Deacons in York 17th November 2019
Thirty of us met at St Edwards Church for a reflection on ‘The Dynamic of the Diaconate’ in what has become an annual meeting of distinctive deacons and enquirers from the diocese of York and beyond. We were led by the Rt. Rev Alison White, Bishop of Hull. Before she spoke, David Mann, Diocesan Director of Ordinands, whose steady encouragement has meant a growth in this ministry witnessed by the size of this group, interviewed Abi Davison and Dave Hobman.
Abi spoke about her curacy at York Minster and how her liturgical role inspired her work in the community.”I read the gospel and the gospel goes with me all week”. Abi is involved with young people in the Scouting movement and has become its first Faith Adviser.
Abi in a wet field with the scouts
Dave worked with alcoholics and the homeless. He raised £2,000 to rent the Spurriergate Centre in York on Sundays where he served 50 to 60 breakfasts and this has led to his work in combating loneliness amongst older people. Hospitality soon leads to questions of spiritual welfare. Dave provides a ministry of listening and presence in the city’s coffee shops.
Dave as chaplain to the punk community
Bishop Alison centred her talks on the Christ of the margins, the servant Lord, the ministry of the threshold and the Christ who said “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. The word ‘as’ here means not ‘because’ but ‘in the same way’, in the pattern of Jesus. She paused to let these awesome words sink in. Disciples of Jesus are called to responsibility, totality, vulnerability, and authority through the breath of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Alison asked “Whose language do you use; that of the church or the language of life?”
She characterised the diaconate as a ‘well worn path of ministry’ and deacons as those who strike a balance between reacting to need and proactively supporting and encouraging the release of gifts in others. As a result communities should look more diaconal.
There was time to reflect on questions such as “Who am I and what am I for? What is going on inside of me and how do I express it? Where do I seek and choose to spend time?” For deacons the answer is often ‘on the edge’ where the gospel is most clearly 3D. How can we be transformative at the centre, she asked us, as we live on the growing edges. The centre moves more slowly.
Insisting on a horizontal and a vertical model of ministry (not always the reality in practice) she won us over by her personal warmth and stirring message and left us with a suggestion. Put a text in your pocket, sit somewhere unusual, and wait and see what happens.
With many thanks to Deacon Liz Carrington and Methodist deacon Cedric May
It’s worth reporting that, as a result of this day, at least one person is now seriously considering a vocation to the distinctive diaconate!