Just for a moment, can you check your mental chalkboard to see what is on your list of what a deacon is? If any of the following ideas are there, wipe them off, please.
- A priest-in training
- A super Christian of some sort
- The lowest rung on a three-step ladder of deacon-priest-bishop
- A person elected for a period of time to do the church's charity work
The earliest Church did not think and feel in terms of certain, much less special (!) people set aside and consecrated for particular tasks. That idea would come later and cause us a measure of grief. Our faith ancestors experienced the entire people of God and all the members of Christ's Body as holy and consecrated through baptism. Everyone and everything is caught up in the energy and vitality of Christ's death and resurrection. And everyone is called to be, like the Master, servant of all. If there is a special class of people to which we servant are to attend, then it is the poor and the outcast where, if we take Matthew 25 honestly, the presence of Christ has a surprising intensity.
The "Seven" we hear about in Acts 6 are never called deacons anywhere in the New Testament even though for centuries the Church has seen this order having its roots in this scripture. There is but a loose link between the Seven and the development of the ministry of deacon; sometime in the early 100's, a hundred years after Jesus' historical life and death, deacons are overseeing the distribution of the Bread and Cup and are the bishops' eyes among the community of believers, especially attentive to the sick/poor.
Deacons are icons (an icon is an image that energizes and equips believers) manifesting the Church's essential role as servant in imitation of Christ himself who came "to serve and not to be served". The deacon embodies Christ's life of service, a service which has been given to the whole Church, not just to certain members. The deacon is a walking, talking, praying signal for us, reminding us of this central task. However this signal "blinks", whether in worship, in pastoral care or in the most ordinary circumstances of daily life - it blinks to remind us that we are all servants called to serve Jesus in his Body and help build up God's Kingdom in this world, wherever the Spirit leads us.
The mark of the deacon is a "the poverty of availability" put forth in a public and prayerful way, affirmed by the bishop by the laying on of hands. At the heart of it all, the deacon is to spend him/herself in point not to self, but to Christ, whose equal yet diverse members we are, a people called to serve in the most standard and most strange of places and spaces, enfleshing the gospel of the One who was dead and is now risen.