There’s a persistent knowledge that lives somewhere in me, it is not rational or logical, but I know it, would put my life on it — am trying to do just that: I know the Holy Spirit is wanting to do a thing. Is going to renew the Church in a million ways, because the world needs its renewal.
I think one of the ways, is through (restoring women to) the diaconate.
But the diaconate I dream of is not your retired-granddaddy diaconate.
(though I love Deacon Larry, our retired granddaddy retired deacon, who did jail ministry for a million years and now joins our staff meetings each week to be a calming presence, I swear he just prays over us the whole time because he’s worried we are going to all lose our shit. Which we often come right up to the edge of doing, when something seems to keep us together.)
Here are some sketches of a theology ofthe diaconate I’ve been churning over. Incomplete, in need of your eyes & hearts and & spirits to help fill out what it is I cannot see.
the diaconate I dream of…
Imagine if deacons were the community organizers of the Catholic Church, animating a living body (not deputized sheriffs, policing the boundaries of a dead tradition) .
Constantly running internal listening campaigns to help the church do its synodal work, live into its synodal identity & messy graces. Helping to lift up the lived concerns within a local parish and its geographic-political boundaries — knitting together the relational fabric of the place, calling out gifts and helping people blast through whatever demons they have so they can find a way to share those gifts in community. Identifying the needs, so they can be met in the life of the those who gather around the altar. Inviting leaders to step up and take responsibility — to be alive in their discipleship. To be alive in their LIVES. To breathe fresh life into the social teachings of the Church by not fearing the political implications of ministry at the margins.
Reporting to the Bishop: THESE are the needs of the people, Bishop. This is what is on their hearts and minds. This is where we need to direct the funds for this year’s appeal. This is the public witness that our brother priests need to be trained and organized to offer leadership for.
There’s the ordinary work: marriage preparation, preaching, baptizing, officiating weddings, celebrating at funerals. The preaching — quarterly, to keep it fresh and salty. There’s the work of the heart of the church: dragging the ambo to the streets and the streets to the ambo.
A deacon: the conscience of the church. Constantly pressing the body of believers into the presence of a suffering, homeless, incarcerated, sick, marginalized Christ — when they risk becoming comfortable. Constantly drawing up the healing, consoling, nourishing, resurrecting power of Christ when the people of God risk becoming defeated and forlorn.
The deacon — salty, light. Not someone only buried under unpaid labor.
The deacon — going between the front of the house and the back of the house.
It is the diakonos who first witness Jesus’ miracle at Cana. Before the chief steward has tasted the wine, they have carried out Mary and Jesus’ bidding, they have been instruments within this miraculous sign.
Their work is anointed and blessed.
It’s not that we put aside the real issues of structural patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, racism.
It’s that we say — where’s a way through? Where’s a path of witnessing and carving out space for renewal? For the dream of the alternative that so many of us share?
Why does being ordained matter? It’s about being seen. Being recognized by the body and institution in which you long to give your life. It’s about being invested in. Having the corporal body care about your formation for the ministry you’ve been called to.
It’s about being anointed to anoint. (note: deacons do not actually have the “power” of anointing. I think the Holy Spirit held it back, and that when women are restored we will see anointing flow again more freely, offering less policing of the sacraments and a freedom to pour them out… as it is always the women in the New Testament who mark out the path of anointing as worship)
It’s about those who deacons minister to — it’s about them knowing that the church came, officially, That those who often feel most unseen and invisible, were seen and known and touched by the church. That they are always within the reach of Christ’s mercy and love and liberation.