work. There are few technologies to make our lives any easier: no direct-line phones; no Zoom.

The pandemic has enforced a return to simpler times. With no gathering for corporate worship in person, and no audio-visual kit available to provide an alternative, weekly interaction has been reduced to a simple leaflet with a short reflection on the readings of the day: something that can lift the imagination beyond the confinement of spending up to 23 hours a day in a room with a lavatory, and place the individual in the perspective of God’s wider world, if only for a while.

Each leaflet is individually named and addressed, and delivered to the door of its recipient. Woe betide me if it doesn’t arrive! But, unlike feedback at the church door on a Sunday morning, my weekly response is now based on the number of typos I managed this week. I console myself with the thought that at least the leaflet’s being read.

Reformed character

WHENEVER a hand-written envelope arrives with my name on it, it fills me with terror. What have I done? Whom have I offended? But the contents are sometimes a surprise. As prison chaplains, we are often involved when prisoners are at a loss about what they can do. We become what I have always seen deacons as being — bridges: individuals who can be the conduit between Church and the edges of society. In a prison context, we may be bridges between home and family; between the living and the dying.

At the start of the pandemic, the father of one of the toughest and most notorious and intimidating individuals in our community was dying in hospital. There was no way of enabling them to meet. We had offered a video call, but the hospital could not facilitate it. So we kept a contact with the hospital staff and family members via the phone. Within ten days, the father had died.

Some weeks later, an envelope arrived on my desk. The card inside it read, “. . . this can be a lonely place and I felt so much support, and good talks, and advice, and comforting. . . thank you. P.S. I was totally wrong about you and I take everything back! Ha ha!”

Without these walls

I AM hopeless at time off, although it does provide a chance to catch up with stuff — not just domestic chores, but also social media, and the connections that are harder to maintain when I’m working. In one hit, today, three separate interactions have highlighted opportunities for the distinctive diaconate — for those who understand themselves as go-betweens, with a special responsibility to cross boundaries, make connections, and bring the message of the gospel to the unchurched.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is highlighting our need, as a Church, for people who are willing to be visibly part of its family and at the same time comfortable working with those in the marginal places of our world. I’d never thought that would be me — but perhaps also that’s what comes from being open to the unlimited possibilities of God’s good purposes.

One bread, one body

FOOD in prisons is prized, not only by prisoners, but by staff, too. If free food is on offer, the scene will resemble bees around a honeypot. Both staff and prisoners, if they want to cook for themselves, have to be innovative with the limited provisions available. I have seen some very interesting “curries” come out of kettles, and dessert creations emerge from residential-unit fridges.

As a team, we recognise the significance of food in all our faiths and cultures; so one of our big treats is to share food together — not eating our own meals alongside each other, but all of us eating the same food at the same time. Halal and kosher diets and other religious observances have all been catered for with only a microwave, toaster, and electric griddle.

When we eat together, differences are forgotten and joys are shared as we recognise in each other a communal nature and spirit. The one thing that prison ministry has taught me is that, wherever and whoever we are, we are all humans who experience the same emotions, even if, for the time being, we find ourselves laying our heads in rather different places.


The Revd Sarah Gillard-Faulkner, is a Distinctive Deacon, and the Anglican Chaplain of HM Prison Onley, Northamptonshire.

This article appeared in the Church Times 14 August 2021.  Reproduced with permission.

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DIAKONIA PRAYER LETTER FOR AUGUST

cropped-Logo_DIAKONIA-WF-5DIAKONIA WORLD FEDERATION

DIAKONIA Prayer Letter August

from Deacon Gordon Pennykid

Mark 7: 18

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes
asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live
according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands? ’He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their
lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

Then he said to them,
‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!”

The world is full of strange habits that we label ‘traditions ‘. Over the past 18 months we have all introduced “new traditions”, from the use of hand sanitiser to face masks, from keeping 2m apart to not shaking hands or hugging. I read somewhere that it only takes around 8 weeks to form a habit. Which of your new-found traditions are in keeping with God? Which of our old ones do we understand? As the world slowly emerges (albeit at different rates) from this pandemic maybe now is a good time to examine our habits new and old.

Loving God, as we gather as a scattered yet united DIAKONIA help us to focus on you. We come to you not with empty rituals, doctrines or traditions but with open hearts. King and Lord of the Church, rule over us with Justice, Equity and seek out our wickedness. As we seek your kingdom around the world, give us ears willing to listen, eyes not only open, but looking and seeing, that our hearts are ready to receive each other, ready for a DIAKONIA of action. Help us to examine our own ways and to look to our hearts as we embrace the challenges ahead. As we are changed by you, God, let us relax and breathe safe in the knowledge that your ways are our ways.

Our closing prayer is the ‘traditional words
of St Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


Deacon Gordon Pennykid, DRAE Secretary, Scotland

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THE NEED FOR DISTINCTIVE DEACONS ON GENERAL SYNOD, by Deacon Rebecca Swyer

 

rebecca swyer

Deacon Rebecca Swyer

Elections are to happen shortly for the next quinquennium of the General Synod of the Church of England. I’m not standing again, having served for the last 11 years, the majority of which I’ve been the only distinctive deacon in the House of Clergy.

The whole point of the three houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity is that the voice of laity and each order of ministry are heard. It’s therefore really important that the distinctive diaconate is represented in General Synod.

As the Church of England grapples with issues of injustice, bias and exclusion, deacons have something important to contribute as those who go out into the ‘forgotten corners of the world’ (CW Ordinal). The next Synod will prayerfully grapple with the next steps of Living in Love and Faith and with what good disagreement and mutual flourishing really look like. Surely this links strongly to our role of go-between and agents of compassion and love?

We’re all aware of current challenges in mission and evangelism facing the Church of England. As agents of mission deacons ‘accompany those searching for faith’ and have a particular ministry of nurturing and equipping other Christians to live out their baptismal calling. It is essential that the work of General Synod is grounded in God’s mission and not mere governance or guarding of financial reserves.

In non-pandemic times there are two sittings of General Synods (February and July) each year, with the occasional addition of a November Synod. Alongside the debates, there are normally small group discussions and fringe meetings.  Each day at Synod includes worship, led usually by members of Synod. Members are also sometimes asked to be part of working groups or to represent the Church of England in ecumenical discussions. These invitations depend on skills and experience. There are several ways and places where a deacon can be both seen and heard.

There’s an expectation of bringing back and reporting on what has happened at each General Synod to your Diocesan Synod. Sometimes, a motion that started in a parish moves up through a Deanery and Diocesan Synod and is then taken back at debated at General Synod. These tend to be some of the best Synod debates and often focus on issues of justice and the voiceless in our society.

I can’t pretend that it is a minimal commitment and there’s a lot of reading and listening when Synod meets. The thought of speaking in the General Synod chamber in a debate might seem very daunting, but deacons are ministers of the Gospel in word and deed. The chamber is a place where we can bring to the Church ‘the needs and hopes of all the people’, ‘expectant and watchful for the signs of God’s presence, as he reveals his kingdom among us’ (CW Ordinal).

Last, but not least, as servants of God, through his Church, deacons must surely seek to be part of General Synod?

Please prayerfully consider whether you or another deacon you know might stand as a candidate in the upcoming elections.

For more information on General Synod and the elections, please go to: https://www.churchofengland.org/about/leadership-and-governance/general-synod/general-synod-elections-2021

Deacon Rebecca Swyer

More about Deacon Rebecca:  https://www.pbs.org.uk/the-society/the-revd-canon-rebecca-swyer

Image of Rebecca from All Saints Twickenham

Image of Synod from Church of England website

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LED TO ENCOUNTER

A reflection on the encounter of Philip the Deacon and the Ethiopian eunuch, from The Living Church

Daily Devotional • July 1

David Baumann

Led to Encounter

philip dcn ethiopian

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch | Herbert Boeckl | Angel’s Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria

A Reading from Acts 8:26-40

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Meditation

The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is fascinating, not least because of what we are not told. Who was this man? Why would he travel many hundreds of miles to get from his home (ancient Nubia, now upper Sudan) to Jerusalem? As a eunuch, he was barred from the full worship of the God of the Jews — yet he came. Clearly he was devout. Moreover, he was eminently capable and trustworthy, since he was in charge of his queen’s entire treasury. He was acquainted with the Scriptures and was reading Isaiah as he was returning from his personal pilgrimage. It is difficult to imagine someone more suitable for hearing about Jesus. So “an angel of the Lord” leads Philip to the encounter on the desert road. At the Ethiopian’s invitation, Philip uses the passage from Isaiah 53 and “told him the good news about Jesus.” The telling obviously includes the need for those who believed to be baptized, for the Ethiopian asks for baptism at the first sign of water they find — probably a providential occurrence, since water is very scarce in that region.

In this compelling encounter we see how evangelism works at its best: God knows the readiness of the potential convert and leads an evangelist to the encounter. The conversation is between two people but is clearly guided by the Holy Spirit. The potential convert is ready and willing to hear, and the evangelist is willing to respond to God’s lead. Surely there are many in our world today who would like to hear “the good news about Jesus.” Their hearts are ready. Are we willing to be led to an encounter? Philip’s obedience shows us how to do it.

David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.