Deacons serve the scattered community
In the Uniting Church, people are ordained for one of two roles. The Ministry of the Word is often the better-known role, but serving the broader community is a focal point for Deacons. This role is an integral part of the church that is all too often overlooked.
Where Ministers of the Word primarily focus on the ‘gathered community’ that worships in church on Sunday (and other days), Deacons’ primary focal point is the ‘scattered community’ beyond the church building. Deacons are often charged with the prophetic task of speaking up for the marginalised and building bridges between the church and other communities.
While the Basis of Union only includes an anachronistic, passing reference to “deaconesses”, the role has long held an important place in church life. The Report on Ministry in the Uniting Church presented to the 1991 Assembly puts it, Deacons are “to be especially aware of the places in the community where people are hurt, disadvantaged, oppressed, or marginalised and to be in ministry with them in ways which reflect the special concern of Jesus for them.”
Deacons work in a variety of settings, including cross-cultural ministry and chaplaincy placements in hospitals and other contexts.
Sally Yabsley-Bell is a Deacon candidate. She told Insights that it was the focus on the dispersed community that made it appealing.
“The role of a Deacon is so similar to that of a Minister of the Word that people often don’t understand the difference,” she said.
“The charge given to both Ministers of the Word and deacons at their ordinations are the same, however, they are given in reverse order. It is this slight difference in focus that can be confusing.”
“We all are charged the same way, but it is where we start our ministry that is different. I feel called to the people outside of the gathered community, to help them find the love of God in community, meeting them where they are.”
Rev. Tau’alofa Anga’aelangi is the first Tongan person to be ordained as a Deacon in the Uniting Church. She said that a call to serve at the margins of society was what prompted her.
“Sometimes in the UCA it can be unhelpful to ask about the difference between the ministry of Deacons (and the Ministers Of the Word),” she said.
“I grew up in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. There has always been a longing to be more practical rather than the reflective, and prayer life that was also important in my upbringing. In my immature imagination, I had thought that’s what church life was all about.”
“I always felt a strong call to the community at the margins or the places where you hear people stories of struggle, issues of inequality, and social justice.”
“And of course others may have a different approach regarding social justice. However, I strongly believe that the servanthood of Christ and teachings is more than enough to bring about change in the status quo of a society.”
“Indeed, there is a time to be prayerful, reflective, and planning. Nevertheless, I don’t claim exclusivity with regards to the Ministry of Deacons and their role in the church. Being Deacons means we focus on the scattered community and being the prophetic voice of the church. This has affirmed my gifts, skills and passion is a gift to the Ministry of Deacons in the UCA.”
Deacons undergo a rigorous training process which includes theological study and formation. The process begins with the Period of Discernment, a yearlong process of reflection that involves study, journaling, and meeting with a mentor.
“Being ordained into the Ministry of Deacon has been an affirming time,” Rev. Anga’aelangi said.
“I started my Period of Discernment in 2011, and I had a few setbacks. The time of preparation for the occasion also gave me some reflective moments of my journey through discernment, formation and ordination.”
“Each of those pivotal moments has been challenging, in a way that’s stretched me to rethink about the call. The challenge and discernment meant that I will continue to be transformed in my way of thinking and doing. Ordination was special to stop and recognise I did not get here on my own. I have been journeying with not only the church community but with family, friends, and others. Therefore, ordination is a time of recognition of one being officially affirmed by the church.”
Rev. Anga’aelangi told Insights that, now ordained, she was looking forward to what the Ministry has to offer.
“I look forward to conversations, and people’s stories. I’m excited about the talks on what it means to be church and why we do the things we do in the community.”
Foye is Insights’ Editor