On the Silence of Deacons

A quick survey of the net uncovers a mountain-range of blogs, websites, and e-zines by and about priests, ministers and lay people, but very little by and about deacons.  Why is that?

Just within my own church, the Association of Episcopal Deacons (AED) has over 3,000 members.  We are mature, educated, and sophisticated people who are very much engaged in the world.  We have been around since the mid 1970’s, some 40+ years now.  So why do we seldom hear from deacons in the public square?

I understand why we hear from priests so much.  They are used to preaching a sermon 30 to 40 times a year, so they are in the habit of writing.  A thought occurs to them, they write it down, and what doesn’t become a sermon becomes an essay that is submitted to a publication or appears on their own blog.  This is part and parcel of their vocation as priests, as much as celebrating the Eucharist: they are to preach and teach.

Perhaps deacons do not preach and write as much because deacons, being deacons, are task-focused.  We are busy doing things rather than writing about them, such as feeding the hungry or comforting the marginalized.  We see proclaiming the Gospel as something you do, not talk or write about, so we don’t first think of writing or preaching about it.  We seem to adhere to the maxim of another great deacon, St. Francis of Assisi, who is reputed to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”

Our silence is a great loss to the church.  We have a charism and spirituality that is unique, based on experience lived outside the normal confines of a parish ministry.  We are to bring the concerns of the church to the world, and the concerns of the world to the church, all based on our lived experience as deacons.  We can only do this by speaking up and speaking out.

We must consider that our silence in church and the public square is at least a dereliction of duty to our vows, and at most complicity with those who do not wish God’s children well. As deacons, we are to “make Christ and his redemptive love known, by word and example…” (Ordination Examination, BCP, Pg. 543.)  If it is true that all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do (or say) nothing, then the consequences are grave if we fail to fulfill our ordination vows and neglect to proclaim the Good News of Jesus prophetically.

What would The Great Conversation that is our church be like if all 3,000 members of AED consistently wrote one Editorial Comment, preached one sermon, or posted one short essay, every 60 days?  That comes to 18,000 times in a year that deacons engage in the conversation; 18,000 times we speak prophetically for the weak, the sick, the poor, and the lonely.  Is “once every 60 days” asking too much of my fellow deacons?

When we think about it, our silence is deafening.  If we are silent about the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, then the church is just that much more deaf to the cries of the poor, and we are only doing half our vocation.  We need to speak up and be heard; we need to look for opportunities to be in the pulpit and in the press.  If we cannot find them, then we need to make our own pulpits and our own press.  But we must do it now.   We cannot stand before God one day and try to explain why we thought being mute as an ox was a good idea.

(Photo: medieval German wooden carving of St. Stephen, deacon and martyr.)

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