By Barb Arland-Fye
Studying alongside 13 deacon candidates, their spouses and others has reaped benefits I couldn’t have imagined when we began the Master of Pastoral Theology program in August 2009.
Even though I’m not a deacon candidate, or the spouse of one, the members of Deacon Class VI for the Diocese of Davenport have welcomed me on their journey to the diaconate. We participate freely in raising questions with the professor or instructor about topics we’re studying and we’re enlightened by listening to one another’s perspectives.
Our communal prayer life has been enriched through participation in Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. I find it deeply satisfying to pray with my classmates in unison, one side of the chapel alternating with the other. Deacon candidates take turns giving homilies during Liturgy of the Hours, which I look forward to because of the way the candidates relate lived experiences to the Gospel.
We share meals together and assist with clearing the dining room tables. One deacon candidate, after asking if he could take my tray, jokingly inquired whether I’d like anything else — like a hot fudge sundae. I said yes, knowing he was just kidding. He came back five minutes later with a sundae.
Last month, another deacon candidate, seeing that I was having trouble loading a CD of theology documents onto an aging laptop computer, shared the documents with me via his electronic “flash drive,” which successfully transferred the materials.
We offer one another sympathy, support and congratulations for events that impact our lives. There’s plenty of laughter and good-natured ribbing in our class, which is a collaborative effort between the Davenport Diocese and St. Ambrose University in Davenport. God willing, the candidates will be ordained deacons in 2013 after completing their classes, and some of us will also hopefully earn a Master of Pastoral Theology Degree then. One of the deacon candidates loves to tease me about my obsession with deadlines. He knows I don’t mind. As a journalist for 31 years, I’ve always had deadlines chasing me.
We come together the second weekend of the month — August through May — sacrificing time with family and friends and forgoing leisure activities to learn more about our faith, the Church and God’s call to serve others.
During this month’s class, Deacon Frank Agnoli, director of deacon formation for the Davenport Diocese, expertly guided us through the theological, historical, pastoral and practical development of the Sacraments of Initiation. Even those of us who have assisted or led teams for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) took away fresh perspectives as a result of the PowerPoint presentations, readings and discussion that ensued.
Included in the class schedule is a two-hour spiritual and pastoral formation session on topics the deacon candidates will come across in their ministry as ordained deacons.
Ministering in the midst of crisis was the focus of the September session which Rev. David Turner, a chaplain at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, presented. His observations, experiences and wisdom would have been of benefit to an even wider audience. His guiding assumptions resonated with me:
God is present and becomes particularly incarnate through our acts of love; God is bigger than you or me and does not need us to stick up for or defend God’s honor; in the context of a crisis, nobody involved cares how much you know; grief is a journey. What is effective, good ministry during the initial phase of this journey will look different from what is effective a month or a year into the journey.
I thank God for the members of Deacon Class VI and all who have made it possible for me to be a part of their journey of faith formation.