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Eagles to the rescue

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Fri, Jan 27. 2012

At the St. George’s Cathedral in our capital city Kingstown, among the prominent fixtures is a lectern in the shape of a golden eagle. It is used for the reading of lessons, and lay readers in the Anglican church and regular churchgoers authorised by the church to read the lessons are the main users.{{more}}

On Wednesday of this week, five of these lay readers were ordained to the Holy Order of Deacons.

It is a strange coincidence that among the five, who over the years read many a lesson at the golden eagle, are two men, both of whom had a connection not only with the eagle in the church but with an organisation called Eagles, best known for the football team of the seventies and eighties. Those two men are Lennox John and Kenwyk Lewis.

These two are among the latest group of lay people to have followed the calling to move to a higher form of service in the church by becoming ordained as non-stipendiary deacons, that is, unpaid deacons.

The first thing to be noticed about this group is that, like many who preceeded them, all of them are mature persons, mostly retired, after distinguished public service careers. They naturally share a common background in the Anglican community and have stuck with their church through thick and thin over the years.

Traditionally, the Anglican church, like its Roman Catholic parent, used to rely on the services of professionals – priests, bishops, nuns etc to carry out the work of the church. The priesthood was then a most prestigious profession. However, in more modern times, the Anglican church, like many of the traditional denominations, has been experiencing more and more difficulty in attracting suitable younger recruits to replenish the dwindling older stock.

This has had its own repercussions, placing greater strain on a relatively small pool of professional priests to carry out a multiplicity of functions. It also presents inconveniences to the congregation and a degradation in the pastoral care offered to the flock.

One solution was, therefore, to get more members of the congregation involved in carrying out some of the functions normally associated with professional priests. In the case of the Anglican community, one approach has been to move towards these ‘non-stipendiary deacons’. According to the ordination rites, deacons are called to serve the Church of God and to work with their members in caring for the poor, the needy and the sick. They are also charged with the responsibility of assisting bishops and priests in performing their duties and pastoral responsibilities.

Another approach, not without controversy and resistance, has been to go against the grain of traditional discrimination against one half of the church, that half which gave birth to Jesus Christ, and permit women to be ordained as priests. It is debatable whether this concession came out of a genuine desire to right the gender imbalance or was born out of convenience to solve the problem of a shortage in priests. Be that as it may, by 1989, the Anglican community in Massachusetts, USA, ordained its first female bishop. This higher step today is one of the most divisive issues in the global Anglican community, even here in the West Indies.

Although the Diocese of the Windward Islands assented to the ordination of women in 2000, it was only in May 2011 that the first woman in the Diocese was ordained to the Holy Order of Deacons. And of the eight Dioceses constituting the Province of the West Indies, Guyana still has not yet given assent to the ordination of women.

So, whether forced by circumstances or by choice, the move to get the laity more involved in the work of the Church is a most positive one. So, too, the move to ensure full rights for women, which ought to be supported by all, inside the church and without. The two deaconesses among the five are as eminently qualified for their role as any of their brothers. We welcome them all.

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