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January 23, 2023

At Your Service 03

By Jeff Vierra

Chapter Three: Fundamental Stance

The litany of the saints was coming to a close. I realized that not only were my eyes running like an open fire hydrant, but my nose was as well. I discreetly wiped my face, along with the large puddle that lied beneath me, using the sleeve of my alb.

I proceeded to stand up, with the other ten men lying on the hard, cool stone, at Deacon Jack's announcement of "Let us stand." As my body became perpendicular to the floor, blood rushed from my head, and I thought for a moment that I would pass out. Regaining my composure, I followed the candidate in front of me, until I had reached my pew. Ann looked at me, my eyes red and swollen; and at the sight of the profound change that had taken place within the man that she loved; she reached out and embraced me as she began to weep.

Deacon Jack motioned the assembly to be seated. However, as coached, we deacon candidates remained standing. I, being the first man on the bishop's right, was motioned to come and kneel before the bishop. Bishop David laid his hands upon my head gently, yet firmly. I waited for no more than a few seconds, when I felt the bishop remove his hands from the top of my head.

"That's it?" I thought to myself. No southern drawled "Byyy the poowwwerrr of Jeeesssus, you haavvve been heeeaalllled."? No hand forcing my body to the ground followed by a "Thaaannnkya Jeeesssus"?

Without ceremony, Deacon Jack took my arm, helped me from my knees then guided me to location at the bottom of the stairs where I was to stand facing the bishop. I waited and watched as each candidate kneeled in a perfunctory manor before the bishop; after which, having moved all of us to the bottom of the stairs, Deacon Jack motioned for us to kneel.

Bishop David, raising his arms, began to pray...

"Almighty God,
be present with us by your power.
You are the source of all honor,
you assign to each his rank,
you give to each his ministry..."

The prayers of consecration were long. To me they sounded like a bunch of ceremonious mumbo jumbo.

"...In the first day of your Church
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
the apostles of your Son appointed seven men
of Good repute..."

"of Good repute"? That's a joke! I couldn't think of another individual, candidate or otherwise, that had a more colorful past than my own.

"...Lord,
send forth upon them the Holy Spirit,
that they may be strengthened
by the gift of the sevenfold grace
to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry..."

That's it, the point of no return. Where moments before I could have bolted up from the floor and raced towards the door, now I had no option, I had taken a stance, from this point on, I was always to be referred to as Deacon Stephen.

"...who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen."

We gratefully stood from the place where our knees had been embedded. Two priests came to each of us, one with a deacon's stole in hand, and the other with a dalmatic hanging over his forearm. I had picked my pastor and spiritual director to vest me. During my formation, I argued that I wanted Ann to vest me. After all, she is the one whom I will share my ministry with. She is the one who disrobes me at night. Shouldn't she be the one to robe me in the symbols of my ordination?

Father Jeff put on my stole. Although I liked my pastor very much, I felt uneasy with his closeness as he slipped the piece of cloth over my head and laid it on my left shoulder. Father Jeff was a handsome man in his late forties. He was of medium height, but very well built. And, despite the fact that most of the middle aged women in our parish had a huge crush on him, and the strong belief that he held true to his vow of celibacy, Father Jeff was decidedly gay.

Father Mike, long known as the monk of the diocese, tossed the dalmatic over me like a matador whirling his cape, my head going through its opening like a Kobe Bryant, all net 3-pointer. If I had held my arms up, they would have easily slipped into the wide, draping sleeves as well.

Obviously, Father Mike had done this before.

After vesting, with the priests having returned to their seats, we presented ourselves, one by one, to the bishop again. Bishop David handed each of us the Book of the Gospels. With him and the newly ordained deacon simultaneously holding the symbol of the Word of the Lord, Bishop David ordered...

" Receive the Gospel of Christ,
whose herald you now are.
Believe what you read,
teach what you believe,
and practice what you teach."

...then handing the book to Deacon Jack, they mechanically embraced, wishing each other peace.

The ordination rite over, the Mass continued in its usual manner. The one difference was that the two attending deacons with Bishop David were replaced by two of the newly ordained men...one of them being "Deacon" Robert. Robert tried to move in a pious and solemn manner, but his excitement was unmanageable, pouring from him like the odor that radiates from a petting zoo.

It was strange to watch the two men that I had attended classes with one weekend a month for the last four years exercising their newly acquired right to act as clerics. It was surreal. I felt more like I was watching actors on a stage.

After the final blessing, the bishop announced that there was a reception in the parish hall, and that all were invited. Robert proudly dismissed the assembly. We processed out of the church and went down the cathedral steps, where we greeted well wishers heading toward the parish hall.

When the stream of people dissipated, we reentered the cathedral for pictures with the bishop. I was surprised to see that people were still in there, apparently waiting for our return. Having been first and in front most of the Mass, it was decided that my family and I would be last to have our photo opportunity.

"The first shall be last..."

While we deacons waited with our families, the people still in the church came up to us, asking for our blessings. I felt somewhat perplexed at the requests directed toward me. I had difficulty understanding why people, some of whom I had known for a while, thought that I was any more worthy to bless them now, than I had been the day before. I knew that the grace afforded me by the sacrament I had just received was to be shared with and by all, but did these people know that; or did they think that something magical was suppose to happen because this person with the title of Reverend Mister was making the sign of the cross on their foreheads?

Ann, the kids and I were finishing taking pictures with the bishop. I took a long, hard look at Bishop David. He looked tired! I could still see the humble kindness in his eye, but I could also see that his many years of service to Christ and his people had taken its toll.

After the picture taking was over, Ann and I walked briskly to the parish hall, Michelle in Ann's arms, as Denise and Paul ran beside us. Nearly an hour had passed since the Mass had ended, and we knew friends and relatives were waiting for us.

The hall was setup with eleven circular tables with white, paper tablecloths. Each table had a set of balloons and a sign with the name of one of the newly ordained name. I saw the table that had "Deacon Stephen Hatchell" on it, and Ann, the kids and I walked to it. The table had a few of my family and friends around. On the table was a quarter sheet cake that congratulated and blessed me, along with a number of gifts. I joked with everyone there that if gifts were part of the deal then I should be ordained more often.

I noticed that a relatively large number of people who had come to see my ordination had already left. I realized that it was mainly my friends and relatives who had a long trip back home. I will have to remember to call and apologize for my tardiness in arriving at the reception. Everyone that remained I greeted, and thanked them for coming, as they shook my hand or hugged me, and offered their congratulations.

I heard laughter from a couple of the tables behind me. I turned around and saw two deacons holding up Mary blue t-shirts, each above a box of the same size and color. I noticed that I had a similar box on my table, and announced to our group that perhaps I should open this up.

The card was simple To: "Deacon" Stephen From: Sister Gretchen :) . Sister Gretchen taught a number of the classes during my formation, and was one of the wittiest people I knew. I opened the package and took out the shirt. I laughed as I saw the two lines she had put over the left breast. My memory flew back to the class, I can't even remember what the topic was now, where she told us that "diakonos" meant "servant". The bold white text of this bright blue shirt read:

"Deacon" Stephen...

...at your "Service"

Article © Jeff Vierra. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-12-18
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