A Four-Fold Portrait of Deacons: Word, Service, Compassion and Justice
By: Rev. Kay Towns, Deacon
What does a deacon do? Ask most members of the Texas Annual Conference today and the answer would likely include an explanation of how deacons are called to lead the Church and community in “Word” and “Service.” But did you know this answer is only half right? In addition to “Word” and “Service,” deacons of The United Methodist Church also are called to lead in the ministries of “Compassion” and “Justice,” an understanding formalized at General Conference 2012. Is this expanded ministry focus new for deacons? Well, not exactly.
The 2012 Book of Discipline delineates the fullness of how deacons have already been living out their ministry, which has always incorporated compassion and justice. Rev. Anita Wood of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry says, “The committee studying ministry decided that the words ‘ministry of Compassion and Justice’ gave a fuller description to the work of the deacon and therefore recommended to the General Conference the words be added. Therefore, the 2012 BOD now states “deacons are persons…ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of Word, Service, Compassion and Justice, to both the community and the congregation.’”
As we read in our Book of Discipline, from the earliest days of the church, deacons were called and set apart for the ministry of love, justice, and service; of connecting the church with the most needy, neglected and marginalized among the children of God. This ministry grows out of the Wesleyan passion for social holiness and ministry among the poor. The ministry of the deacon is a faithful response of the mission of the church meeting the emerging needs of the future (BOD 2012, paragraph 329). A ministry of compassion and justice has always been part of the deacon’s call.
In the Texas Annual Conference we find deacons leading in transformational ways, fully living out their call to the ministries of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice. Highlighted here are just a few of the many ways deacons are currently serving in our conference. Rev. Sunny Farley’s campus ministry at Tyler Junior College is creating a neo-monastic community in the heart of campus forming, as Sunny enthusiastically reports, “a Christian environment where students live together, eat together, study together and worship together.” A Chaplain serving at world-renowned Methodist Hospital in the heart of Houston’s Medical Center, Rev. Stacy Pell shares Christ’s compassion and love providing spiritual care and support to patients, their families, and hospital staff. Rev. DeAndre Johnson specializes in music and worship as ultimately a ministry of reconciliation, and serves at Westbury UMC as well as taking his passion abroad, which has included work with the United Methodist Mission in Cameroon where work continues in developing a bilingual hymnal for the mission. Their focus for this hymnal is, as DeAndre shares, on answering the question "What must we sing in order to be the kind of church God has called us to be?" Rev. Laralee DeHart works with reVision Ministry, helping Houston’s inner-city gang-affected youth, and passionately serves as “an agent of reconciliation, healing and redemption to those who have been oppressed, disregarded, devalued or forgotten by the people and communities that surround them.” Rev. Judy Tefteller (Kingwood UMC) and Rev. Ann Spears (First Methodist Houston) have partnered for five years with others from First Methodist Conroe and Kingwood UMC to provide life-transforming ministry to the people of Haiti, including the care and feeding of orphans, educating the young, building homes, and providing artificial limbs to earthquake victims. Rev. Spears loves sharing life-transforming stories about how the Church’s vital ministry impacts our Haitian brothers and sisters, exclaiming “they are new in Christ…and radiate the love of Christ to everyone they meet.”
The deacons of The United Methodist Church continue God’s work of uniting the community and the church, and invite you to join them as they joyfully partner with all people, including Church laity, elders, and licensed local pastors, in transformational ministry that changes lives and brings people to Christ. To learn more about the ministry work of the TAC deacons, contact Rev. Ann Spears, Assoc. Pastor, First Methodist Houston and Chair, Order of Deacons at firstname.lastname@example.org.