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From Our Bishops

Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends,

A highlight in my annual calendar of events is the yearly Deacons’ Retreat. Each year, our 50-member strong Community of Deacons gathers for a day of collegiality and spiritual renewal, ably led by Archdeacon Kyn Barker, the Coordinator of Deacons. On March 11, I got to spend some of the day with them, and as always came away inspired by their ministries in their various parishes across the Diocese.

If your parish does not already have a deacon (also known as a vocational deacon or a permanent deacon), you might not know that this distinct form of ordered ministry has an ancient and holy tradition of “mak[ing] Christ and his redemptive love known, by … word and example” and by “interpret[ing] to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world” (BAS pg. 655). That interface between the local community and the parish is at the heart of missional ministry. Many of our deacons are engaged in faithful front-line outreach ministries, while others are more focused on pastoral ministry to the poor, weak, sick and lonely in their own congregations. Liturgically, the deacon’s role is to proclaim the gospel, to lead the Prayers of the People, and to set the Table for Holy Communion, preparing the altar and vessels. It is a marvelous vocation, and I am grateful for those who have answered that call in this Diocese. We have a wonderful and deeply faithful Community of Deacons, doing some remarkable ministry.

What was particularly moving at this year’s retreat were the reflections that were shared by three deacons, as they considered their ordination promises and how they live them out as deacons in the Church. With their permission, I share some of their remarks here:

“I think back to a definition of a deacon that seemed to be clearer than most when I was in the early days of my discernment. It said that a deacon can be defined as one who straddles the threshold of the parish church – having one foot in the congregation to inform them about what is going on around them in their community that challenges us as Christians; and also having one foot in the community to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – particularly with those who are seeking something in their lives that our church may help bring about for them.” – The Rev. Deacon Gary Gannon, All Saints, Whitby

“I make Christ and his redemptive love known by word and example to those among whom one lives, works and worships. Most of you know that my main ministry for the past 10 years has been our thrift shop. The thrift shop started in a small room above the parish hall, and we were open only on Saturdays. We soon realized that there was a much greater need than we thought, and by 2014, we purchased and refurbished a school portable with the generous help of a parishioner and opened six days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The volunteers now number more than 30 and I schedule 24 people weekly having two three-hour shifts daily. Our thrift shop motto is taken from James 2: 14-18. In short, faith without action is having no faith at all. An integral part of St. Paul, Minden’s vision is to bring Christ’s love and hope to the community by reaching out through service, worship and ministry. The parish gives and receives with an attitude of gratitude. I feel we are doing what Jesus did, by reaching out to all in need, and by being the hands, the feet and the voice of Christ. We are opening not only our doors but our hearts as well, to all we meet.” – The Rev. Deacon Martha Waind, St. Paul’s, Minden

“Without rootedness in the world, life and ministry are meaningless. From the very beginning of the Biblical narrative, the story is of God who comes among us. It is this incarnational self-giving of God that sets our agenda as people of God. We cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if we do not have compassion for Jesus in the alleys and on the train tracks! Engagement with our world gives enthusiasm for and purpose to our ministries every day as we live out the incarnation. Our friend Jesus was no recluse; he engaged with people easily at weddings and dinner parties, he debated with leaders of the day, he spent time with outcasts, he engaged with Roman rulers and Jewish freedom fighters! Diaconal ministry takes its lead from this. Building relationships with everyone we encounter is what our ministry is about. The incarnation is central to diaconal ministry, so consequently deacons find themselves in the most unlikely places, because God is there!” – The Rev. Deacon Suzanne McMillan, All Saints Peterborough

Every parish should be engaged in gifts discernment, encouraging the members of the Body of Christ to exercise their gifts as God has given each one of us. For some, a vocational calling may be to holy orders as a deacon. I encourage you to look around your parish and consider who might already be engaging in diaconal ministry in your community and ask whether that person might be called to ordination as a deacon in the Church. We have a discernment process for that kind of intentional and prayerful consideration, which you can read about here.

Again, I am so proud of our Community of Deacons – a growing cohort of clergy who “show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.” Thanks be to God!

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto