Archives For justice

Don’t let the church tame you

Deacons —  January 11, 2018

by Rev. Rachel Neer

My eyes, just starting to glaze over, came into sharp focus when my Wesleyan studies professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary addressed the deacons in the room.

“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.

by Rev. Victoria Rebeck

Since deacons lead the church’s ministry to the world–and most especially to people who are usually overlooked or disdained–we are challenged to find new ways to minister alongside them. The old assumption that “if you build it, they will come” to a worship service or church building has long been proven outdated.

Deacons, with our emphasis on building relationships with the oppressed and sending the faithful out into ministries of justice and compassion, are the forerunners of the Good News and the church’s mission (should the church choose to accept it!).

Deacons find they need to develop ever new ways to meet and serve the marginalized, and send God’s people to do likewise. And United Methodist deacons are creating some inspiring new ministries.

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry provides Emerging Ministry grants every year to new ministries developed by deacons to reach an underserved community and empower laypeople for ministry. We receive a number of excellent proposals and struggle to choose finalists. The agency wishes it had the funds to assist all applicants.

This year’s recipients:

Multitudes Food Truck Ministry
Deacon Christina Ruehl
New Hope Covenant UMC, Savannah, Ga.

Rev. Christina Ruehl

Drawing on the popularity of food trucks, New Covenant UMC will prepare meals in the church kitchen and transport them in a food truck to food-insecure neighborhoods. They aim to feed people where they are and build community among the guests. Christina, along with the church’s elder, will empower laypeople for leadership in the ministry.

They are inviting local chefs, the Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless and the Savannah Food Truck Association to partner with them. They will also invite unchurched neighbors who would not enter a church but who want to help others to assist the ministry.

“We hope to create hospitable environments for sharing a meal together with dignity, a value not offered to the homeless population, and with others of different socioeconomic status, also a rare occurrence in modern-day society,” Christina writes in her application. The church anticipates serving 300 meals per month.

The typical soup-kitchen model, Christina notes, “sets up an unfair, patriarchal system that forces participants to obtain transportation as well as swallow their pride in accepting a free meal. I believe the Multitudes food truck ministry can offer compassion and justice with every meal, thus restoring the pride and hope of every homeless person we encounter.”

Reconciler Addiction and Recovery Advocacy
Deacon Adam Burns
UM Church of the Reconciler, Birmingham, Ala.

Rev. Adam Burns

Church of the Reconciler (COTR) assists its impoverished neighbors, including those with substance addiction, to transition from the streets to self-sufficiency. The more well-to-do in the area consider the ministry participants to be “dirty, lazy, and violent,” Adam notes. The Addiction Recovery and Advocacy ministry will use an appreciative inquiry approach to train those in recovery to lead presentations about addiction and teach neighborhood organizations how to support recovery programs.

“The purpose of the ministry is to reveal the beauty, intelligence, and creativity of the COTR community while meeting a need of our local community,” Adam says in his application. “By empowering the men and women of the COTR community to address the hurt caused by addiction and to share the love of God and hope found in Christ Jesus, I will continue to fulfill my call as a deacon.”

The ministry will work with a representative of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to create a 30- to 45-minute presentation that will accurately define addiction, reveal effective treatment options, and identify local services that can help. COTR community members, particularly those in recovery, will receive training to deliver the presentation to churches and downtown businesses.

“I can think of no better messenger of hope than the men and women of COTR,” Adam says. “Through the very act of presenting they will not only educate their audience but the will demonstrate the grace of God and hope found in recovery.

“It will also give purpose to homeless and low-income men and women of COTR who are desperately looking for ways to give back.”

Naivapeace
Deacon Jerioth Wangeci Gichigi
Trinity UMC, Naivasha, Kenya

Rev. Jerioth Wangeci Gichigi

Kenya’s elections are marked by profound conflict that can erupt into violence. This is particularly true in the Naivasha District. Deacon Jerioth Wangeci Gichigi of Trinity UMC is one of the leaders of Naivapeace, which send church leaders to preach and teach peace and reconciliation to gatherings in conflicted neighborhoods.

Though the elections were held on August 8, 2017, Naivapeace has a two-year strategy to reach every ward in the district. Given that on Sept. 1, the Kenya Supreme Court ruled the election invalid and in violation of the constitution, Naivapeace’s ministry continues to be urgent.

“Naivasha constituency has 42 tribes represented, and we all vote differently,” Jerioth says in her application. “In 2007, it was the area affected most by violence–1,300 were killed and many displaced. This year’s election is similar to that of 2007 and the country is as divided as it was.”

Jerioth will be preaching in the wards and training leaders to extend the peacemaking ministry further.

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Emerging Ministry Grants are offered annually, Applications are available after Jan. 1 and due July 1. Provisional and full-member deacons as well as diaconal ministers may apply. After Jan. 1, write to the office of deacons and diaconal ministers to request an application.

Victoria Rebeck is director of deacon ministry support, certification programs, and provisional membership development for the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

 

 

 

 

 

By Rev. Jessica Stonecypher

“The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.”—Genesis 2:15

I’m a farmer. Well, really, I’m more of a community organizer seeking to bring people together around the idea of farming.

Jessica Stonecypher

It’s an endeavor that I’ve been dreaming of for many years and I’m excited to be actively participating in a growing movement around local foods and urban agriculture in my community. When I discerned my call to environmental ministry, I knew it would be a struggle. There simply aren’t many who can wrap their brains around how or why an ordained minister would devote her life to such a vocation. But as I’ve grown into my role as a deacon, I’ve learned that I would be miserable without engaging in the work that drew me to set-apart ministry in the first place.

As a result, I landed a grant-funded gig with Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District. I was hired to work primarily in the Putnam neighborhood of Zanesville, Ohio, to create community gardens in an effort to alleviate food insecurity.

Putnam has been deemed a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning residents don’t easily have access to a grocery store. In addition to this injustice, the neighborhood also doesn’t have a laundromat or a pharmacy. It would be easy to conclude that the Putnam neighborhood has been neglected.

Even so, Putnam is a wonderful place. While it is deeply affected by poverty, food insecurity, and drug abuse, it is also a vibrant community where people are connected and most are striving to make it a better place. Non-profits, churches, businesses, and residents alike are working together to solve these problems. It’s simply amazing!

The place where I do much of my ministry is a local faith-based coffee shop called the Bridge Café. Yesterday, I stopped by to use the restroom and purchase an iced tea (it was a hot day in the garden). What happened during my visit provides a fitting snapshot of the ministry I madly love.

In just a few short minutes I encountered a group of fellow clergy meeting over lunch, two guests of my church’s homeless shelter, a local school administrator, a fellow community garden leader, and the owner of the coffee shop with whom I work closely on one of our garden projects. As a deacon, my love for the world and for my work in common places like gardens and coffee shops bring me the joy and energy I need to overcome the challenges of unconventional ministry.

I’ve learned that I would be miserable without engaging in the work that drew me to set apart ministry in the first place.

My work in connecting the church and the world is a tricky one that requires constant attention to what is appropriate for a clergy person who happens to work for the government. I am constantly thinking of new ways to go about it.

Some of this has been through preaching and teaching eco-theology as well as inviting parishioners into my work in the gardens. Just as exciting for me is the reality that living out my call to ministry is an act of affirmation and encouragement for lay members as they connect the church to the world in their own contexts. My hope is to offer others the freedom to think about ministry as a lifestyle rather than something one does only at church functions.

Community garden plots in the Putnam neighborhood.

Community garden plots in the Putnam neighborhood.

As I look to the future, I’ve been working hard to secure funding to continue my ministry after the grant period is complete in December 2017. This has required imagination and creativity about the future of my work. To date, my agency has applied for a United Way grant that would allow us to teach nutrition and gardening skills in Head Start classrooms and afterschool programs. We have also applied for a USDA Farm to School Grant in partnership with a local school district. Our largest grant application is through USA Today, which required the creation of a promotional video and a public voting period. We are now waiting to hear back about these grants in hopes that at least one of them will be awarded.

In the midst of all of the activity and hustle to make my ministry sustainable, I am learning the importance of relationships and trust in God. In a few short months I may be out of a job.

With that comes a great deal of anxiety. But it has also given me the opportunity to realize that God will not give up on me and most importantly God will not give up on the world. In return, I will not give up on my ministry as a deacon seeking to connect the church and the world around the issues of environmentalism and food justice.

Rev. Jessica Stonecypher, who will be ordained a deacon in full connection in the West Ohio Conference this spring, is Urban Agriculture Specialist at Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District.