Deacon Pat Wright is a nurse and during her working life was one of those who pioneered nursing Aids patients. She does not mention it (typically), but she received the MBE for her work providing health care for Aids patients in Swaziland. Here, she reflects on the outworking of her vocation as a health professional.
Diaconal ministry is characterised by service and mission to the world, especially to those who are vulnerable and on the fringes of the church and the margins of society: it is ecumenical and international.
The service and work that deacons do is very varied and so I offer my story as an example:
For 25 years I worked with people living with HIV & AIDS, and those affected. When this disease first came to the U.K. those infected and associated with it were ostracised; the media said the disease was the “Wrath of God”! Many clergy endorsed this attitude and we even had hospital chaplains who were afraid to visit patients. Those of us who were Christians working and caring for people, showing them the love of God, did not get much encouragement and support; so we formed our own networks which were ecumenical.
At another hospital, the chaplain would regularly bring visitors to the AIDS ward but explain that he only visited patients when asked to do so. This was not because of fear on his part but, as he said, the staff did the spiritual care and called the appropriate minister of religion when needed. This illustrates another strand of diaconal ministry: encouraging and enabling all people to exercise their vocation and ministry.
My ministry took me far afield; to Europe, Thailand, Japan and (for 8 years) to the small Kingdom of Swaziland. Through working in countries where ministers of religion are seen as having power and authority, I learnt the importance of the deacon as the icon of the Servant Christ: showing by example that the basis of all ministry, ordained and lay, is service.
The Rev. Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya, bishop of Swaziland
In ‘retirement’ I try to care for the carers by providing holiday cover for clergy in the parish and hospital chaplaincy. I have more time for prayer and am able to attend diaconal meetings and conferences, and have become even more aware of the contribution deacons make to church and society.
Historically, in times of economic threat and social change there has often been a resurgence of the diaconate, reaching out to the underworld and those on the fringes. In the present economic climate and cuts in social care, deacons are in the ideal place to help. Their ministry is community-focussed so they know the needs; they are in the right place to do prophetic social analysis and to raise the awareness of others in the church and society.
Politically the buzz words change all the time: in the church at present they seem to be ‘reform and renewal’ and ‘pioneer ministry’. Deacons are people on a mission – making connections between liturgy and pastoral need, building bridges between the life of the church and those outside They are pioneers and innovators.
My un-churched friends often cannot see the difference between priests and deacons. My simple explanation is that (generally) priests work from within the church out into the community, deacons work from the community into the church.
Rev Deacon Pat Wright