From Mary Lee Wile, our Archdeacon for Formation 

Here’s a balanced look at diaconal ministry as both prophetic and pastoral, written by Deacon Carol Huntington as a pre-session reading for students taking the EDS “Ministry that Reaches Out” online course (previously titled “Diaconal Congregations”). With her permission, I’ve edited out the paragraph that was specific to the course, but otherwise it’s intact. The course wasn’t limited to deacons, but included lay and priest participants as well, so “diaconal congregations” refers to congregations that undertake diaconal ministries – inspired, perhaps, by their deacons but encompassing everyone.  MLW  

(From the editor: If you missed it the first time, the course will be offered again this fall. Check for details at the end of this blog post.) 

Both…And: Reflections on Finding Our Voice as God’s Prophets and Good Samaritans in Diaconal Communities
by Carol. L. Huntington, MSW, M.Div.

The Church has need of both band-aid ministers and system changers. Good Samaritans who respond to immediate crises, and prophets who speak truth to power in order to change oppressive and unjust social and economic structures, are equally important.

The Episcopal Church has made more progress in the Good Samaritan approach than the Prophetic one. Although in recent years the Church has taken courageous stands on justice issues such as women’s ordination and gay rights, indigenous nations, she has neglected other justice issues that relate to the Civil War, torture, human trafficking, peace, the environment, and those living with mental illness disabilities. Moreover, even the Good Samaritan approach is often sterilized to protect us from the pain and frightful reality of poverty and misery. Experiencing injustice and suffering firsthand would necessarily mean a change in our self-awareness and attitudes to others, and this is often threatening and frightening. Indeed, it could be a kind of metanoia. We would behave differently. We would grow spiritually in depth of commitment. The works of compassion of the Good Samaritan, especially as the Pathway for so many of us to begin to see systemic problems and begin to understand how to articulate them and make changes is valued.

Finally, there are times when the two approaches are seen within the Church as incompatible. Prophets concerned with changing the system worry that the Good Samaritan emphasis on charity downplays the need for justice. Good Samaritans concerned with addressing the immediate needs of people in crisis worry that the Prophetic emphasis on social change is aloof, abstract, and too political and, I contend, personally threatening. Dorothy Day lived the walk she talked. Her relationship with The Christ was such that her spirituality and faith empowered her to be both prophetic — changing the system — and also ‘hands-on’ healer of society’s wounds in a band-aide, Good Samaritan capacity. There is an ethical Biblical imperative to the spirituality of following Jesus. We are called to do justice – healing systems and healing individuals.

[Our diaconal task] is to help the Church touch the wounds of the world, to encourage, mentor, model, and empower both individual Episcopalians as well as the Church community as a whole to be better Prophets and Good Samaritans.

Different people have different talents and are called to different ministries. Prophets and Good Samaritans are both working for Kingdom values, and there is no reason why they should view one another’s ministries with suspicion. But in order for both to succeed, the institutional Church must take a more courageous and vigorous stand on justice issues than she normally does, and must empower and encourage individual Episcopalians to work together to seek genuine contact and interact in a meaningful and equal relationship with the sufferings of those whom they are called to serve.

Interested in learning more about the course? Here are the details:

Help your parish to be a diaconal congregation with this course on how to form members toward an outward focus, and then get them outside and into their ministries. September 19 to November 20 you will watch video presentations, engage in small group and individual reflection, and develop an integrative project around your next steps to help your parish look outside the four walls.

$200 per person or $250 for teams of two to four from the same parish. Contact Liz Magill at 617-682-1581 or for more information. Click here for an informational flyer.