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Kiwi deacons follow a road less travelled

By Julia Stuart

While all deacons are called to serve in Christ’s name, the path to reach that point and the calling once there are individual ones. Here are the stories of some deacons who serve New Zealand Methodist congregations.

Deacon Rachel Tregurtha, Rangiora
Rachel Tregurtha says in her mid-teens she thought about being a deaconess but at that time the entry age was 21.

“During my kindergarten teacher training I boarded at Deaconess House, so I knew about what they did. Then I went on to marry and have children. I still felt some sort of call and I did my training as a lay preacher. I didn’t want to be a presbyter – that’s not me.

“Then one day it just popped into my head, I could be a deacon. I went to see my minister, Cliff Keightley, who told me about “this new thing starting up”. I was candidated in 1980 and went into the Home Setting training programme with a course parallel to the presbyters. I was ordained in 1984.

“I wanted to work with older people, and a new home-hospital complex, Holmwood, caring for about 40 people, had just opened in Rangiora. They wanted a non-stipendiary chaplain and I’ve been there ever since.

“In kindy teaching you learn patience and that’s very important when you work with older people. I work with the activities officer, take a weekly devotional group, and do a lot of visiting.

“I’m also non-stipendiary in the parish, where I visit the elderly, and preach now and again.”

Rachel feels fairly well integrated with the church. She attends theology school and takes such opportunities to continue her training. Nevertheless, she feels her retirement isn’t far away – maybe a couple more years – and notices that there aren’t so many deacons coming through these days.

Deacon Richard Williams, North Shore
Richard Williams became very conscious of ‘God things’ as a lonely child growing up in Thames in the 1950s, where he helped to teach Sunday school and worked with young people at a very early age.

His job with an insurance company on Auckland’s North Shore gave him time to be involved in Boys’ Brigade where he served 16 years and saw it as “my main reason for living”. He had long talks with Rev Brian Turner, who was the first to suggest he go into ministry but at that stage Richard’s only picture of a minister was of a very formal person who “stood up in front and led worship every week”.

Following two severe road accidents, one of which led to a below-the-knee amputation, Richard started to ask himself Why am I still alive? Why am I still here? What can I do?

He says he talked with one of the saints of the Methodist Church, Rev Phil Taylor. “Phil got all excited, helping me to see the great things going on in my life and pointing to the just-renewed diaconate as an opportunity.

‘The selection process was part-way through but I got fast-tracked, and was candidated in 18 months. I did my training in the Home Setting. I had to learn a lot of things about myself in a big hurry, and there was lots of study for someone who had always seen himself scholastically as a failure.’

During Richard’s ministry exploration he fetched up at the Northcote community house, Onepoto Awhina, whose committee invited him to come on board. He also got involved in the Christian Fellowship for the Disabled, the local Disabled Persons Assembly and then the Disability Information Service which emerged from DPA.

In the mid-1990s he connected up with the Glenfield Anglican Methodist Community Project. Now, his main focus is the community drop-in called Loaves and Fishes. For the last four years he has covenanted to provide 20 hours of service there each week.

He works alongside the two paid staff in the foodbank, budget food shop and Saturday market days, and he prepares weekday lunches, His main focus is in the food bank. He attends the Glenfield Methodist Church, where he is considered part of the ministry team.

Diaconate ministry recognition is patchy, he finds. He feels that in parts of the Methodist Church, deacons have been deliberately sidelined by the presbyterate – ‘for both political and territorial reasons’. He does feel valued where he is now. ‘I am accepted for who and what I am, and recognized as delivering pastoral care.

‘In the general community I am identified as part of the church as well as part of the Project, and have developed significant contacts in the wider community who know I can help them.’

Deacon Lorna Goodwin, Palmerston North
Lorna Goodwin’s whole life is characterized by service. Twenty-five years of scouting, including being a District Cub Leader, was followed by a desire to “do something with my house”. Her previous church contact had mostly been with scouting church parades, and she felt most comfortable in a Methodist setting.

Since 1984 Lorna has filled her house with people needing a safe haven – particularly those recently discharged from prison or psychiatric hospital – and this led her to recognize the need for a day-time drop-in centre. She had seen that the people living with her and others with disabilities needed somewhere to go during the day and something to do.

She approached the Methodist community with her proposals, and one thing led to another. She went to a gathering of deaconesses with some friends, and was encouraged by the good feeling and the leading of the Holy Spirit in the gathering and in the people. “I wanted to step forward,” Lorna says, “and ended up in the three-year Home Setting training followed by ordination.”

Now based at Wesley Broadway in Palmerston North, Lorna runs the Agape Fellowship attached to the church. This offers a day programme and activities, including singing, visiting the all-weather swimming pool, video evenings on Fridays and games on Saturday nights, which she calls “the loneliest nights of the week”.

Some of the group attend various churches round the district. They have fund-raised for overseas trips four times in the last few years, with yet another trip, to Melbourne, on the horizon.

The church, particularly the women’s fellowship, is very supportive, Lorna says. The men’s group runs a roster for the Saturday evening, which helps a lot.

Until a close relative with health needs took up residence, Lorna still kept her home open to a succession of boarders and is a guardian to three of them. Her self-supporting ministry at Agape Cottage has been funded by contracts with the Regional Health Authority, and its successor Mid-Central Health. Agape Fellowship gets financial support through the Ministry of Social Development.

“This is a bit frustrating, They have so many requirements that we have to conform to,” she says.

Lorna may stop the formal contracts when she gets to age 65, but that won’t stop her serving. “I’ll be in this field for ever,” she says.