I’ve been a full-time professor for over a dozen years now and a social worker for more than twice that long. And yet, three months into being a transitional deacon, that title feels like a forever friend.
I am transitional.
I have been given that title in my church life for a specific reason: I have been called to, affirmed as, and in educational and spiritual formation for ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Priests in this church are first (and always) ordained as deacons, signifying the role of servant which forms the basis of any call to ordained ministry. For those of us who will inhabit this space for a time, our position is referenced as “transitional” which originated at some point, I would presume, from the practical need to differentiate the trajectory of the transitional deacon from those who will inhabit this space as the primacy of their call as vocational deacons.
We are all deacons. But, I am transitional.
I wear that title, transitional, with a different intention these days. For me, being a deacon means inhabiting a space of transition. The two will be forever linked in my mind. I am not passing through, or waiting until, or biding my time.
Being transitional is my place of repose.
Today, I write from the beauty of the space that I occupy when I am being fully present to my call. With some irony, I will let those of you who read this know that the space I most often occupy as transitional deacon is the columbarium chapel in the parish where I serve, which we have named, “The Chapel of the Resurrection.” It gives an all new meaning to my place of repose. But, it is really a place between. I can step into this space from the church, which I often do in the mornings when I walk in the back door by the parking lot, through the dimly lit hallways and into this chapel where I will speak or chant morning prayer, whether alone or with others. If I arrive before the sexton, I’m also the one to open the doors of that chapel from the inside, pushing them out onto the sidewalk facing the public park. I hang out the sign that says “Open for Prayer” and fill baskets with winter items to place at the edge of the sidewalk, a gift of common humanity, love and warmth. But those chapel doors can be entered from the street, too, opening up the church to the needs of the world.
Inside the chapel, I have been growing paperwhites which are reaching the close of their season, and the altar guild maintains a hanging vase of fresh flowers which they refill each week. The world has access to a place to sit, to warm from the cold or cool from the heat, to kneel in prayer, to read the psalms from our prayer book, to reflect on pictures and poems which I rotate through the space…right now, it is a poem from Mary Oliver.
On the resting bench in that chapel, there is a small wooden box on which I have written, “Prayers and Hopes” and set some index cards and a pen next to it. No one used it for a long time, although I check it every day so I can pray for those who wish me to. Then, someone wrote a card and asked for healing for their wife. And another, a request for a child. Then others, for specific people and situations, began to appear regularly. I write a little acknowledgement on each, signed “Deacon Sarah” that reminds them someone is holding space for them and for the longings of their heart. I never know who comes, or comes back. But the reminder is there, if they seek it. I sit with each one, and sometimes linger in my prayerful consideration of the unknown writer who has sought refuge in this place of repose. This is especially true of the one that was there today. Unsigned, the quiet longings of a heart seeking relief, and grace, and God.
In transition, I pray for you.
When my prayers conclude…whether morning, noonday or evening…only then do I consider where I go from my time and place of repose. I may walk into the church if there is work to do, or liturgy to attend to, or a meeting, or sermon writing calling my name. I may walk out to the street and to my professorial duties if it is my university academic life that beckons me to teach, or write, or mentor, or lead. Eventually, I will be called out from this place. This, I know. And I will move from being transitional to being The Next Thing, whatever that is.
But that will be then.
For now, I am transitional.
And, I pray.