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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector's Note: Wishing the best of our Postulant for Holy Orders-5.23.24

Amidst all the bustle of our big Pentecost service last Sunday, Bob Smith, postulant for Holy Orders to the Diaconate, completed his field placement with us. We are hoping to coax him back for a final Sunday where we can bless him and thank him for his time with us.


Bob's first Sunday at St. Peter's was December 3rd. During his six months as our diaconal intern, he has filled the gaps in our liturgical ministries on Sunday mornings. You have likely seen him in the role of usher, Eucharistic Minister, acolyte, and reader on any given Sunday. Part of his fieldwork assignment was to experience and participate in the parish's liturgical ministries, and he has done that with grace and flexibility. He also helped me with our monthly Confirmation class. I particularly appreciated his willingness to engage the class in a session of making paper airplanes, adding an important component to our Christmas Pageant.


Bob also preached at our Ash Wednesday service and at a Sunday service in April. I will never forget his Ash Wednesday sermon, in which he explained that early that morning he scrapped much of what he had previously written because the Holy Spirit led him to take another approach. Having the grace to change course as a preaching deadline looms can be both a prompting and a gift of the Holy Spirit. It takes courage to take the risk. That’s a great lesson to learn on the fly.


One of the charisms of the diaconate is to provide leadership in service and discipleship outside of Sunday morning. Deacons bring the world to the altar and the altar to the world, as they say. Bob assisted in the startup of our revitalized Eucharistic Visitor program this year and took Communion to parishioners who couldn’t attend the service in person.


Throughout his time with us, I could see the clear signs of Bob’s diaconal calling as he talked with parishioners on Sunday mornings, listened to pastoral concerns, and thought deeply about how to support the specific needs of parish life. While serving as our intern, he was also working overnight at a local hospital for his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training, which is an immersive experience in hospital chaplaincy that all candidates for holy orders must undergo. That made these past several months an intense period of service and hands-on ministry experience.


Now that he has completed his internship and his CPE training, Bob will finish his preparations and await diocesan approval for his ordination to the diaconate. Please keep him in prayer during this time of completion and anticipation.


Bob’s time with us gave us a picture of what part of diaconal preparation looks like. In addition to his internship, Bob took diaconal classes, had discernment interviews with the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, and worked with mentors. But mostly, discernment for any ministry is doing the work, trying the ministry garment on for size, checking in with how this vocation fits and feels. It is experienced more through the feet than through the head, though there is plenty of thinking, learning, and discussion involved.


At Sunday’s Pentecost Celebration, The Rev. Dennis Coleman, one of the diocesan archdeacons, gave a brief pitch for the diaconate before dismissing us. He said that the bishop sends him out to find where the deacons are. "This is where we begin looking – right in this area here," he said, as he gestured to the congregation. "So maybe you have been called to be a deacon… If you felt that nudge, then I encourage you to explore it."


The nudge toward ordination or lay ministry can take many forms. I have found that it often involves joy – joy at a particular experience of service, leadership, or volunteer experience. And then the more steps one takes toward that joy, the more the longing takes shape, the call takes definition. Others notice it, and often someone else may find the words for it before you do. On more than one occasion, I have said to someone, “Have you considered ordination?” only to have them admit that they have been trying to put words to a calling for a very long time.


If you are feeling the nudge towards ministry, either as a lay person or through holy orders, let's talk. We can explore the form that call is taking and consider the next steps to test and pray with it.


There are plenty of ways we can talk ourselves out of responding to that nudge. I like how Archdeacon Coleman addressed that as well: “At the moment you felt it, regardless of your excuses, God Almighty knew how old you were, how busy you were, how many kids you had, and what the rest of your life was. When he calls, please answer.”


I am so grateful that Bob Smith answered God’s call and has spent such fruitful time with us, exploring and deepening his understanding of it and his response to it. We wish him God’s blessings, grace, and wisdom as he completes his process and walks to the place that God has waiting for him.

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