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By Rev. Patty Meyers

I am a member of the Oregon-Idaho Conference Order of Deacons. I serve in another annual conference at a United Methodist university nearly 3,000 miles away. Why not transfer my conference membership?

Deacons of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

Deacons of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

Because the Oregon-Idaho Order of Deacons is my spiritual family, my faith community, my church in the very best meaning of the word. I would not give up my membership in this order if you paid me.

Some of the things that this order does well:

1.      It is collegial. The order has co-chairs, not just one. It includes diaconal ministers. As one who served as a diaconal minister for 19 years before becoming an ordained deacon, that is important to me, as it is to active and retired diaconal ministers.

2.      It stays in touch with retired deacons, diaconal ministers, and those in candidacy on a regular basis.

3.      It holds spiritual days apart, sometimes retreats, in addition to meeting at annual conference and has done so for many years. For those who serve outside the bounds of Oregon and Idaho, I can tell you that the notes from those who attend those gatherings are encouraging and keep us connected to the order.

4.      The order really does support its members in their ministries and its retirees. Blessed by a deacon who is an artist, Oregon-Idaho retired deacons receive a sterling silver towel and basin pin made by her, which every recipient treasures. She also created a unique pin for those in the order when they become members of the order either by transfer, commissioning, or ordination.

5.      Tuesdays are Prayer Days for deacons in the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences. PNW deacons started it and it’s a wonderful blessing to pray for one another intentionally every week. Each week we receive an e-mail message with a thought for the day or focus that helps us hold each other accountable to one another and deepens the bonds between us.

6.      Our Order of Deacons sometimes works with the Order of Elders to provide continuing education opportunities.

The annual conference makes sure that deacons, elders, local pastors and diaconal ministers are equally represented on boards, committees, and task forces as well as provide leadership at the meetings of the annual conference.

I realize that the things I’ve described here are no more than what The Book of Discipline says that an order should do. I’m a witness that when an order does those things, they make a difference in the life and service of its members. I am deeply grateful for my colleagues in the Oregon-Idaho Order of Deacons.

Dr. Patty Meyers is professor of Christian education and church music at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C. and is a deacon in full connection in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

by Rev. Patty Meyers

The photo with this post is of the heavenly promise given upon our arrival and was fulfilled during class at Iona, Scotland.

Iona is a small island off the west coast of Scotland, where in 563, Columba founded a Celtic monastery. In the middle ages it was the site of a Benedictine abbey and over the centuries has attracted thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys. It is peaceful and beautiful with rock-strewn meadows leading to sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters, and far more sheep than people. George MacLeod described Iona as a “thin place,” where the material and spiritual worlds seem separated only by the thinnest of veils.ionarainbowmyers

I recently led to Iona a group of eight graduate students who are seeking United Methodist professional certification in spiritual formation. Some of them are also candidates for the ministry of the deacon. Some are elders and deacons doing continuing education in this field. While the course meets academic requirements for certification and for Pfeiffer University students on the pastoral counseling track of the Master of Arts in Practical Theology, this course involves much more than classroom work. It is a one-week intensive that students say is life-changing.

My goals for the course are that students will:

• grow in their faith maturity and relationship with the Holy One;
• learn to offer spiritual friendship and guidance to others as they receive spiritual direction and practicing with a prayer partner;
• practice spiritual disciplines, especially prayer, lectio divina, examen, solitude, silence, community and celebration;
• be well-grounded biblically, theologically and historically in spiritual formation and direction;
• demonstrate knowledge of spirituality and grasp of ethical issues inherent in spiritual direction;
• begin experiencing the art of spiritual direction;
• know themselves better and create plans for future development to be faithful servant leaders.

Every student I’ve ever taken to Iona said it was a transformative experience.

“The sense of community and Christian love I experienced in our group and when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in worship in all our different languages and versions and voices, it was like Pentecost and deeply moved me,” said Debra Crawford.

“The spiritual direction intensive class . . . gave me the necessary space to expand my own spiritual pilgrimage and allowed me to explore other ways of integrating pastoral care with my hospital patients, coaching clients and personal family-friend supports,” said Sherry Waters.

“Each morning I looked forward to the walk to the Abbey—even if the weather was more appropriate for ducks—because I knew this would be that sweet time of community that I long for at home. There was a prayer we prayed at each service, a prayer of confession. I cried several times as we spoke it in unison: ‘Before God and the people of God, we confess to our brokenness: to the ways we wound our lives, the lives of others and the life of the world.’ The response is full of the spirit of Iona: ‘May God forgive you, Christ renew you, and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.’ My hope is to now live completely into that sense of community in my day to day life at home,” said Merit Wolff.

“The Iona experience for me, helped me realize what true Koinonia truly is! Being together as equals in community is what God truly wants for [us]. Another revelation that I had after pondering our trip is being still and listening to others and to God,” said Scarlette Pless.

“It was one of the most profound religious experiences of my life. The trip, the things I learned, and the hearts I grew closer to will remain with me for a lifetime,” said Jennifer Grainger.

Practicing the presence

It’s an intensive week of taking care of body, mind, and spirit, because “you can’t give what ain’t got.” Students focus on attentiveness to God, listening skills, psychological awareness, personal spiritual disciplines, biblical and theological foundations of spiritual direction, historical background (including formative Wesleyan spirituality), and ethical issues for fostering this supportive relationship of spiritual guidance.

Dr. Patty Meyers

Dr. Patty Meyers

It includes readings in Christian classics, experiencing the practice of spiritual companionship, and training in ways of offering spiritual guidance in congregations. Each day begins and ends with worship at the abbey with people from around the world. In between are classes, meeting with spiritual directors and prayer partners, study, hikes, naps, shopping, and sight-seeing.

I teach the class at Iona every other time it is offered. The class is held on Pfeiffer’s traditional campus in Misenheimer, N.C., when I don’t lead a group to Iona. It is hard to describe what a special, sacred experience Iona is to live, learn and be the body of Christ together with students in this place. As a deacon teaching deacon and certification candidates, I have the great privilege of bridging the church and world in deep, meaningful ways. Students who take this class often experience international travel for the first time. They learn far more than any classroom can hold or words can say.

“In Iona of my heart, Iona of my love . . . ere the world come to an end, Iona shall be as it was.” (St. Columba)

Dr. Patty Meyers is professor of Christian education and church music at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C. and is a deacon in full connection in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

by Rev. Tom Lank

I was perhaps more surprised than anyone to be elected to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference delegation from Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. To be elected first, and consequently become the chair of the delegation, made me fall out of my seat.

Thomas Lank photo 1 cropped

Tom Lank

Back in February 2015, the chair of our order contacted me to ask if I would stand as a nominee on behalf of the diaconate. We wanted to at least have a face and a voice from the deacons represented in the pool. It proved too difficult for the deacons who have their primary appointment outside the local church to commit to taking the necessary weeks off from work in order to represent us at GC. So it fell to the handful of us who had primary appointments in the local church. I agreed to stand as a nominee because I geek out on the legislation and church politics. My first jobs out of college were as a campaign manager and legislative aide. When I entered the ministry I largely put those skills aside until annual conference came around, but relished the opportunity to bring them back into use as a GC delegate.

I did not campaign for votes ahead of annual conference session. I find it feels too much like self-promotion and indulges my ego in an unhealthy way. When other clergy have done it, I’ve found it distasteful. I was content to let my reputation stand and let the Spirit work as it would. The pre-conference booklet had bios for each of the 15 candidates and our answers to a few questions, but they didn’t even have a photo on file to put with my bio. I have been part of the conference for 11 years (though only five as clergy) and I don’t think half of them could have picked me out of a lineup.

When we convened in clergy session on the first morning of annual conference, we were instructed on voting procedures with the new electronic voting system. We did two sample ballots where we voted for our favorite disciples. Thomas was one of the disciples we “elected.”

Then each of the nominees was given one minute to speak to the session before the real voting began. This is what I said:

“My name is Thomas Lank, and I am an ordained deacon in full connection. I repeat, my name is Thomas and I am a disciple . . . so I believe I was already elected a moment ago.” (That got some laughter!) “For 20 years, deacons have worked alongside elders. For 20 years, deacons have operated as equals in the ministry with elders. For 20 years, deacons have bridged the church to the needs of the world and the world into the arms of the church. And for 20 years, deacons have not had their voice represented in the delegation from this conference. It is time for that to change. I have experience in legislative politics and am involved in innovative ministries with young adults in both Greater New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. I would be honored and humbled to have your vote.”

Moments later, when the balloting began, we voted for our top four choices. Within seconds, the results were up on the screen. I had the plurality of votes, but fell short of the needed number for election. Without any time for discussion or back room conversations, the second ballot was taken. Seconds later, the results were posted. I had 177 votes and needed only 175 for election. I was the first delegate elected!

Advice and strategy for electing deacons

There are several things that make my experience hard to replicate, but I believe that there are some general ideas that might apply to all deacons who are seeking election as delegates.

  1. Diversity is important in the delegation and that means not only gender, race and ethnicity, but also diversity of representation of the orders of ministry.
  2. Emphasize how many deacons there are in your conference and in the denomination as a whole. There are more and more candidates who are choosing the deacon track each year. We deserve representation.
  3. Deacons are more often on the frontiers of the next generation of ministry because we are forced to be entrepreneurs. There is no single dominant road map for deacon ministry. Many of us are more itinerant than elders and have already figured out how to do ministry in the UMC without guaranteed appointments. Emphasize the ways that you bridge church and world. Even more than that, emphasize how you bridge the present church to the future church.
  4. Make sure that you have elders who are allies and who understand deacon ministry. Especially if your conference does paper ballots, there will be time between each ballot when nominees and their supporters will be trying to convince their friends to switch votes. If they understand the importance of having a deacon on the delegation, they can reach more people than you can on your own.
  5. Delegates at the 2012 General Conference. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

    Delegates at the 2012 General Conference. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

    If you have the opportunity to make a speech, make it brief, make it memorable, and do it from memory. The more you can look people in the eye, the more power your words will have. Most of my colleagues read their speeches from iPads and tried to cram in veiled language that indicated how they would vote on certain issues. They spoke too fast. Somehow their preaching skills vanished when they were in front of their clergy colleagues.

  6. Intentionally try to be friendly and show human kindness to colleagues who are very different from you theologically. It’s as true in the clergy session as it is in the congregation – they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

Good luck to those of you who have yet to go through this. I pray that the Spirit would work in you and through you and that I’ll get to meet you at General and Jurisdictional Conference next year!

Rev. Tom Lank is appointed as an associate minister at Haddonfield United Methodist Church in Haddonfield, N.J., with a focus on missions and youth and young adult ministry.


 

(General Board of Higher Education and Ministry will help connect and coordinate deacon delegates in advance of General Conference.)

The Center for Courage & Renewal invites young United Methodist clergy (deacons and elders age 35 and younger) to apply for “Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Ministers: A 6-Month Leadership Intensive for Faith Leaders to Renew, Reflect and Reconnect.”

This Courage to Lead Intensive offers young faith leaders a rare opportunity to listen to God, connect deeply with committed peers, engage significant questions, and build their capacities for sustainable leadership over the long haul. Three separate cohorts across the country will meet in the Atlanta, Milwaukee and Denver areas for opening and closing retreats focusing on “Leading from Within” and “Habits of the Heart for Healthy Ministry.” Between retreats, small groups of five will engage in once-a-month facilitated Peer Learning Calls to deepen the learning and integrate principles and practices into their faith journeys and ministry contexts.

Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Minsters is open to young clergy serving United Methodist congregations or in another ministry setting. The cohorts will primarily consist of, but not be limited to, men and women ages 35 and under. They are using an application process to allow us to convene dynamic and diverse cohorts, specifically attending to a diversity of ministry settings, race, gender and geographic representation. Applications are due by January 16, 2015.

Learn more at the Courage to Lead site.

By Rev. Amy Aspey

In his blog Do Less, Live More, Terry Hershey recounts this memorable Communion moment:

As Alan Jones celebrated Eucharist one Sunday, in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, he couldn’t help but notice a young man standing at the very back of the sanctuary. His clothing (atypical of “church attire”) and his uneasy demeanor gave him away. Alan could not tell if the visitor was entering, or wanting to leave.

Even so, the young man stood against the back wall for the entire service. As members of the congregation processed to the altar for the bread and wine, the young man waited, unmoved, at the back wall. His curiosity piqued, Alan made a point to seek out the young man. In conversation he learned that this young man lived on the city streets, that life had been unforgiving, and is now fighting a most formidable foe, AIDS. “We’re glad you are here,” Alan told him. “But why did you stay in the back of the church? Why didn’t you come down to the table for communion?”

“I didn’t think I would be allowed in,” the young man replied. (“Where Do We Hear the Voice of Grace?,” July 22, 2014).

Haven’t we all been there? An outsider looking in. Unsure if we belong. Feeling left out. Longing for an invitation. Playing the comparison game (me/them) and always coming up short. How many people in our communities and world are wondering, “Are we allowed in?”

Rev. Amy Aspey

Rev. Amy Aspey

Some of our predecessors in servant ministry (perhaps in a way the start of the Order of Deacon), Stephen and his co-workers, invited people in by extending Christ’s table out (see Acts 6:1-7). You may be thinking, where is the Table in this story? There is no specific mention of the Eucharist. I don’t believe, however, that when the Church responds to those in need, this can ever be separated from the holy feast. Perhaps, we could think of the seven’s ministry as being charged to become “living table leaves,” living extensions, in and of the Communion table.

When I was growing up, whenever our family had a large family meal, my mom always asked my dad, “Did you put the leaf in the table?”

It was critical to be sure that the extra space was added so that there was room for our guests. The leaves, those extra sections, extended the existing table so that others could join the feast.

Similarly, the heart of a deacon’s call is to live sacramentally. Ministry to those in need within the church and into the world can’t be separated from Christ’s ministry to us around his Table. Acts of compassion and justice are not separate from the Table; they are best understood as an extension of the Table.

In the text, it’s telling for our understanding of servant ministry that the seven are chosen to serve in a compassionate response to injustice. There was a growing racial tension within the church, which resulted in neglect of the poor. The Message phrases Acts 6:1-2 this way: “As the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—“Hellenists”—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines.” People were being left out. Differences were becoming divisive. Leaves were needed in Christ’s Table because people were having trouble living the connections between the Communion table and the kitchen table.

While proclaiming the Word was not initially an aspect of this ministry, it didn’t take long before Stephen and others were known for preaching and miracles. Perhaps, this was because it is impossible to care for the poor, to love the neglected, to offer hope to the marginalized without proclaiming the Word. The Gospel of Jesus is always good news to the poor.

In our culture that kowtows to VIP titles, celebrates climbing the corporate ladder, clamors to be part of exclusive clubs, and measures worth by material possessions, the values of Christ’s table are confusing. Extravagant grace, radical love, transforming forgiveness and open-to-all are counter-cultural. When I began to understand deacon ministry as a means for extending Christ’s Table everything changed. All of the many beautiful ways of “doing”–creating community partnerships, leading teams in mission, serving in clothing rooms, sitting at a bedside in a mental hospital, preaching in prison, connecting our community to a Freedom School, equipping people in endless ways to live out their commitment as disciples of Jesus, when my heart bridged the serving with the sacrament–these acts of “doing” became a means for being and re-presenting Christ in the world.

When we understand our ministry as living leaves, which extend Christ’s table, acts of compassion and justice become the bread of life and the hungry are fed. Works of mercy and dignity become the cup of hope for those who are thirsty and the parched are renewed. Living out the vows of Word, Service, Compassion and Justice become the means by which additional places are set and each place card reads the name, beloved child of God.

May our servant ministry forever extend Christ’s Table out so all may know they are welcomed and invited to join us.

Rev. Amy Aspey, a deacon who is director of clergy leadership development for the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, preached this sermon to the Provisional Member Deacon Formation Event in October 2014.

They dress and look like their neighbors. But within their human appearance, deacons are empowered by the Holy Spirit to help transform the world into the realm of God.

They are more than meets the eye.

The Rev. Nick Nicholas never tires of seeing the result of combining his love of ministry and a passion for justice.

“You just know you’ve done something right when God, through the Holy Spirit, opens a person’s eyes to see things they ordinarily would not see,” he says.

TransformeriStockBrendanHunter

@iStock.com/Brendan Hunter

Nick is a deacon residing in Philadelphia who serves as coordinator of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM) in the Northeastern Jurisdiction. His secondary appointment is with at Arch Street United Methodist Church.

He is one of the deacons featured in the article “Deacons show Christ to a hurting world” in the Sept.-Oct. 2014 issue of The Interpreter magazine (the source of the above quote).

A number of other deacons are featured in this issue, which focuses on ministry in the United Methodist Church. It shows the breadth of ministry leadership that deacons provide.

Dr. Margaret Ann Crain speaks in another article in that issue about the ways deacons lead United Methodists in the denominational mission of transforming the world:

“One of the gifts of the order of deacon is that they have permission to stay focused on the ministry of all Christians and the transformation of the world,” says the Rev. Margaret Ann Crain, professor emeritus of Christian education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and author of The United Methodist Deacon (Abingdon, 2014). “Because deacons are not focused on ordering the church, they have the freedom to focus elsewhere, specifically on the transformation of the world—or, to put it another way, to participate in bringing to fruition the reign of God. Deacons are always looking for opportunities to connect resources and people to needs in the wounded creation.”

Check out the issue and consider ordering extra copies for your ministry of helping people discern their ministry callings (whether those are lay or clergy callings).

Mission to vs. mission with

Deacons —  September 16, 2014

By Erica Koser

In ministry, I am passionate about two things: social justice and youth ministry. As I journey toward commissioning as a deacon, I find that these two passions continue to define my call to ministry and have pushed me to ask some important questions about how we serve others and how we attempt to be in mission with others. What is our driving motivation? Are we offering compassion but forgetting to continue on toward justice? Are our acts of compassion firmly rooted in a life of discipleship?

Erica Koser cropped

Erica Koser

In my ministry as youth director, one of the cornerstones is the short-term mission trip. I start receiving glossy fliers in my mailbox about this time of year, encouraging me to gather my youth and jet off to a tropical locale to serve others while having the adventure of a lifetime. The brochures are full of pictures of happy teens beaming at the camera and holding paint brushes, next to headlines that proclaim that these youth are changing the world.

Oh, were it that simple! What the brochures don’t show is the impact that our invasion may be having on the local community.

An old proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” An issue with many short-term mission trips is that we spend most of our time handing out fish. Week after week a new group brings fish—sometimes brightly colored fish, sometimes fish presented with a song and dance—but it’s always fish. The people receiving the fish smile and thank the givers of the fish only to turn and throw the fish in to the trash because nobody took the time to discover that the community can’t use fish. Robert Lupton, in his book Toxic Charity (HarperOne, 2012), lists these misperceptions of many mission trips:

“Contrary to popular belief, most mission trips and service projects do not:

  • Empower those being served
  • Engender healthy cross cultural relationships
  • Improve local quality of life
  • Relieve poverty
  • Change the lives of participants
  • Increase support for long-term mission work

Contrary to popular belief, most mission trips and service projects do:

  • Weaken those being served
  • Foster dishonest relationships
  • Erode recipients work ethic
  • Deepen dependency”
A short-term memory

Handing out fish can challenge us in the moment, but later, after we have washed the fishy smell from our hands, it is too easy to resume life as we know it, and the time, the money, and the effort we have spent on our short-term mission trip doesn’t have the effect on the community or on the youth that we desired.

As deacons called to a ministry of word and service, I think we are uniquely equipped to shift this paradigm and find ways that we ground our acts of compassion in a life of true discipleship.

I studied this issue intently as I wrote my graduate thesis. How do we engage in mission in such a way that we go out and make disciples in the world while also deepening our own discipleship? How do we live out John Wesley’s three General Rules to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God (as Bishop Rueben Job words it)? I have found that if we shift to an attitude of accompaniment and ground it firmly in the cornerstones of covenant discipleship, we can facilitate and nurture the kind of discipleship we are called to in the great commission.

This past year I began using the cornerstones of covenant discipleship with our confirmation class. As the youth became more comfortable with working their way around the Jerusalem cross each week, sharing their acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion, they began to see how each strand wove together to deepen their understanding of discipleship. Compassion could not happen without also looking towards justice and understanding how mission and service were thin without practices of worship and devotion. They began to see that as they accompanied each other, they learned from one another as well as challenged each other. The seeds that were planted in the youth room were ready to be harvested and re-sown on the short-term mission trip.

Working alongside

For the past three summers, our youth group has traveled to Harvest Farm in Colorado. Harvest Farm is an addiction recovery farm on the plains of Northern Colorado. They serve a population of men who have been homeless or incarcerated and have lived a life of addiction. The men come to the farm to work the land, learn about the unconditional love of God, and begin to see a different way to live. And while it may seem an odd place to bring a group of youth for a mission experience, it has been a place that has changed us all for the better. This year, the youth arrived with a clearer picture of mission. They were not there to simply hand out fish. They were there to stand in the water with the other and to fish together. The water we stood in took the shape of dairy barns and pastures, corn fields and goat pens. The youth worked alongside the men, listening to their stories and sharing some of their own. Issues of homelessness and addiction began to take on names and faces—and acts of compassion led to ways to address injustices.

As we have returned home, we have continued to accompany the men from the farm. We have exchanged letters, held each other in prayer, and shared the ways in which we saw God at work during our week together. Our trip certainly wouldn’t have made a glossy brochure but God’s work often isn’t glamorous.

As deacons we are called to take the church out into the world, and in so doing we are called to ask the hard questions. Who are we serving? How are we serving? Is the work we are doing weaving together the threads of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion? There is a rich tapestry waiting to be woven as we accompany the other as Jesus’ hands and feet in the world today.

Erica Koser is a certified candidate for ordained ministry (deacon track) in the Minnesota Annual Conference. She is director of children, youth, and family ministry at Centenary United Methodist Church in Mankato, Minnesota.

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

Donnie Mitchem (third from right) joined other deacons on the 2014 Wesley Pilgrimage in England, led by the General Board of Discipleship.

Donnie Mitchem (third from right) joined other deacons on the 2014 Wesley Pilgrimage in England, led by the General Board of Discipleship.

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.

Donnie Michem and children 2014 croppped

Donnie with children served by the church.

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.

By Sue Zahorbenski

Death and taxes. Two things we can’t avoid, no matter what, no matter where.

In Germany, the churches and their many agencies and institutions are mostly supported by the government through taxes. About 8 to 9 percent of income tax supports the churches, although this may translate to only 2 percent of a taxpayer’s income. (Example:  $50,000 income, taxed at 20 percent, equals $10,000; church tax comes to $800-$900.) This allows unique and comprehensive caring for many people, as we witnessed during the World Diakonia Assembly in Berlin in July 2013.

Sue Zahorbenski visits a remaining part of the Berlin Wall on July 4, 2013.

Sue Zahorbenski visits a remaining part of the Berlin Wall on July 4, 2013.

For example, an old city church had dwindled to only 20 people in the congregation, so they went on a European search for a new model. A Swiss pastor and his wife were recruited to import their community model, including several families, to create the “Stadtkloster Segen” (City Cloister Blessing) in Berlin. After two years, they now offer Bible study and prayer, worship, breakfasts, counseling, spiritual mentoring, and more, for all who come, including visitors in their guest accommodations.

On a larger scale, the Evangelisches Johannesstift, which hosted our conference, is a huge community that offers a variety of ministries. Located on 187 acres with over 60 buildings, the campus accommodates both those who need help and those who provide help, employing about 1,900 people. The handicap-accessible bus stops at the front gate, so it is not isolated even though it’s on the outskirts of Berlin in the Spandau Forest.

At the Berlin Wall, I was touched by the story told in the Reconciliation Chapel service about a young West Berlin man who accidentally fell while peering over the wall. He was shot and killed by the East Berlin police, who told no one about the death of this innocent man. It was not until the wall came down in 1989 that this and other deaths were revealed to the public. His friends and family didn’t know what happened to him for years!

Elizabeth, one of our tour guides, may be the best example of the vim and vigor of the German deaconesses. She met our group at the train station and led us all around the city. The youngest person in her community was introduced at age 72, so we guessed that Elizabeth is probably closer to eighty. There were no golf carts on the Johannesstift campus to shuttle people from one end to the other. In the U.S., our lack of exercise may shorten our lifespan—another sobering lesson from Germany.

I was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Berlin to represent the diaconal ministers and deacons of the United Methodist Church. As one of the few diaconal ministers still working in New Jersey, it was great to meet so many from other denominations who still go by the name “diaconal minister” (though they may pronounce it “dia-KON-al”). Having attended many United Methodist Women jurisdictional and assembly meetings, I thought I had a global view of the church. The UMC is global, but now I see even more broadly. Thank you!

Sue Zahorbenski is diaconal minister at the United Methodist Church at New Brunswick (N.J.). This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.