What all of us can take away from my exploration of the diaconate (and my role in it) is that often, more often than not, a ministerial call can come as a complete surprise to the one answering the insistent ring. As I share my story, you will see that I am the perfect example of this. I had evolved through two lengthy, previous careers as I neared the age of 60. For twenty- five years I had worked in medical technology and pharmaceutical research followed by ten or so years as a special education learning instructor. Preparing to retire, I was just finishing up the four-year Education for Ministry program at my home church, St Paul’s in Doylestown, when I realized that I didn’t feel done yet; there was still more I wanted to learn. Being a “head” kind of person, I assumed that meant more education, and I knew that Canon Paul Mottl, husband of my parish priest Christine, was a dean of an online program, Providence Theological School. I went to talk to him about enrolling in the Masters in Ministry program. Our brief conversation stretched into an hour and a half, at the end of which I sat back in my chair and looked at him saying that it appeared that I was considering the newly reconfigured program for the diaconate. He said. “Well, of course you are.” A little stunned, I asked him what the next step would be and was told that I should speak to my parish priest and he knew where I could find her. We walked around the corner to her office where I declared that I appeared to be feeling a call to the diaconate. Her reply? “Well, of course you are.” As I said, I appeared to be the last to know.
Consider year two, now. A requirement of our second year of a three-year formation was CPE, a 400 hour Clinical Pastoral Experience, chaplain training, if you will, almost always connected with a hospital and its emergency/trauma service. There are however four sites in the country that are focused on mental health instead, and only one of those is community based; that’s where I was accepted and a seed was planted. True to its name, in addition to the weekly classroom piece, CPE incorporates a clinical placement and Penn Foundation, where I was, has about 5 options the supervisor can choose from. My only request was that it not be a hospital. I had worked in hospitals for so many years that I knew them too well; I wanted to be stretched by something unfamiliar. Thinking for a minute, my supervisor decided that because I am so comfortable with language, I should go to a sheltered workshop/day treatment facility for adults who are intellectually disabled, many of whom are nonverbal. I was challenged to learn a new way of communicating and a new way to visualize God’s presence in us all. I had found my ministry and most of what I do outside of St. Peter’s involves special needs children.
For three years, ordination had been in small letters, a light at the end of a three-year long tunnel. But when I went to rehearsal at the cathedral a few days before the actual event, all of a sudden it jumped into capital letters and became immense and monumental, far more than I expected. I’m pretty worldly and admittedly more than a little cynical sometimes so when we found out that we were to prostrate ourselves at ordination, it would be an understatement to say that I was less than enthusiastic. As usual, I’m the last to get it: the experience of lying there with my eyes closed, inviting the Holy Spirit to enter and listening to the hypnotic chant around me was one of the most powerful, deeply moving experiences I’ve ever had.
Deacons are called to a service ministry, the hands and feet of Christ on the ground and, as Emily reminded me, we are called to be stones in the shoes of the greater church. We are the bridge between the needs of the world and the reach of the church. As my sister-in-law, a deacon in the great state of Arkansas tells it, the priest is the shepherd and the deacon is the sheepdog. This particular sheepdog has a lot to learn and, hopefully, a lot to offer. We can all do our best work when we are supported by those we love, and I’m grateful for the encouragement of my husband Steve and the warm welcome from my new St Peter’s family.
~Rev. Pat Rubenstein