Calling All Deacons, Known and Yet Unknown: Reflections on My Ten-Year Ordination Anniversary

This post was written by the Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith, Archdeacon of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

There are many deacons in all parts of our diocese.  Some of them may be aware and others may not have a clue – yet.  I was in the latter category for many years.  I began to formulate some concept of ministry as I participated in and completed the Education for Ministry (EFM), 20 years before ordination. 

I kept feeling a call to something and had this call reflected to me by others, like my friend and priest, Deborah Hunley.  I considered everything other than ordained ministry – a new job, a Ph.D., anything else.  The priesthood was not it either, although that was the only pathway known to me for many years.  Nothing seemed to satisfy a desire that was in me but it still did not have a voice.

But then, an idea of my ministry began to take shape.  I became aware of the few deacons in our diocese, although none ministered close by. The desire just would not be quiet, so I pursued something I was unable to define fully, but faith carried me through the ambiguity. 

Then on October 20, 2007, I was ordained to the diaconate at Christ Church – Roanoke.  I have never looked back and I thank God for the clarity of this ministry in the last decade.

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Funny that the growing clarity came when it did. 

At least for a social worker, I finally was making “good” money as the CEO of a non-profit.  My husband and I had one child starting college and another soon to be.  This was not the time to make waves, but there it was. 

My pathway was beginning to be revealed and in spite of everything else, it made sense to me.  My husband’s faith allowed him to trust it too.

Happily for me, as someone who embraces change, the last 10 years as a deacon never have been the same year-to-year, and the understanding of my ministry has constantly evolved.  Ideas about the diaconate also have been ever evolving in the Episcopal Church.  The diaconate has moved from its conceptualization with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, as a role connected to priests in a parish, to a separate path and rhythm that emanates from the authority of the diocesan bishop.  It is an ongoing process that does not lend itself to 6 months, which is the required time spent as a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Church.  The transitional diaconate is not the same and never will be, although I know several priests who would offer credible reasons why it is.  But after all, I’m the one who still is a deacon.

Being non-stipendiary and separate from parochial matters has been central.  I have been able to take stands and speak out without fear of reprisal.  Flying in the face of the cultural value of remuneration and the drive to “get ahead” have fueled my ministry. 

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I believe I have felt freer to respond to perceived calls by the Holy Spirit. My paid vocation (by then clinical social worker/play therapist) has informed and become a unified part of my diaconal ministry.  I am thankful (almost) every day that I am allowed to serve as a deacon in God’s mission in the world.  

So what about you?  Do you know someone or are you someone who wonders about deacons?  I welcome the chance to speak with individuals or groups.  Please contact me and ask any questions you have.  I know you are out there because of my own experience.

If you would like more information about the diaconate and the ministry of Deacons in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, email Melissa at mhays-smith@dioswva.org. 

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