Message from Reverend Deacon Bill Dunlop
With the pandemic and the Rev. Elizabeth departing, there has been a concern about where do we as a community get pastoral care? Who will baptize our babies, confirm and receive us, who will marry us, who will be with us when we lose a loved one, and will help us in a time of need? We don’t have a priest any longer, so who will take care of us?
St. Paul’s is in a unique position because we have a deacon. To understand how a deacon provides the community with pastoral care, we need to understand what a deacon is, and is not. In the Episcopal Church, a deacon is an ordained member of the clergy. It is one of three ordained orders: deacons, priests, and bishops. Each have their own roles. The deacon is a servant role, with the mission of bringing the people to God and God to the people. All ordained clergy in the Episcopal Church start their ministry as deacons.
We all have a good idea of what priests and bishops do, but what about a deacon? There are two types of deacons: transitional deacons and vocational deacons. Transitional deacons are deacons who are discerning a call to the priesthood and will ultimately be ordained as priests. Vocational deacons are those called to a servant ministry in the church. Vocational deacons generally have a secular vocation or employment outside the church. Mine was as a civil/environmental engineer until I retired. I have known others who have been doctors, factory workers, nurses, social workers, and a variety of other occupations.
Deacons proclaim the gospel and serve communion, bringing God to the world. We lead in prayer, bringing the world to God. We set and clear the table for the Eucharist, as a visible sign of our service to the community.
Deacons are a part of the pastoral care for members of the parishes in the diocese. We have certain limitations which can be summed up in the A-B-C’s. There are three things we cannot do that a priest or bishop can do: Absolve (A), Bless (B) and Consecrate (C). We can hear your confession and pray for you, but not absolve you of your sins. We can pray for you but not give you a formal blessing. We can serve communion but not consecrate it.
What deacons do offer is pastoral care grounded in scripture and seasoned in the reality of the world around us. When I was discerning my call to the ministry one of the concerns I expressed was my lack of experience in ‘pastoral care.’ That concern was put to rest at a discernment committee meeting when my wife, Amy, upon hearing my concern, went through all the things I had done in my secular life that were examples of “pastoral care”: informing young soldiers of a death in their family and mourning with them, mentoring youth and young adults as they began their lives, visiting prisoners, guiding a person to rehabilitation that ultimately saved his life, and restoring relationships between people. These were all part of my work in God’s kingdom.
A deacon is one part of the ordained, Episcopal community that is there to provide pastoral care to our community. I am here to serve and to bring us closer to God and God closer to us. I have married couples and baptized a child, among other experiences. In all that I do, I want you to know that we are all loved by God and God’s community.