Next Wednesday our own Jeremiah Mustered will be ordained a transitional deacon. The “transitional” part simply means that Jeremiah will also be ordained a priest (God-willing and the people consenting) in another 6 months or so. The practice of ordaining minsters as a deacon first, regardless if they are called to the priesthood, diaconate, or bishopric is an ancient one. In the early church, there are several examples of folks who were extremely reluctant to be ordained but were nevertheless forcibly seized, ordained a deacon, and then immediately made a bishop all in the same day. Jeremiah’s process has been far more extended, deliberate, and—importantly—done with his consent.
The reason to ordain Jeremiah a deacon first even though he will one day become a priest is found in the meaning and calling of a deacon. A deacon is one whose primary orientation is a particular kind of service toward God’s people and God’s world. In Acts 6, the first deacons were chosen by the people. The apostles laid hands on them and commissioned them to lead the Church in the service of those in need: to take care of the early Church’s distribution of food and other administrative tasks. This division of labor was made so that the apostles could do the things they were called to do, teach, preach, and administer the sacraments and worship of the Church. So, from New Testament times there were two orders of clergy, bishops/apostles and deacons. As the Church grew it became necessary to appoint sacramental intermediaries for the bishop, stand-ins who would teach and administer the sacraments for a community when the bishop could not be present. This is what we call priests or presbyters.
The reason all ordained people are made a deacon first is to remind them (us) that we ours is a life of service. The starting place for ordained ministry is always the imperative to serve others. Our first job is to decrease so that Christ can increase. Of course, lay people are not off the hook here. Your (our) ordination happened a long time ago when we were baptized into Christ’s Church. At your baptism you were empowered to be a disciple, to serve God and love your neighbor. Scripture calls all Christians members of “a nation of priests to serve our God.” We are all called and all gifted to serve God in particular and unique ways. We are all called to be faithful in our daily lives, our occupations, our families, our neighborhoods, and our church community. This week, we can all rejoice with Jeremiah as he enters a new chapter of his life’s vocation serving God and God’s people. Congratulations, Jeremiah!
The ordination service will be live streamed this Wednesday, October 14 at 6:30PM. You can watch at https://episcopalpa.online.church