Church of Our Saviour

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Tales of Hofmann

by Terry Hofmann, M.Div.

This month begins a series of occasional columns by Terry Hofmann as she shares with COS her continuing journey in formation as a permanent deacon. Terry has been a frequent contributor to Loaves and Fishes, often writing about mission, service opportunities, and linking us to interesting talks and events. Her columns will continue this tradition and give her free rein to talk about whatever is on her mind and heart.

By now, many of you know that I have been accepted as a postulant to the permanent deaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts. But you may well be wondering what exactly that means – and what is a deacon, anyway?

Although deacons are part of the ordained ministry of the church (along with bishops and priests), the term itself can be confusing because there really are two types of “deacons” in the Episcopal Church: those who are transitional deacons on their way to being ordained to the priesthood and those (like me) who will remain deacons. In other words, all priests are deacons but not all deacons are priests. To make matters even more confusing, other religious denominations sometimes use “deacon” to designate a certain type of rotating lay leadership.

Essentially, a deacon exercises “a special ministry of servanthood” directly under the bishop, serving all people and especially those in need. In the days of the early Christian church, before there were even priests, there were deacons who acted as agents of the bishops, usually overseeing charitable works. The term “deacon” itself comes from the Greek word diakonia which means “ministry.”

In modern times, deacons are the “nudges of the church,” according to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, referring to the portion of the ordination service where a deacon is called “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” (Book of Common Prayer). Basically, being a deacon means being a bridge or a connector between the concerns/needs of society and the church. One of my professors at the Episcopal Divinity School, the Rev. Ian Douglas, told me that the primary role of a deacon is to be a communicator, interpreting the Gospel to the world and the world to the church.

To be a communicator, to be a bridge, to be a “nudge,” – interesting images for what I perceive of as an evolving role. I will have more to share about what this might mean in upcoming issues of Loaves and Fishes.

Right now, I am at the first stage, as a postulant. After this comes a period of candidacy which, hopefully, will end in ordination. How long will this take? At least 18 months and perhaps as long as three years; it all depends on the bishop and the Commission on Ministry. There are currently 7 of us postulants (an auspicious number!), and we will be training together. After a year or so, I will likely be asked by Bishop Gayle Harris (who oversees deacons), to work with another parish but COS will always remain my home parish.

I am most grateful to Lily and to the members of my discernment committee, for their continuing support and encouragement. I look forward to sharing my journey with all of you!

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