Happy New Year! As we enter our new calendar year, and whatever personal resolutions we might have made for ourselves, it’s a good time for us to consider some resolutions for our ministerial lives as well. Because in this column we try to focus on our collaborative ordained ministries, let me suggest some areas for our mutual resolution.
Priests and deacons working more closely together: I know, we already serve together. Still, in what ways might we try to make those bonds even stronger? In the late 1940s and early ’50s, a number of German priests and theologians, some of whom had survived Nazi concentration camps, began writing about the possibilities of a renewed, stable diaconate in the post war world. Among the ways cited in which these “permanent deacons” might help, several writers spoke of the personal support deacons could be to priests. It is clear from the context of these texts that they were referring to more than simply assisting at liturgy or even in social justice ministries; indeed, they were referring to a kind of moral support — fraternal support — that deacons could offer to their priests. I have been blessed to serve as a deacon for more than a quarter of a century, and I can attest to the enormous joy and fulfillment in serving as friends with our priests, and not simply as ministerial collaborators.
Priests and deacons intentionally supporting each other’s ministries: In what ways during the coming year can I be of more intentional support to ministries other than my own?
We tend to be good at compartmentalizing things, and once something has been delegated to someone else, we’re generally comfortable with that, because it’s one less thing we have to worry about! On the other hand, are there ways we might be present to support each other’s work? None of us wants to add one more meeting to the schedule, but perhaps we can take time to ask about each other’s experiences, and maybe even fill in for each other in different venues. This could give each of us a different perspective and also keep things fresh.
Take at least one course on Scripture or theology as a refresher: These days there are all kinds of opportunities for ongoing formation. Gone are the days when you had to go to a brick-and-mortar campus; today you can sign up for courses online.
Ask yourself honestly: When was the last time I took a course on Scripture, theology or some aspect of pastoral ministry? Just like starting a diet, it can be easier to put this off to a more convenient time (for some people, that more convenient time happens only after a heart attack, stroke, or the onset of Type 2 diabetes!). Not only do we owe this personal growth opportunity to ourselves as individuals, the people we serve deserve the best we can offer.
Find a need that is not being met and do what you can to address it: Within each of our ministerial orbits (parish, institution, vicariate, etc.) there are needs which we and our institutions are not meeting. There are people who are hungry, homeless, abandoned — despite our best efforts to date. It can be tempting perhaps to think we have absolutely no more time and no more resources to bring to bear. This year, let’s find at least one of these unmet needs and meet it.
Pray together: This year, let’s find time when we priests and deacons can pray together. Perhaps the pastor and deacon of a parish can meet to pray morning prayer and then share a cup of coffee and fellowship. Perhaps the priests and deacons of a vicariate (deanery) could meet on a monthly or quarterly basis, and, as is being done in some dioceses, priests and deacons of a diocese might go on their annual retreat together. Even if this is not done every year, it might be something considered every other year, perhaps. To paraphrase the familiar expression: The ministers who pray together, stay together.
Have a happy and blessed new year!
DEACON DITEWIG, Ph.D., former executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the USCCB, now teaches and ministers in the Diocese of Monterey, Calif. He writes and consults extensively on the subject of the diaconate and contemporary ministry.