By Rev. Donnie Shumate Mitchem
I am an ordained deacon in the Western North Carolina Conference. I am in primary appointment as a psychologist who works with adolescents with mental health diagnoses in a Title One middle school (over 75 percent of the children in the school receive free or reduced- price lunch).
What place do I have in ordained ministry?
This was the question that I struggled with for years. I felt a call into the ministry; I would spend hours looking
at seminaries on line and then delete my viewing history because I did not want anyone else seeing this! But I did not feel that my call was to lead a church and to preach every week. Because of this I spent many years just thinking I was crazy and that there was no way that God was calingl me into the ordained ministry. Then through a series of unfortunate events, job loss, worries and lots of prayer I found myself in the office of Kathleen Kilbourne at Pfeiffer University reading paragraph 328 in the Book of Discipline: “Deacons fulfill servant ministry in the world and lead the Church in relating the gathered life of Christian to their ministries in the world . . .and lead the congregations in interpreting the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.” Ministry does not just have to happen in the church! My heart soared!
But wait—is this really ministry?
I went to seminary, I studied, I went to district committees on ministry and Boards of Ordained Ministry and passed tests and exams. But for a part of that time I think I felt like I “wasn’t a real minister.” I wasn’t working in the church like many of my colleagues and I wanted to defend my status or try to make myself legitimate to others in the ministry. Through prayer and reading and seeking God’s direction, I am now able to see my work ALL my work as ministry. A pivotal turning point was hearing Adam Hamilton speak about Church of the Resurrection and how they write letters and pray for teachers in their area. I felt a little spark inside me. This is something I could make happen in my community. Could it be that my call is to connect the church to the school? Is this even possible in this day and age?
And so it began
Today, I still get up five days a week and go to school and do individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. But I go to a school where every teacher receives cards from church members saying they are praying for them; this has been happening for three years. I go to a school where every sixth grader gets a book bag filled with school supplies that church members have packed and prayed over. I go to a school where we church members have cleaned the desks in the classrooms and prayed for the teacher and students who meet in those rooms.
I now know that my distinct call is to connect the church that I worship in to this school that is less than a mile from our church. My church states that it wants to be a beacon for Christ in our community. To do this the church must go out into that community and find the needs in that community.
One story of transformation
One of the many things that I lead the church in doing is showing faith-related movies on Friday nights throughout the school year. We provide dinner, a movie and discussion. While I was cleaning up after we showed the film Unconditional, a parent came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for this movie.” “You’re welcome; glad you came,” I responded. But then she said “No, you don’t understand. God drew me here to hear this message. My husband died last year. This year my son died. I did not have any hope in the world and God drew me here to hear this message.” God uses this ministry in the cafeteria of a local school to draw people back to him.
Yes, this really is ministry
God calls the deacon out into the world to do ministry in ways that others are maybe confused about. But God calls us still. God calls us to use distinct gifts to lead the world to a Christ that heals, loves, and provides hope. Deacons who are called to do ministry beyond the walls of the church may struggle for a bit to try and see how they fit into the picture. You will have to stop and explain your ministry a few thousand times. But I believe that there is a place for us in the picture. It may require us taking a step back and looking at things a little differently but when we are faithful to God’s call GREAT things for the Kingdom happen.
Donnie’s secondary appointment is to Christ United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.