Deacons tell their stories
Deacon Flip den Uil – Remembering My Call
From a young age there were two very important things, responsibility and caring, that shaped the rest of my life. My mum became a widow in 1958 with 6 children of whom I was the youngest, nearly two years old. Our dad has left my mum with a shop in the front room of our house and we all had to do our bit to keep everything going. The older you got, the more responsibility you were given. If you planned something to do with friends, you made sure that jobs you were responsible for had been done. In later years, when 2 brothers and 1 sister had become disabled, I still looked out for them even while I was at college or later at my first proper jobs. Care for the family was very important, because I knew that everyone also cared for me according to their ability.
Unfortunately, in the church we attended I felt often excluded. Although I offered to help, I was often told that I couldn’t do that job anyway, because I was small. Luckily for me I had many friends who went to other churches or didn’t go to church at all. Meeting my wife Angela in 1985 was the best thing that happened to me, I had now a good reason, to move away from the small (minded) village, the church and anyone else who tried to put obstacles on my path because I was different.
Angela was a Methodist, so I became one too. We both were very much accepted in the Circuit we moved too. I first became editor of the church magazine and later steward. We were also active in RGA (Restricted Growth Association) and I did a lot of public speaking to raise Dwarfism awareness. Someone of the church liked my public speaking and asked me if I was interested in becoming a Local Preacher. That was my first call to ministry. I accepted and while I was on trial, it became clear that I couldn’t leave it there. My day job had become tedious with not many real challenges. I also felt that there was more to life than working your socks of for a good salary.
My District put me forward to start the “Foundation in Ministry” course and during that time, I felt that if I wanted to carry on, the Ministry of a Deacon was the most suitable for me. Don’t think that I thought about it lightly, because the scars of church I attended as a child, are still there. They are there not to stop me, but to encourage me to show that I can make a difference.
Why should I be worthy? I am worthy, because I believe that I’m here in this world for a purpose. The Order has shown me that I can be accepted for the way I am. So, maybe I can be there for those for whom their church has been a barrier in the past. Or for those that find themselves not good enough. The best part of being a Deacon for me is, is just being there for other people, being there for them, taking time for them and above all, showing that I care, because I God cares for me.
Deacon Angela Shereni – A Continued Sense of Call
My call to diaconal ministry and the discipline of prayer has continued to be an important part of my vocation, reshaping every area of my life. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else or being any place else. It gives me the joy to serve those in need, to proclaim the good news and to equip God’s people for the kingdom of God. I think God is using me to touch people’s lives here. And I feel blessed to serve as a deacon.
Also, through my work, I have gained a continued sense of call to diaconal ministry. One of the things the Church wanted very much was somebody who could lead mission outreach work in Fleetwood and explore the possibilities of mission work in other parts of the circuit. I didn’t have any idea how the work was going to be done, or even where to start. But through prayer, the Lord has guided me and given me wisdom to assess the needs of the neighbourhood and connect them with resources to meet those needs. God has given me the ability to make decisions that would benefit the whole community rather than particular individuals.
Our circuit is in the region with the highest number of children in Social Service and children on free School meals in the whole of U.K. In 2017, BBC news reported that there were concerns about the number of children who were going to School without breakfast and that some Schools had to open during school holidays in order to feed the children. The media coverage was extensive, bringing to mind how families were struggling to feed their children.
Working with Schools was a major focus of the first twelve months. I am currently supporting Charles Sear Community School with their Religious Education and organising School visits to Fleetwood Methodist Church. One other aspect of my work has been to identify church members who would support my work with Schools.
The Church has begun a building project at Fleetwood Methodist Church. We hope, getting the building project finished will give the church the space they need to work with families. We want the project to offer a space where parents and carers can get help and support, a space where they can come to and meet with other parents.
Through my area group I have gained a continued sense of call to diaconal ministry. Also, I have been reminded of living a disciplined spiritual life and a commitment to a shared prayer life. More and more I have found myself seeking God’s face, thirsting and hungering for his love and compassionate nature to be formed within me and in his people’s lives.
Finding support from the area group and a recent visit to Jerusalem for a, “Via Dolorosa walk”, has given me a deeper sense of a continued sense of call to serve as a deacon;
“sharing fully in the life of the Order and keeping its discipline,
to support the weak, bind up the broken,
gather in the outcast, welcome the stranger.
May Christ my Master, when he comes in glory,
count me among his faithful servants”.
Deacon Michelle Brocklehurst - Called to Ordained Diaconal Ministry
Remember your call.
Support the weak.
Gather in the outcast.
Welcome the stranger.
Seek the lost.
When I think back to the beginning of my faith journey as a young child, I have fond memories of Sunday School classes, Scripture Union exams, Whit Walks and being a fairy in the annual church pantomime. I really had a sense that my Church was my extended family, full of aunts, uncles and grandparents that nurtured me as I was growing up. At the age of 21, I went away to university and drifted from Church, just as a lot of young people do at that age. But when I graduated and returned home, I learnt that the church theatre group was staging the show "Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat". I knew I wanted to be involved so back to church I went. I acknowledged that it wasn't the right reason to be going to church, but once again I was held, nurtured and encouraged to explore what faith means as a young adult rather than as a child.
I think back to when I first felt God’s call, I remember reading the story of God calling Moses to go to his people in Egypt and Moses arguing strongly against God that he was not the right person to do what God wanted him to do. And God ended that argument with Moses with the words “Now, go! I will help you to speak, and I will tell you what to say.” (Exodus 3:12). For me at that time the very idea that God would use me to speak of him to others was laughable. I quickly learnt that when God calls, as scary and daunting as that maybe, God gives us the gifts and skills and strength that we need for the task he is calling us to.
However, the call didn’t stop there; there was even more as a few years later God called again this time to the Ministry of a deacon and he did so through more words, this time from a Methodist Conference report of all things - The Role & Recognition of Evangelists in the Methodist Church. I got excited to the point when I felt that my heart was burning as I read about ministry that was about going where the church is not, living and proclaiming the gospel (but not necessarily by preaching or even verbal communication) and interpreting the church to the world and the world to the church. And it was in response to the sense of ‘going out’ from the church, whilst remaining within in it that excited me so much.
Looking back over my 10 years of ministry I can see how God has given me the ability to be able to talk to anybody about anything to enable me to get alongside people from all sorts of backgrounds who are on all sorts of different stages on their faith journey (indeed if they’ve even started on that journey) and to be able to offer them the love of God shown to us through Jesus by giving those people the gift of time, of conversation and a listening ear. I hope and pray that by doing so I let them see that they are valued.
Being called to the Ministry of a deacon and being a member of the Methodist Diaconal Order and being able to share in peoples’ lives, in their joys and in the depths of despair, is an enormous privilege. I’ve had two appointments so far, both of which are very different so it would be impossible to describe exactly what it is a deacon does. And yet I am daily amazed by the way that God continues to work through me to bring all those I meet closer to Him.
Donna Ely – Once a Deacon, always a Deacon
‘Once a deacon, always a deacon.’ These words have served as a useful reminder that, whatever circumstances I have found myself in, God’s call to diaconal ministry has remained constant.
Having been without appointment for several years, I am now in a Connexional appointment which is very different from my first Circuit appointment! Being appointed to work for the wider Methodist Connexion was not something I expected or even desired but being a member of a religious order means I am also under discipline and that, sometimes, others can see potential in us which we can’t see ourselves!
‘Once a deacon, always a deacon’ remains true as I serve God and the wider church in the area of complaints work. I am reminded of the hymn by Brian Wren, ‘Great God, your love has called us here’, (Singing the Faith 499) as I recognise that ‘we, by love for love were made,’ and that we still bear Christ’s image, though it is ‘marred, dishonoured, disobeyed.’ Even in the area of complaints work, God calls us all to come ‘with all our heart and mind,’ God’s call to hear, Christ’s love to find.
‘Once a deacon, always a deacon’, is a reminder that I must continue to take up the towel and basin as I serve the wider church; that I must continue to re-present the servant ministry of Christ, often to those I will never meet face to face; that I must hold before myself and others, God’s call to reconciliation which God through Christ has made possible.
Regardless of the context in which I now find myself, as an ordained deacon serving the Methodist Church, I join with the wider church and pray, ‘Great God, in Christ you set us free your life to live, your joy to share; give us your Spirit’s liberty to turn from guilt and dull despair and offer all that faith can do, while love is making all things new.’ (StF 499 v5)
Brian Purchase - The "right" people at the "right" time.
When I look back on my journey to becoming a Deacon I am always thankful that God provides the right people at the right time for us on our journeys.
It was during the unlikely process of divorce that my calling to ordained ministry began. Facing the prospect of entering the divorce proceedings and having bi weekly weekends with my daughters I had a decision to make. Did I rely on God to get me through the challenging process or did I blame God for my circumstances? I chose to rely on God; my reliance on God strengthened and re kindled my faith and I found myself more and more involved in church activities. As I did more in the church I sensed God saying ‘There’s still more I need from you.’ This I realized was a calling towards ordained ministry.
I went to see my then minister and explained to him that I felt a calling towards ministry, but that I did not want to be like him!!
After I had explained that I had nothing against my minister and indeed valued his ministry I quickly added that by that I meant I could not at that time see myself a Presbyter. Fortunately, we were able to discern that my calling was towards diaconal ministry.
As I met with a previous warden of the Methodist Diaconal Order who was at that time based in our circuit, I realized that I had an empathy with deacons, that there were connections and that others outside the church were also confirming my sense of call.
A long process of discernment followed, with eventual training leading toward full membership of the Methodist Diaconal Order and ordination.
In all of this God has confirmed, strengthened, challenged and guided me in my ministry as a Deacon. I feel blessed to exercise that ministry but also to be part of a religious order, which gently and reassuringly gives me support and fellowship as I journey onwards.
The privilege I have in my diaconal ministry is to be challenged to try and connect with those on the margins of the church - to assist those on the margins of society.
In my ministry to date I have been challenged to identify those on the margins even in seemingly areas of wealth. People may often have the trappings of success but have spiritual needs of a wide variety.
It has been and continues to be a privilege to walk alongside so many people in many different ways and I am thankful that my own initial reluctance at answering the call was out weighed by the people who have also journeyed with me to this point and encouraged and shared my ministry this far.