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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Allyship Training: Changing the World, One Soul at a Time

This post was written by Jon Greene, member of St. Thomas', Christiansburg and Postulant for the Diaconate. The photographs were provided by the Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith. 

I have often been frustrated in the past few months.  

Let’s face it, it has been a tumultuous 2017 so far.  From my perspective, there seems to have been more frequent and more overt acts of racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ activity.  Our divided, and often bitter, nation seems to be in greater need of reconciliation than it has been for a long time.  Responding to this situation, there seem to be a whole lot of well-intentioned people out there trying to make something happen.

There is what seems to be a never-ending stream of meetings and seminars and trainings intended to address these issues, many of which I have attended. I often left them with the feeling that I agreed with many of the people in the room, that it was nice to hang out with them, but I didn’t feel like we’d accomplished anything and I doubted anything positive was going to come out of it.  

Allyship training was different.  


First, Whitney Parnell, the creator of the training and the CEO of the non-profit Service Never Sleeps, and our own Rev. Anne Grizzle brought an energy, enthusiasm, and freshness to the training that would be hard to duplicate.  Let’s face it, a lot of anti-racism training and the like is just a little bit stale.

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Second, I think we all recognized that we needed to go to some slightly uncomfortable places, confront our own biases (sometimes that we didn’t even recognize), and start grappling with some of the uglier sorts of behavior in our society.  We all came to grips with the fact that, in some ways, all of us were privileged but that simultaneously there were ways in which all of us were or had been marginalized.  Perhaps most importantly, some of us—maybe most of us, including myself - needed to recognize that we were far more privileged than most.  


Finally, this training is not about discussing why we have racism (or sexism or whatever sort of marginalization) or even how it manifests itself.  Not to suggest that is not important, but this training is about what to do when someone is marginalized.  What are the specific skills and strategies that we, as Christians, should be using to address this marginalization?


I walked out of the training with the sense that I knew what I could do to start making a difference.  There is no magic wand here, of course.  We were provided skills and strategies for how to “intervene” when someone is being marginalized and to “engage” when the opportunity presents.  We didn’t walk out of the class as experts in these skills, and the actions that we take as individuals are not going to create the Kingdom of God overnight.  We did walk out of the training with tools that we could begin to practice with the goal of moving the needle and changing the world one soul at a time.  


As a result of this training, we now have a core of qualified trainers in the Diocese, with at least one in each convocation.  I’d love to see every parish provided the opportunity to participate in this training.

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The right place at the right time.

Sometimes ministry is being in the right place at the right time.

The Roanoke Clericus (colleague group for area clergy) met yesterday and walked the neighborhood around St. James' Church. The Williamson Road area is a diverse mix of businesses and residences, including many Hispanic-owned businesses and historic churches.

As the Clericus group was walking and learning about the community, they were stopped by a woman who needed prayer.  The small group of Episcopal clergy quickly gathered and formed a prayer circle on the sidewalk along the busy road. 

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"It was not your ordinary Clericus", said the Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith.

Walking the neighborhood is an easy way for parishes to get to know the area and people around their church building. It helps to illuminate areas of need and any potential partners in God's mission.

Dwight Zscheile writes in The People of the Way, "Rather than trusting in our...power to secure our best ideas about the neighbor's future, we are invited to join up with God's ongoing movement in the neighborhood, trusting that the Spirit is at work in the life of our neighbors, that we meet God there, and that by going with empty hands as learners we will experience God's peace. We must go as Christ came to us - as guests, in a posture of humility and dependence." (pg. 80)

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How can your faith community step out into the neighborhood? In what ways does your parish interact with the community around you? 

The first step to missional engagement is to get to know your neighborhood and the people who live and work there. Often, the Holy Spirit will show you where your church can be involved but you have to be out there to see it. 

Sometimes ministry is being in the right place at the right time.

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