The Ordination of a Deacon: Lynda Hurt and Isaac Petty
Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland
The Rev’d Charles Everson
November 16, 2020
This is the first time that I’ve had the privilege honor and privilege of hosting an ordination at the parish where I serve. Thank you, Bishop Field, for being here to ordain two very dear friends who will soon become cherished colleagues as well. As I started to think about how the service might look and feel, I skimmed through some old service bulletins in our digital archive. Beyond the flowery Anglo-Catholic language that we use when the bishop comes – e.g. “Pontifical High Mass”, I also made note of the frequent reference to the “Solemn Reception of a Bishop” where it seems the bishop is ritually greeted outside the narthex doors before the service begins. One can imagine the bishop knocking impatiently while the rector scurries over to open the door. We chose to skip that tradition to avoid unnecessary movement during the pandemic (and perhaps because I don’t scurry about as quickly as I did when I was Isaac’s age). But one rather ancient episcopal tradition we are observing today is hidden from plain sight.
Underneath his chasuble, Bishop Field is wearing a dalmatic like the one I’m wearing, though mercifully for him, it is lighter and thinner. In today’s Church, the dalmatic is known almost exclusively as a diaconal vestment. You’ll see both Lynda and Isaac vested in one later in the service after they are ordained. The dalmatic, however, has never been exclusive to deacons. As an ecclesiastical garment, it was first worn exclusively by the Bishop of Rome. In the early 4th century, Pope Sylvester granted deacons in his diocese the right to wear the dalmatic to signify their special relationship to him and his ministry.
We see the origins of diaconal ministry as an extension of the ministry of bishops in the story we heard from Acts chapter 6. Early in the life of the church, it became known that the needs of two groups of people were not being met: the widows and the apostles. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the widows represented the disadvantaged in general, and apparently, the earliest Christians were not taking care of the most vulnerable among them. Likewise, the apostles were in need of some help as they were neglecting the word of God in order to try to tend to the practical needs of the community. So, the apostles asked the people to select seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, for them to appoint to do this work, which the NRSV translates as “wait on tables.” The diaconal call isn’t to be a waiter or a waitress, though there is some truth to that from time to time. The meaning behind this isn’t entirely clear, as it might also refer to managing financial assistance to those in need. In any case, these men were chosen to do this apostolic work of serving the most vulnerable among them.
Why did the apostles choose this part of their ministry to delegate to the deacons? Is it because they thought that serving the poor and needy was menial and somehow below them?
Later in this chapter, Luke describes Stephen, considered the leader of this first group of deacons, as “full of grace and power” and says that he did great wonders and signs among the people – miracles, really - using the same language used earlier in Acts to describe the work of the apostles. The signs and wonders Stephen performed among the people ultimately led to his death, for they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. So glorious was the witness of the first deacon that he quickly became one of the most popular saints of the church, with many venerating him and asking him to intercede for them.
I don’t think the apostles pawned off the menial work to lesser folks, rather they saw how great a need both serving the poor and needy and preaching the word of God was in the life of the Church. Over 200 years later, when others began to hear about Sylvester granting his deacons the right to wear the dalmatic, one writer, not without a touch of irony wrote, “Today, the deacons vest like bishops.” 
Serving the most vulnerable in the community isn’t the least important work that ordained people do, it is perhaps the most important work. It is foundational to everything that ordained people do, so much so that you can’t be a priest or a bishop without first being ordained deacon. A large portion of my time – roughly one-third – is spent doing diaconal work, but there is so much more of this work that I don’t have time for because of my ministry at the altar and the pulpit. The “signs and wonders” a deacon is called to do are so important that we only choose those of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.
The deacon isn’t just ordained to do a specific type of work. The late Deacon William Donovan writes,
“By virtue of sacramental ordination, the deacon acts in the name of the whole Church and of Christ, and raises the meaning of service to an efficacious sign of grace. … The deacon is not someone who performs sacramental signs; the deacon is a sacramental sign of Christ the Servant. … In living out this commitment in such a public, consecrated and permanent way, the deacon stands forth as a sacramental witness that the kingdom of God, made visible in Jesus Christ, has arrived”.
Lynda and Isaac, when Bishop Field lays his hands on your head in a moment, you will be changed, and from this day forward, you will represent Christ the Servant to both the Church and the world. You will be called upon to live out this commitment in both word and deed. There will be times when you will feel woefully inadequate and even unworthy, and you’ll often be tempted by the Evil One to ignore the diaconal sacramental character that will be imprinted upon you this day and conveniently forget that you represent Christ the Servant in our midst. I can tell you from experience, at times, this simple white piece of cloth around your neck will feel like a chain that is holding you back from whatever it is that you’d rather be doing.
The only way you can possibly begin to do the work you’ve been called to do – to be who God made you to be as a deacon – is to be faithful to the vows you are about to make. Be faithful in prayer, and in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, even when you don’t want to. Pray the Daily Office every day unless you’re prevented for good reason. Do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ. In all things, seek not your glory, but the glory of the Lord Christ. Look for Christ in all others, and be ready to help and serve those in need.
In a moment, when you are vested according to the order of deacons, your loved ones will help you put on a dalmatic. In the older rites, the bishop would be the one to vest you with this garment, saying, “May the Lord clothe you with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy. May you always be surrounded with the dalmatic of righteousness forever". Wear this vestment of joy again and again, not for your glory, but for the glory of your Lord, being ever ready to help and serve those in need. Amen.
 Acts 6:8.
 William Donovan, The Sacrament of Service, Alt Publishing as quoted in https://www.deaconharold.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/%E2%80%98Munera%E2%80%99-of-Deacons-Deacon-Digest.pdf, accessed November 14, 2020.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!