CALLED TO BE A DEACON: Miriam Swaffield

(Dated 17 June 2018)
In a couple of weeks time, July 1st in fact, there might appear a photo or two online that will feature a bunch of people, including me, wearing some unusual clothes (that I have borrowed), standing around York Minster and a statement that will announce the ‘ordination of deacons’. And on that day, I’ll be one of them. So for the church families I am part of, this story is for you…
I walked into a local Church of England faith community nearly ten years ago as a fresher looking for the right place to call ‘home’ whilst studying at the University of York. I found a ‘fresh expression of church’ called G2 to be a place with Jesus at the heart of the vision and accessible for my housemates to try church, and so it’s where I settled, served, and was raised into leadership. I stayed in York post-uni for another six years serving on the leadership team of G2, because I so believe in what Jesus is up to amongst us. And since our church turned out to be part of a much bigger, older family called the Church of England, it was initially by circumstance, rather than choice, that I’ve been in the Anglican Church for the best part of a decade and felt no call to go anywhere else.
Three years ago I began studying a part-time Masters in Theology, Mission and Ministry at Cranmer Hall, a Christian training college that’s part of the University of Durham. I did this because I found myself teaching and preaching the Bible much more than I expected all over the place, and really wanted help to make sure I was doing so as best as I can. I also very kindly got invited to sit in on lots more classes going on at Cranmer, and by the generosity of Fusion (the movement I work for) I was released to commute a day a week during term time up to Durham, so that I could benefit from more training and equipping during my Masters years. And so I attended all the Church of England leaders-in-training classes as well, and discovered lots of things I didn’t know, and also got my thinking stretched on things I thought I did!
The last three years have also involved a proper wrestle with God, myself, my ego, my nearest and dearest, and those in senior leadership around me, about the idea that God might be calling me to be ordained in the Church of England. By ordained I mean like officially blessed and recognised as a leader within the Church of England, for the benefit of the one whole church of God. (In other words, the Church of England basically say “we can vouch for her as a leader who is anointed, supported, trained, trusted and accountable, and we want to recognise and confirm God’s work and call on her to serve his universal church.”) This was a steep learning curve for me as I wasn’t used to this kind of thing. My dad is a Baptist minister, so I had to learn about a different system and how senior church leadership is understood for the Church of England. Three years down the line I have found peace with the idea of being ordained as a deacon.
What’s a deacon? Well it’s not a glamorous or well known job description these days (which I love about it!) but the call on a deacon is to really get the church mobilised around mission, those on the margins, the out-of-the-buildings-and-into-the-world kinda stuff we are desperate for, and particularly to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom to those most in need. This resonates with what I want my life to be about, why I moved myself to Middlesbrough last Autumn, and what I do in my work with Fusion as we equip the church to reach students and transform universities.
In the short term, nothing changes about my day to day life, not even my clothes! (That is, unless I want to wear a dog collar on the daily and update my passport with “Rev” before my name…). I am more committed than ever to my full time job helping lead Fusion forwards as we see God stir his church powerfully across Europe. I am continuing to be an active part of St Barnabas church in Middlesbrough, helping lead the evening service, and also kick start a new season of student mission across Teesside. My oversight, support and further coaching continues to be primarily from Rev Christian Selvaratnam, the legendary leader of G2, Rev Matthew Porter and locally Bishop Paul Ferguson also kindly looks out for me. Together as a G2 strategy team, we continue to seek to serve other places, churches, and people, and to play our part in seeing the revitalisation of the church, especially in the North of England, and we are experimenting with how to do this in lots of ways all the time. So it’s kind of business as usual.
I can’t answer questions of “why are you doing this?” Or “why do you think you need this if you’re doing it already?” with any better explanation than “I think Jesus has asked it of me.” Simply, my yes is to him, even though I don’t fully know why, and maybe it’ll only fully make sense in twenty years time. I don’t subscribe to everything everyone might assume it means to be part of the Church of England, just like any other person wouldn’t do about their church community or denomination or any sweeping assumptions people make. This doesn’t mean I suddenly love all of the systems, structures of denominations, because I don’t. And no, I’m sorry to say this doesn’t mean I am now “like the Vicar of Dibley” (even though she was the only female senior church leader I’d ever seen growing up!).
I do believe in the local church, being part of a family that’s bigger than you, and I do desperately believe in radical obedience to God even when it costs or seems strange. My yes is to Jesus. My yes is to the belief that G2 has a part of play in the wider Church of England’s vision and renewal. My yes is to being trained, accountable and “from somewhere” as I travel all over the world working with churches. I’m not a maverick itinerant with no home. I live somewhere, serve somewhere, am being looked after, looked out for, and grounded somewhere. And it is the Church of England who have thrown the weight of their support, encouragement and blessing behind me. And that feels like it just might be a gift from God even if it wasn’t expected or imagined.

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