The Revd Margaret Legg
Does anyone know what a Deacon is? Listen carefully choir!! At school assembly tomorrow I’ll be asking that question. When this was asked at a school assembly once, after a long silence, a child finally raised their hand to reply. ‘I’m not sure,’ she said, ‘but is it something on the top of a hill that you set fire to?’ While I hope you will be set on fire in your ministry here as a Deacon, Robin, but that is not the right answer! A Deacon is a Servant!
Diákonos (from diá, "thoroughly" and konis, "dust") – means properly, "thoroughly raise up dust by moving in a hurry, and so to minister." So when we see a breathless Robin striding through the streets, sweat pouring off him, we will recognise that this is the Deacon at work! A life of self giving in our service!
Service has been in the news recently
There have been calls for a Tesco NHS. NHS England's medical director, professor Sir Bruce Keog has commented that hospitals should learn from Tesco, which has modernised its working practices in order better to meet its customers' needs. Well, I suggest the NHS should look no further than the Diaconate for a model of a service provider!! This is because of 3 things: Freedom, Responsibility, Focus
There seems to be the beginnings of a culture of intimidation and fear around in the NHS. Of the 5,277 in a recent Royal College of Nursing poll who reported having raised an alarm, 24% said they had been discouraged or warned off. Good management demands a system where anyone can air their views without being bullied or belittled, without fear or favour.
The Galatians in our NT reading however, are not a good model of service in freedom one to another! Jewish converts to Christianity were treating the non-Jewish, ex pagan converts as outsiders and so bitterness and tension had entered the little community. No no, chides Paul. Back biting and being at each other’s throats all the time is constricting and destructive. Away with deception, fear, resentment, that’s what the world (flesh) is enslaved to. Christians are to live together in harmony and honesty, displaying what he calls the fruits of the spirit, that transform and strengthen relationships. Committed to each other in a bond as strong as that of slave and owner, but with none of the negatives like control and frustration, that mar that relationship. Freed from all that, the community can grow and thrive together.
Robin, as a Deacon, you have the freedom to minister to all of us, especially those of us in the forgotten corners of the parish, as we are all free to come to you, so you can help us to grow in love of God and of each other, to help us to say to God and to each other: thank you, sorry, help. Without that freedom and open-ness, communities and organisations close in on themselves, abuses and abusers thrive and service falls by the wayside.
The NHS duty of care to its patients applies at all times. But key staff and key services it seems tend not to be available at weekends. I wandered (not my normal shopping hours!) into the local Tesco Express in the very early hours of Saturday morning (Robin your nearest, 24x7 branch is in Praed St!) rather wondering if the service would be patchy and slow, the store grubby, the produce wilting or out of date. To my relief everything was as normal and I found exactly what I needed.
But come on – as a church we’re always open on Sundays – and now you live in the parish, Robin, you will discover that people seek your help and wisdom at all sorts of times and in all sorts of places: the bus stop, the pub, and especially very late at night, when a sudden and burning desire to explore things like the meaning of life, why bad things happen to good people – pretty much anything you would prefer not to answer at that moment! And engaging with the people we encounter, whenever and however the need crops up is a hallmark of servant ministry.
Serving people, whether in the health service, in retailing or in ministry means a total focus on your patients, customers, and as for serving God, well Robin has already shown his focus in spades. The path to being a Deacon has meant a complete change of direction, although I hope that unlike Elijah, when he changed from ploughman to prophet you didn’t burn your engineering equipment, before you changed tack. Jesus is absolutely clear what is involved in setting your face to serving God, as he changed tack and turned from his Galilean ministry to travel south to Jerusalem and all that was waiting for him to accomplish there.
‘Let the dead bury their own dead.’ It’s meant Helen now has to share you with us, your new ‘church family’. And a little tip Robin, from the voice of experience! as well as ‘she who must be obeyed’, there is now also ‘he who must be obeyed’– the vicar of course!! Not forgetting the Associate Vicar. ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. It means you face a lifetime ‘on the road’ - I think you must be in at least your third home in almost as many years!
And beware of looking back because things will go awry. Lose focus and ploughs wobble, cars veer into the other side of the road; accidents happen.
Service is a two way process: patients are to keep taking the medicine; customers are to pay for what they select; Christians are to be servants to those they encounter, just as Jesus was. We have a duty to support Robin in his ministry and in his life among us, to care for him and uphold him, to pray for him, to let him see God at work in us all and to help him prepare for the priestly ministry that will be his for the rest of his life.
Freedom, responsibility, focus. With these as our watchwords, Robin, may we all be set on fire to live and work in the service of God!