June 27, 2008

Future deacons to extend Church’s reach into the community

Deacon candidate Lawrence French, third from left, leads a Bible study on June 5 at Buckeye Village, a senior citizens apartment complex in Osgood. The participants in the Bible study are a mixed group of Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Deacon candidate Lawrence French, third from left, leads a Bible study on June 5 at Buckeye Village, a senior citizens apartment complex in Osgood. The participants in the Bible study are a mixed group of Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The first 25 men to be ordained as permanent deacons in the archdiocese will start ministering in their respective parishes soon after they are ordained in a historic liturgy on June 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Most Catholics in central and southern Indiana will experience their service within their parishes, often during weekend Masses, but also in sacramental preparation, catechetical programs and parish-based charitable ministries.

There is another aspect of these men’s ministry that, at least initially, few of their fellow parishioners will see, but it will be important in extending the reach of the Church into the broader community.

Most of the deacon candidates have been assigned by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein to specific ministries outside their parishes.

Their ministries will occur in hospitals, nursing homes and correctional facilities across the archdiocese where, up until now, the Catholic Church has had little or no ministerial presence.

Deacon candidate Wayne Davis has been doing hospital chaplaincy at Hancock Regional Hospital in Greenfield.

When considering how he and his fellow deacon candidates have been asked to take the Church’s ministry into new places, he said it is “humbling … to think that God can use us as his instruments.”

At the same time, he speaks with confidence that this is exactly where deacons—whose focus is on the diverse opportunities of the ministry of charity—are called to be.

“We ought to be praying about … trying to reach those corners that we just haven’t been able to reach very well in the past,” Davis said.

Ecumenical implications

In extending the Church’s reach, the future deacons often find themselves ministering among an audience mixed with some Catholics, but often a large number of non-Catholic Christians.

Deacon candidate Lawrence French has experienced this for the last two years at Manderley Health Care Center, a nursing home in Osgood, and—for the last six months next door—at Buckeye Village, a senior citizen apartment complex.

Although he is excited about taking the Church’s ministry into new territory, he said there are challenges to serving a religiously diverse community.

“You have to be very careful about what you say,” French said. “You don’t want to misquote the Bible or the Church’s position.

“If you misspeak and then you go back, they’re going to think that the Church is changing its position.”

Buckeye resident Clarence Gunter, a non-Catholic Christian, appreciates how French reflects upon the Scriptures in a Bible study he leads at the complex.

“[He] gives you something different to think about,” Gunter said. “Sometimes you just change your mind a little bit. There’s always something new to learn.”

Although there are challenges in ministering in an ecumenical context, there are also potential blessings that cannot be received in a parish setting.

Deacon candidate David Reising noticed this reality while ministering at the Lawrence County Correctional Facility in Bedford.

In the past, he has led Catholic inmates in a weekly Communion service then invited them to join him in praying the rosary. But he was soon ministering to non-Catholic Christians as well.

“Some of the non-Catholics wanted to come along, too,” he said. “It’s amazing how they were thirsting for God. There were some Baptists praying the rosary with us.”

Being an inviting Catholic presence in the wider community is important for Reising, who said that Catholics are a distinct minority in Lawrence County, making up only 3 percent of the population.

“People see us as Catholics and that Catholics are OK, are good, that they take care of their own.”

It also can be an aid to the ministry of non-Catholic Christians in communities where the Catholic presence is small, and can strengthen the bonds between Catholics and Christians of other traditions.

As lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital, Russell Jarvis, an ordained minister in the Independent Christian Churches, appreciates the ministry of Davis, who Jarvis said is the hospital’s first volunteer Catholic chaplain in the chaplaincy program’s 15-year history.

“We really welcome that,” Jarvis said. “It’s helped us to get the perspective that we needed to have here, not just to take care of patients that are Catholic, but to just appreciate the Catholic spirituality.”

Leading the way for the laity

In many ways, the future deacons will be pioneers in their ministry in the broader community. But they definitely don’t want to go it alone.

While they will be ministering in the secular world, they recognize that this is ordinarily where bishops, priests and religious men and women don’t go and that it is the primary place for the lay faithful to be spreading the Gospel.

“It excites me to be able to model and also to lead the laity into doing, really, what their mission in the Church is, to evangelize the culture,” said Davis.

Deacon candidate Wesley Jones’ non-parish ministry will be to the people who work and minister in the various agencies of Catholic Charities Indianapolis and to the people who are served through them.

He hopes through his preaching at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis to inspire others to join him.

“If you work in that kind of ministry with the poor, it can’t help but influence how you talk and what you bring into homilies and into your parish work,” Jones said. “I hope that will help me sensitize people in my parish and increase the number of people that are involved in that [ministry of charity].”

Davis sees himself as a “catalyst” in inspiring the vast majority of members of the Church—the lay faithful—to further heighten the profile of the Church in the community by being more active in ministry there.

“I think I can be a bridge between some of the laity and some of these outreaches of the Church, to get them involved in them,” Davis said.

Although Davis and his fellow future deacons want to have the laity join them in their ministry in the wider community, they will always be on the lookout to extend the Church’s reach even farther.

“There is so much work to do. The harvest is ripe, but the workers are few,” said French. “And even with 25 guys out there, we’re still going to need lay people to assist [us] in any way they can.

“Maybe that will be a function of the deacon in some parishes—to help get things organized in areas where you can visit the sick, visit the nursing homes, visit the jails.

“And then you can pull back from that once that ministry is in place and then go into another area.”

(To read profiles of the archdiocese’s future deacons and articles about the life and ministry of deacons, log on to www.archindy.org/deacon.)

Local site Links: