In the early Church, the deacon was described as the eyes, ears, heart, mouth, and soul of the bishop. A major responsibility being to discover the real needs of the community, and then to act as an agent to direct the Church’s loving service on their behalf. Simply stated, a deacon is charged with “uncovering the needs of the community and then helping to provide a solution.” However, how can we bring the needs of the people before the Lord when we haven’t taken the time to learn what is needed?
One of the best ways to uncover the needs of the community is to root oneself deeply in the community. For example, every deacon should be making home visits, communion calls, and phone calls to parishioners. Unfortunately, every conversation with a person can be superficial, like asking, “how are you” but not caring about the answer. Ideally though, every conversation should be sincere so that every question provides an opportunity for the person to share where they are hurting or in need. Asking probing questions is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Here is a recent example. The weather was just starting to get a little cooler and nighttime temperatures were approaching 40 degrees on a recent visit to a homebound parishioner. There was a small portable electric heater in the living room. My first question was, “how are you today?” I received the response of, “I’m good, everything is fine.” So I asked the question a little differently, I see you have a space heater and the room is a little chilly.” That’s when the person related the story about how the heater isn’t working and may take a few weeks to get it repaired. There was anxiety in her voice that needed to be addressed. “How can our parish community help you,” I asked? She replied, “Well, I wish I had another space heater. This one isn’t large enough to handle the area.” Finally, the answer we needed. Finally, a response that provided direction on how to help. A new space heater was purchased and delivered that day. A simple thing, but that person may have been too proud to ask, and wouldn’t have asked had the conversation stayed superficial.
Also, when making home visits, don’t forget to share information about our diocesan Vitality Healthcare ministry. They have a great deal of expertise that can help a person navigate the maze of available healthcare resources.
Every conversation is an opportunity to uncover the need behind the need. Recently at a sacramental preparation meeting, a person approached and made this statement, “Why does the church allow annulments. That makes no sense to me!” On the surface, the question suggested a need to voice her opinion about a Church practice. But that was just the superficial need. The response was not to talk about church law. Instead I asked a question, “Tell me, are you considering an annulment?” The story began to unfold and, as suspected, it had nothing to do with church law. The person just needed to talk about the marriage difficulties and then needed some help on how and where to begin the process. The encounter was a great opportunity to give someone hope, and to put them in touch with an advocate who would accompany them through the process.
If the deacon is to be the eyes, ears, heart, mouth, and soul of the bishop, then he must be willing to embed himself in the community and listen closely to what someone is really saying. By keeping all of our senses attuned to discovering the real needs of Gods people, we can best fulfill our call to be servant leaders. Deacon Anthony Cioe