By the Rev. Henry Penner
Welcome this evening to all clergy present, and especially to Bishop Mayer. Welcome to all of this congregation who are here to support Ayo in this journey of ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Episcopal Church. Welcome and special thanks to Ayo’s wife, Tope, and his entire family who have supported him in his second calling — to Holy Orders. Your willingness to support him in that struggle to discern his place in the Lord’s plan is a journey of love — a journey of togetherness — a journey of support and prayer.
It is fitting that we gather for this beautiful ordination ceremony during Advent — a time of waiting — a time of expectation — a time of quiet contemplation. For we are honored to present — tonight — a man who has waited patiently through years of study and prayer- — a man who has met our fondest expectations of what a Deacon is all about — SERVICE!
A man of quiet and contemplative manner — one who openly shows us peace and concern for others in his everyday life.
We are here tonight to honor Ayo who has led that life of service to others from his very first days as a boy in Nigeria. As he continued his education in the United States, Ayo found more opportunities to serve. He has shown the heart and soul of a Deacon in all his work with young people in trouble. He has served the people in his home parish wherever he has lived, especially at St. Barnabas in Odessa, and here at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
He has studied the Scriptures — and no better passage applies to him than the reading we have heard from Jeremiah: “Do not say ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you… Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
Ayo, you can be much comforted by these words. The Lord will indeed touch your mouth and your heart. I remember only too well that as a new deacon, I was afraid I would say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Of course that happened sometimes — but my heart was in the right place — and the Lord helped me move on to words with more meaning — with more compassion — and sometimes to no words at all — only silence — only the presence of the Spirit with me and one other person.
As I became more involved in work as a hospital chaplain, I experienced more response from people in a day than I did in a month as a parish deacon. Responses that went from — “Get out — I don’t want to talk to anyone,” to an hour’s conversation that involved laughter, and crying, and confession, and all the gamut of human emotions. But often it boiled down to long moments of silent pastoral presence. Moments where no words were spoken — and these moments were as much a part of God’s presence in the room as any prayers we said out loud.
As Paul Newman said once in a movie — sometimes no hand at all is a pretty cool hand. And sometimes the Lord lets us make a pretty cool connect with those who need our help with only a bit of silence — only listening — only presence — only ourselves open and speechless in the presence of grief — in the presence of trouble — and yes — even in the presence of joy.
So never ask where will I find the words—-they will come to you — and if not — then the Lord is helping you to show your compassion with your simple presence — and most importantly — God’s presence.
We as deacons are blessed with the promise of a place at the table — a place of service — just like our Lord Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading today from Luke. We are honored to set that table — we are honored to, as Mother Lauren once told me — do up the dishes after the feast.
But principally, we as deacons are called to make Jesus real in a world needing healing and needing to hear the Good News. We are granted an authority and a summons to serve Christ outside the walls of this church — in all ways — to all persons –and in all places. So wear that authority as a cloak — wear it proudly, because that authority to tell the Good News — to heal broken hearts — to comfort the sick and depressed is yours to use as God directs you. The calling to serve — SERVE — all God’s people will be this day recognized and gran of the Holy Spirit. It is an authority no one can challenge — an authority filled with humility yet confidence — an authority you will be granted by God, by this congregation, and by our Bishop Mayer.
In addition, what we do here this evening, with the ordination of you, Ayo, is to remind and challenge anew every deacon, every priest, and every bishop to live out their deaconal ordination — the very starting point of clergy ministry — indeed reflecting the ministry of all the baptized — all who recognize servanthood for all Christians.
Servanthood — the heart of the deaconal life — a life of more than an occasional concern, one that recognizes true sacrifice on behalf of others — in the name of God who guides us by the Holy Spirit.
So as deacons we are never alone — never alone. I think this is the most important gift of what we do. God is always with us — always in us. And we serve as deacons together with fellow clergy, with each of you who support us from this parish — and with support from our Bishop who confirms us, sustains us, and pastors us in our journey of servanthood.
Ayo — as deacon you take God’s gift of love and respect to all people — and leave them with hope. Your offering of your life to this new calling gives us all HOPE. We are blessed every day by your presence and that of your family. And make no mistake — this is a family — every one of your family — that serves the people of God in every way, and we at St. Martin’s are privileged to present you, Ayo, for ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Episcopal Church.
Congratulations, and may God be with you as you serve all people in His Holy name.