by Rev. Janet Harman
A United Methodist Deacon is called to a lifetime of servant leadership and set apart for ministries of word, service, justice and compassion ministries; but especially connecting the church with the most needy, neglected and marginalized among the children of God. (¶328, 2016 Book of Discipline).
It is in this setting that I was excited to be able to attend the 2023 Deacon Gathering in Washington DC (September 20-22) – first one since 2019 (Lake Junaluska, NC)! At our Gathering, there were 80 registered Deacons from Hawaii to New York and lots of in-between states. For me, it was wonderful to reconnect with Deacons I had not seen in 4 years, and to meet and network with others through the week together. We met at the General Board of Church & Society on Maryland Ave. NE for three days – this is just across from the U.S. Capitol Building.
Our time together was intentional – especially to focus on Micah 6:6-8. How do we follow through on ‘what the Lord requires of us?’ What exactly does God want us to ‘take on’? “How can we be world changers?” We also re-emphasized our commitment to our call.
Our first day together, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, Resident Bishop welcomed us to the Deacon Gathering, and Bishop Tom Bickerton (NYAC) shared thoughts about Micah 6 and reminded us that as Deacons, we cannot be silent – ‘that this is our time to reclaim, revise and speak out.’ That afternoon was also an opportunity for questions/answers to representatives from Council of Bishops, General Commission on Religion and Race, General Board of Higher Education & Ministry, and the General Board of Church & Society.
Our second day started with a walk over to the US Capitol Building and being in the presence of Chaplain Barry Black, the US Senate Chaplain- a position he’s held for 20 years. He’s very intentional about the spiritual discipline of praying and fasting through the week and does this alongside other Senators and Representatives, as well as staff. Chaplain Black spoke of the challenging times with our government and how he interacts with congressional leaders.
Returning to the UMC Building that afternoon, we gathered to learn:
- that there are petitions to General Conference regarding Deacons and Sacramental Authority.
- Deacons should be aware of their retirement possibilities from Wespath – invest time & knowledge and know your own retirement information.
- That there needs to be equity between Deacons and Elders salaries.
- That Deacons should be looking at new forms of ministry possibilities.
- Annual Conference Orders of Deacons need to offer scholarships for Deacons to attend these Gatherings.
- How important it is for Deacons to ‘tell their Call story to one another’ – we are so diverse.
- Finally, remembering those who were trailblazers prior to 1996 when the first Order of Deacon was created and Deacons were ordained.
Later that afternoon we participated in workshops building on the theme of justice ministry. I was very lucky to attend three workshops:
- LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTERS, a delightful workshop led by Rev. Camille Henderson-Edwards where we examined the intersection of faith and advocacy as it relates to the social conditions of women and girls. Specifically focused on our sense of activism, especially around gender justice, which is often passed down through the shared experiences of the women who came before us, this workshop explored models of advocacy informed by the mothers and grandmothers, sisters and mentors who first nurtured us.
- TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE, taught by Rev. Kendal McBroom, who reminded us that justice work was done all the time by Jesus and the importance of being involved in transformative justice in your community.
- HOW TO MEET WITH YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, taught by Rev. Aimee Hong. She reminded us that our elected congressional leaders work for us! And how important it is to effectively advocate for our cause as an individual or as a group.
Opening and closing Worship was awesome and led by all Deacons. At our Closing time together, we celebrated with a Reaffirmation of our Diaconal Vow (this is always meaningful to me, as much as the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer).
My take-away was that I am reminded that God sent Christ to the world to lead by example – that is what hesed is all about – God’s steadfast, never ending, all encompassing love.