I remember distinctly, a hot afternoon on the playground of my elementary school in Mobile, Alabama, hiding under the large tire play-contraption, laughing and playing with my friend, Nathaniel Jackson. He was “a little black boy” and I was a “little white girl” and we were friends.* And the other (white) kids made fun of us, and picked at me because I played with him. And I knew then, even as a first grader, that it was wrong for them to make fun of me…and to call him (and us) the names that they did.
All through elementary, middle, and high school I would seemingly “fit in” with a group of my peers until being with that group of people meant that I couldn’t hang out with this other group of people…and in fact, that it meant that I was supposed to not like this other group of people. It didn’t make sense to me. Why can’t I like and hang out with this group AND that group? I wanted to be friends with all kinds of different people…and not be made fun of for hanging out with “that person”…and for “that person” to not be made fun of.
In middle school there was a super Jesus-freak group and a grungy emo group, both of whom had kids that lived on my street. I enjoyed hanging out with both of them but both groups would judge and make fun of the other. I was torn – I didn’t think it was right to look down on the grungy group (didn’t Jesus say to be nice to and love the outcast?), and I didn’t think it was right to make fun of the churchy folk either (after all, I did have more in common with them, but like the quote says, “I love Jesus but I cuss a little” – which didn’t sit well with them.).
There were times outside of school, with family or with other groups, where I also felt strange…like I didn’t quite belong because I didn’t
get like why everyone was laughing. Jokes would be told, targeting a certain group of people and while the room would be full of laughter, my gut would ache with deep sadness. In the simplest of terms, it just felt bad.
I had some friends that my parents encouraged me to not be friends with. Not to outright be mean to them, but “maybe you should find some other friends to play with.” Because they weren’t like us. It made me angry when someone didn’t give me a phone message because the sound of the caller’s voice was telling as to what color their skin was.
It wasn’t long after meeting Dr. Patty Meyers, my Christian Education professor at Pfeiffer, that I heard about the Order of the Deacon…and not long after that, I read this life-changing little blue book called “The Deacon: Ministry through Words of Faith and Acts of Love.” In that book were words that described things I had felt all my life but didn’t have words for…a sense of calling to work for justice, compassion for people whom society often overlooks or thinks less of…a calling to servant leadership and to help bridge the gap between the church and the world (read: all the friend groups playing well together rather than in their own little corners). Reading that book confirmed for me that God had called me to something beyond myself – to a life set apart for leading the church outside of the building and loving (all) people in a way that helps them experience the fullness of God’s love.
This morning I filled out a survey put out by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry about how Deacons serve and how they minister alongside our Elder counterparts. This year highlights the 20th anniversary of the Order of the Deacon in the United Methodist Church (YAY!)
Reading Margaret Ann Crain’s (the Mother Deacon, as I call her) book, “A Deacon’s Heart” expresses the ministry of a Deacon so well – that it’s not so much what we do, but who we are – We were “born this way” – filled with compassion for people, especially those who are hurting or who are excluded or treated unfairly; served with an extra spoonful of righteous indignation at the injustices of the world and the energy and drive to do something about it. Deacons lead the congregation in learning about the needs of our neighbors and equipping the Church to respond by ministering in the community in ways that lead people toward a deeper sense of understanding, experiencing, and sharing God’s love.
And even though I fought the call for years and felt like an alien for not fitting in at times, I now understand that I was made for this. I was “born this way.” I am a Deacon.
So thank you, Dr. Meyers, for your encouragement to pursue Deacon’s orders and for challenging me in ways that drove me crazy (but that I am better because of). Thank you to all the Deacons who serve in ways that inspire, challenge, and sometimes scare me (in a good way). Thank you, Mother Deacon, for writing your books and for your bold leadership and words to help educate especially Elders and laity on the Order of the Deacon. And thank you to Melissa – who guided me as I finished the commissioning process and modeled how Elders and Deacons should work together collaboratively and with love and respect; and David – who pushed me to finish the Full Connection process, read the Mother’s book to learn how to put up with me, and is truly a privilege to serve with.
*I use this language because of this excerpt in MLK’s “Dream” speech: “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, …– one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”