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ashesBrother and Sister deacons–This is a slightly edited version of an article I recently submitted to my parish’s monthly newsletter, “Dragon Tales”
Sudie Blanchard
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As deacons, an important part of our call is to “take the church to the world.” I work as a part-time chaplain at a small community hospital, so I do that daily, but in a general way.  I try to bring God’s love and light to people of all faiths at York Hospital, where they may be struggling with matters of life and death. This past Ash Wednesday, however,I was able to do that in a more specific way. It all started a year ago….

Last year, on Ash Wednesday, I carried ashes with me when I made visits to patients. When it seemed appropriate, I offered them.  The patients who received them were grateful that they had not missed the ashy mark on the forehead that begins Lent. One staff member who happened to be in a patient’s room when I offered ashes, took me aside later and mentioned how nice it would be if ashes could be made available for staff who couldn’t make it to church. I made a note of this, and early this year, got permission from the hospital administration to offer ashes to staff and anyone else who wished them. As the day approached, I wrote an article, created handouts — and got a little nervous!  This was a first. What if no one came?

Well, I didn’t need to worry. They did come.  13 people came between 1 and 2 p.m., and three more came between 9 and 10 p.m. Most came because service times at their churches didn’t fit their hospital schedule. I had a chance for some brief one-on-one conversations – one person spoke about grief she was experiencing over a death, another about a complex family situation she was dealing with. Still another person wanted to deepen her faith. Two of our physicians came to get ashes—one in the afternoon, the other in the evening.  One staff member who knew I was an Episcopalian asked with a smile if Episcopal ashes worked the same as Catholic ashes.  I was able to tell this person that the ashes I was using were “ecumenical”—though they had been blessed at an Episcopal service, I had burned both Roman Catholic and Episcopal palms to make them!  That was good enough for him. He received the ashes.

In addition to the scheduled times, there were two other encounters. First thing in the morning, I had gotten in a conversation about the ashes with the van driver who brought me to the hospital. “Is there any reason why you can’t give them to me right here?” he asked. “None at all.” I said. So he pulled the van over, I said a prayer, and marked his forehead.  It was an Acts 8:36 moment! Later, as I was walking to the van for the trip back to my car, a staff member approached me and said how sorry she was to miss the hour I was offering ashes. She’d been in a meeting. I had the ashes in my pocket, so we stopped right there on the sidewalk, prayed together and I marked her with the ashy cross. She was moved by the experience—and how the timing worked out. I remember her saying: “I really needed that this year.  God’s timing is pretty amazing–He meets us just where we are.” I couldn’t agree more.

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 Having just been to the glorious ordination of Dick Rasner to the diaconate yesterday (welcome, Dick!), and hearing again those vows we all made — including the promise to “study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them” — some of us got to wondering:  what are some of the ways we do that? What daily reading, books, or “apps” help maintain a life of prayer and scripture? Write back and share what has worked for you.

31 of us came to Deacons’ Day  on March 31 in Palmyra at St. Martin’s Church.  We spent the first half of our time together with Bishop Steve, who led us first in worship, and then in an experience of “Lexio Devina,” reading Matthew 6:1-21 and allowing us a good amount of time for reflection on those words.  Here’s a link to download Daily Prayer for all Seasons, the resource the Bishop used for the short service that began our day. During the rest of our time together with Bishop Steve, we spoke mostly about how we might do a better job of creating a sense of community among all the deacons of Maine.  We enjoyed delicious soup and sandwiches provided by St.Martins, and continued the conversation into the afternoon.  Archdeacon Mary Lee shared the results of the survey that more than half of us completed, and we shared our thoughts and experiences of our own formation experiences.  Download the survey here:   DFP Survey overview.

The deacon’s’ Prayer List will be revived. People have been missing it.  I (Sudie) confessed to dropping the ball on this and was informally absolved by those attending (Whew!)    The prayer list will be sent to all on the deacon list at first, with an option to “opt out” if you don’t choose to participate. It will come as an email on the first Sunday of each month.  (If there’s an urgent need for prayer, contact me at sblanchard@stgeorgesyorkharbor.org) We will be praying for our own personal concerns (not parishioners–we assume they are on your parish lists)  I will list the name of the Deacon requesting our prayers, just the first name of the person we are to pray for, and a broad reason for the prayer (healing, grief, peace of mind, etc.) This should address any issues of confidentiality. People will be kept on the list for a month, unless I hear that they need to stay on for longer.  I will do my best to keep this up.  Happily, I have given up trying to be perfect long ago, but if I miss that first Sunday of the month, I hope you will gently remind me.

All in all, it was a wonderful day–well worth the drive and provided a good chance to see and catch up with friends and colleagues.

SAVE THESE DATES: 

  • On Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19, plan to attend our Annual Retreat at Living Waters.  For the first time, if enough are able to stay, we’ll be offering the option to stay an additional night, until Sunday lunch.  Important: This will be the last time we will be  enjoying the Sisters’ hospitality at Living Waters.  The retreat center will be closed at the end of this season.  Come one more time and enjoy a time of rest and reflection at this beautiful spot!  Details and specifics will be sent to all shortly.
  • The Downeast Spiritual Life Conference — Ellsworth, ME, August 24-25 — Some at our meeting mentioned this.  Here’s a link for your convenience.
  • Reserve September 28-30 for the biennial New England Deacons’ Network Conference that will be held once again at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham MA. The topic is “Crushing Poverty: Service and Solidarity with Those on the Edge” The organizing committee has lined up some excellent presenters:

Registration information and more will be sent to all shortly.  Those of us who went to the Conference in 2010 recommend that you make every effort to attend.  We will learn a great deal about the issues covered and it’s always good to meet with other deacons and share experiences.  This is the continuing education opportunity offered in the fall.  Registration will cost $225 and each night at the hotel will cost $94 (that’s single occupancy–find a roommate and save money!) Ask your congregation for funding and/or request a grant from the Loring Fund–it’s well worth it. Our Venerable friend Geof Smith has put together a blog to keep us all informed: http://newenglanddeacons.wordpress.com/

OTHER EVENTS OF INTEREST:

  • Coming up right away: Friday April 20-Saturday, April 21: Annual New England Anglican Studies Conference presented by the Harvard Divinity School Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship and the Harvard Episcopal Chaplaincy that’s focused on preaching:  http://hdsepisc.org/
  • On Tuesday, June 5, you’re invited to “Out of the Darkness and into Delight! Spirituality, Flourishing and Joy” at Colby College.  Keynoter Dr. Jeff Levin will ground us in “Spirituality and Health:  An Epidemiologist’s Perspective,” and 10 workshop leaders will share their experience and knowledge with participants in an array of experiential sessions.  http://www.mainedartmouth.org/nevola/nevola12/   (FYI–this conflicts with our Clergy Day)


The deacons of Maine have maintained a prayer list for a number of years. When I was in deacon formation, one of us in formation took responsibility for maintaining it. As we were ordained, we passed it on to another behind us in the class. I was responsible for it for one of the years I was in DFP. It was on of the duties in the job description I got as your new “communications officer.” Mary Lee has passed it on to me, and I sent it out to the 38 people who have been getting it.

I certainly don’t mind maintaining the list and praying it daily– after all praying is one of the most important things any of us can do! But at this transition time, it seems wise to hear what others think.

When I sent the list out yesterday, I asked the recipients for comments.

One said that she was surprised that it was no longer a responsibility of a member of the DFP as it was when she was going through the process.

Another suggested the list be for and about deacons, their families, ministries i.e. more personal and specific to our particular community. It would allow us to connect with each other through prayer and to be more aware of each others lives. If it were made accessible only to the community there might be less need for strict confidentiality. (If we did this, we’d need to set up a more secure venue than this publicly available blog!  I could probably figure out how to do this…)

For reasons of confidentiality, the list is currently very generic — no last names and very few details:
e.g. “Pray for Mary who is grieving”
It is also “blind copied” so that the names of other recipients are not known. “Reply all” sends the reply only to me.

So, deacons and deacons in formation, what do you think? Comments please.

If you are one of those who gets the list currently, what do you like about it?  Dislike?

I’m all ears.

Sudie

It was a great day for the deacons of Maine last Saturday, when we met at St. Martin’s in Palmyra. We were joined by our Bishop and 7 of the people in the Deacon Formation Program. Our hosts at St. Martin’s welcomed us warmly with coffee, fruit and Deacon Tom’s Gilbert’s delicious cinnamon buns — this brought back such memories of my own deacon formation days — after the long drive from York, it was always a treat to smell the scent of cinnamon wafting from the classroom where we met at BTS….

After Morning Prayer together, we spent time together talking about our structure and how we might find better ways of organizing ourselves. Elected by consensus were 2 co-conveners (Alicia Kellogg, and Aaron Perkins), 2 chaplains (Christine Bennett and Peggy Day) and 1 communications officer (me, Sudie Blanchard) The Bishop has appointed a third Archdeacon, Mary Lee Wile, to join Audrey and Tom. After Noonday Prayer followed by a delicious lunch, we had a good conversation with our bishop, as we reflected together on the changes faced by the church. The day concluded with Eucharist. We also bid a fond farewell to Deacon Deborah McKean, who is retiring and moving to California.

On the table in the back of the room were several resources of interest. One, “Daily Prayer for all Seasons”, contained a prayer that was used in one of our services. At Mary Lee’s request, I’ve included here a link to Daily Prayer for all Seasons. I’ve glanced through it. I think it may be a useful resource. THe chair of the task force that wrote it, the Rev. Julia Wakelee-Lynch , welcomes our feedback. Her email address is rector@st-albans-albany.org

I took some pictures on Saturday and will post them here on the blog later in the week, as time allows. Sudie