by Rev. Rachel Neer
“I know that there are a lot of deacons in the room, and that a lot of your course work will address the ministry of the elder.
“But deacons, I have a word for you: Don’t let the church tame you.
“You will go to interviews with your Boards of Ordained Ministry. You will find ministry positions in the local church. Some of you will be incredible leaders in the local church. But don’t let this church tame you.”
My professor went on to say that elders had a particular role, a particular place. Their ministry contexts looked different, but their ministry responsibilities looked the same. Deacons, he said, are different.
Deacons don’t have the same job descriptions. Some are in ministries of education or music in local churches. Others serve denominational boards or agencies, and do that well. Still others are hospital chaplains, doctors, teachers, administrators, advocates, therapists, public policy makers—the list goes on.
None of us have been tamed.
The ministries of compassion and justice that are the particular call of the deacon are not easy. These ministries call us to community with one another, to lift one another up, and to find releases in joy with one another. These challenging ministries call us every day to lean deeply into our baptism vows—to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
The advice not to let the church tame me gave me permission to step fearlessly into injustice and oppression and to advocate for change.
In a world that is broken and bruised it can be easy to be discouraged. It can be easy to go back to our places of comfort, find a nine-to-five desk job in a mid-range company, and hope that someone else changes the world. It could be argued that you could just as easily resist evil, injustice, and oppression from a cozy cubicle.
However, that is not the call of the deacon. Deacons, by very nature, need not become overwhelmed with the massiveness of the task that is before them. Deacons survey the situation, identify the challenge, and fix it. God has called us to the places where the world’s deepest brokenness and the Church’s greatest hunger intersect.
The call of the deacon is to speak words of truth to positions of power. The call of the deacon is to remember the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
The call of the deacon is to remind the church who the world is—and to remind the world who the church is.
The call of the deacon is to be an advocate for the silenced.
Dr. Bryant was a prophetic professor if ever there was one. I learned much in his courses, but it was his advice to not let the church tame me that gave me permission to step fearlessly into the injustice and oppression and advocate for change.
No institution will ever find in it the power to tame the deacon.
Praise be to God.
Rev. Neer is a provisional member deacon of the Pacific Northwest Conference. She is executive director of Project Transformation in that conference and her secondary appointment is to First United Methodist Church, Vancouver, Washington.