Deacon Reflection: The Long, Strange Trip
By The Rev. Robin Sands
When I think about being ordained as a deacon in The Episcopal Church, I am reminded of some old song lyrics by The Grateful Dead, in the song, "Truckin’": “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
I would definitely say that has been true of my journey! I now have a better understanding of the words from the Examination at Ordination that deacons are called to a special ministry of servanthood. I would like to say that I have had the call or stirrings to be involved in the church forever but, for me, that just wasn’t true.
I grew up being afraid of an angry, vengeful God that I always heard about in my youth. The God who judges all you do and say and keeps a tally of all your faults. It was also a tradition that emphasized works over grace.
I found the Episcopal Church as an adult in my most brokenness. My heart was split wide open at the communion rail one Sunday morning. I will never forget that feeling or the impact that day had on my life.
For years after that, my daily prayer to God was always, “call me.” I knew in my heart that I supposed to be doing something, but I just did not know what that something was. It never occurred to me what I was actually asking. I had never heard of a “call” to ministry.
When my family and I moved to Charlotte in 2015 we started attending St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte. By this time, that prayer had morphed into “help me to help someone else today.” But the biggest transformation came outside the walls of my church. My son, Aidan, and I began feeding homeless folks out of our car on our way to his elementary school. Every day we would see the same people. We started packing lunches and buying meals for them every day and having conversations.
Each of them had a name.
Each of them had a story.
We would pray with them and for them.
We fed them with food and did what we could to honor their dignity.
I was still feeling this relentless urge to keep going, to do more. I began to see the divine in the people we met and the ordinary act of feeding folks. I slowly began to realize that instead of still being afraid of God as I once was, that I was looking for Him in everything I did!
After years of this urging and many conversations with priests and deacons, I agreed to enter the formal discernment process. The three-year formation process was nothing short of incredible. I knew that even at the end of the process if the answer to ordination was no that I wouldn’t trade anything for the journey itself. It served to help me better understand my faith, my relationship with God, the Church and the community.
I don’t view being an ordained deacon as a job, it’s a choice and a conscious decision and an answer to the question that God has asked of me. It’s a commitment to a way of life of service to God and to our world.
Deacons share the word of God and His love, we set the table, we prepare the bread, we pour the wine. We serve, we clean.
Deacons are also called to listen to God and listen for the needs of the world to bring those needs back inside to the people of God, who have been fed on the Word and in the sacraments by the priests. Deacons then are sent back into the world, having been changed by what has happened inside themselves and inside the walls of the church. God is already at work in our streets and our neighborhoods; it is up to us to catch up!
It is up to us to go out into the world to fulfill the promise we all made, because we are Christians. We are going out to "be with" not just "to do for" because we are all God’s children and made in His image.
Part of the role of the deacon is to go with you into the world and into the brokenness to make God’s love known to all. I could not be more excited to serve at St. Peter’s, Charlotte, where every day we strive to live into our mission to nurture a community of courageous followers of Jesus and inspire the love of God and love of neighbor.
The Rev. Robin Sands serves as a deacon at St. Peter's, Charlotte.