The four new deacons making their canonical declarations prior to their ordination in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Garret Casey)
Four new deacons were ordained this afternoon (Sunday 21 June 2009) by Archbishop John Neill in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. The Revd Ruth Elmes is the new curate of Stillorgan with Blackrock. The Revd Suzanne Harris will serve her title in the parishes of Booterstown and Mount Merrion. The Revd David McDonnell becomes the curate of the Christ Church Cathedral Group of Parishes in inner-city Dublin. And the Revd Niall Stratford is going to Killiney (Ballybrack).
Once again, clergy, students and family members from across the length and breadth of Ireland travelled to be at this afternoon’s ordinations.
The preacher was Niall’s new rector, the Revd Ian Poulton of Ballybrack, who heads off to Africa later this week, visiting Rwanda and Burundi on behalf of the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund.
Today was Father's Day so it was a particular pleasure that among those taking part in the service were two fathers of ordinands: Archdeacon Donald Keegan is Ruth’s father, and Niall’s father is Archdeacon Ralph Stratford, former Archdeacon of Tuam and Rector of Ballysodare, who read the Epistle.
In his sermon, Ian Poulton reminded us how priests remain deacons, that bishops remain deacons and priests, and that service is at the heart of all ministry:
“There’s one group whose job description is a mandate for justice and mercy … one group of people who too often are too quiet; one group of people who have a duty to say uncomfortable and disturbing, and even troublesome things, in defence of the vulnerable.
“Deacons have a special responsibility to ensure that those in need are cared for with compassion and humility. They are to strengthen the faithful, search out the careless and the indifferent, and minister to the sick, the needy, the poor and those in trouble.
“To ensure that those in need are cared for with compassion and humility: that diaconal ministry, that ministry of servanthood, is the duty of all clergy. The Gospel passage we read is just one text amongst many that could be adduced that leave us without any doubt as what is the mark of true ministry. This is not a matter of social conscience or politics, this is about a biblical and a theological imperative to serve others. Let us be clear, to fail to serve those in need is to fail the ministry to which we have been called.”
And he continued:
“Service is not something optional, something we take on if we have time after we have done all the other things of parish life, service is part of our understanding of the nature of God himself. Ministry not rooted in servanthood is ministry that is not rooted in God; it is ministry that is not rooted in the life of the Trinity, as that Trinity is revealed to us in Scripture. To refuse to be servants is to deny the nature of God; it is to fail the most basic test of what it means to be an orthodox Christian. At a time when the Anglican Communion is tearing itself apart on what it considers to be ‘orthodox’, we should be looking at God himself and asking, what are the marks of a church that truly reflects God?
“If ministry that is orthodox is ministry rooted in service, then more and more ministry that is effective is going to demand a church that recognizes that it has been sent as a servant.”
To our four new deacons – my former students – I could say congratulations, again and again. To Ian’s outstanding sermon I could say Amen, again and again and again.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.
Corrected 22 June 2009