Deacons & Service (A Guest Article)

Deacons & Service

Roy Hill II

As a deacon, my desire with this writing is to objectively address the spiritual and biblical reality that being a deacon, a servant, is a priceless service-opportunity available to people in different walks of life.  I acknowledge challenges to engaging this opportunity.  And I encourage knowing that we can overcome the challenges which may be either myopic, self-imposed, or simply Satanic (John 10:10).

The Free Dictionary and Merriam-Webster respectively define Deacon as:  “a lay assistant to a Protestant minister” and a person who is “elected by a church with congregational polity to serve in worship, in pastoral care, and on administrative committees.”

Christian author and speaker Jerry Bridges … in addressing service and love … says a scripturally transparent expression of “love” is “fellowship” or “sharing with others.”  He says we can share  ourselves – our gifts, time, and talents as in “doing helpful deeds for another” (1 Corinthians 12).

Bridges says:  Servanthood “requires no special talent or special gifts ….  And if God has given us certain natural abilities, we also want to be good stewards of those abilities to serve others in the body.  But it requires no spiritual gift or talent to wash feet, clean shoes, or gather firewood.  All that is required is a servant’s attitude.”

Curiosity asks:  “Is servanthood absent because increasingly human attitudes are ‘of striving for position rather than the privilege of serving others in the Body of Christ?’”

In a February 2018 lecture, Vermont Christian counselor and national speaker Rev. Dr. Andrew H. Selle described three sin-challenges we all face. I wonder if these are the three powers against true servanthood:

  1. Me First  – the controlling idolatry “from the inside” that is “anything other than Christ”
  2. My Way  – the legalism that elevates “mere opinion to the level of God’s Law”
  3. My Drum  – the myopia that emphasizes “some principles and ignoring others, of losing a sense of proportion about what is most important to God”

Four forerunner examples showing faith related pathways overcoming challenges include: 

– Pontius Pilate & Barabbas (Matt. 27:16) vs. God & Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 12:18, Lk. 9:35)

– President Jefferson (Sally Hemings) & enslavement vs. President Obama (First Lady Michelle) & egalitarianism

– Negro Holocaust Lynchings (R. Gibsond @ Yale U.) vs. NAACP & Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill             – J. E. Hoover & bigotry (COINTELPRO) vs. Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. & the Nobel Peace Prize

When challenged by negativity, I know God’s liberating power is always available through the Holy Spirit, prayer and scripture.

I believe that when faith is exercised, God moves (2 Chronicles 7:14), and humanity can realize the prophetic words of the “most powerful song of the 20th Century which started out in a Charleston, South Carolina church:  ‘We Shall Overcome‘” ( The song “started out in church pews and picket lines, inspired one of the greatest freedom movements in U.S. history, and went on to topple governments and bring about reform all over the world. …  ‘We Shall Overcome’ has it roots in African-American hymns from the early 20th century and was first used as a protest song in 1945.  …  ‘We Shall Overcome’ might be some of the most influential words in the English language.” – Library of Congress).

Finally:  as we faithfully go forth with our God-given gifts, I also pray we foster service opportunities in either the sacred, secular, or both communities (James 1:22-25). 

Roy V. Hill II is a deacon from Fairfax, Vermont. Roy recently became a good friend upon our spending some precious time together in Vermont during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2018. This article was originally published in March (2017) by College Street Congregational church, where Roy serves as a deacon.  Hill is the former President of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and lives with his wife Shirley Boyd-Hill (A cancer survivor and  Gospel-singer, poet, and the principal founder of the Vermont “Juneteenth” Holiday).

Editor’s Note: Listen and watch Mahalia Jackson sing this famous culture-changing spiritual. She sings it with the “soul” that was intended by the spiritual. No song has impacted me, and especially my teenager years in the 1960s, like “We Shall Overcome.” I find myself singing it a lot these days as I watch God raise up young people to “overcome” ponce again.

How Do I Take Up My Cross Daily?

One of the most astounding and deeply troubling commands of Jesus in the accounts of the four Gospels occurs in Luke 9.

22 “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

Why did Jesus ask his disciple these questions, and make these commands, in Luke 9?

It seems apparent that the time had come for Jesus to announce his passion much more openly. Jesus had not only come to open the door to the resurrection for those who followed him but to call them to die with him. If death is not conquered then there can be no real salvation (1 Corinthians 15:25). Jesus will overcome death, and obtain ultimate victory, by choosing the way of the cross that was before him. Following this revelation Jesus says we too must share in his victory over death by way of the cross. This means we too must die!

But what does it mean for me (us) to die? We will all die a physical death, whether we follow Jesus or not. This clearly is not what he means.

The point is quite clear. But it is clearly missed by most Christians in the West.

If we follow Jesus we must daily learn that “denying ourselves” is to be the fundamental orientation of our life!

I once thought this meant something like looking for specific ways in which I could mortify my flesh and spirit. (There is a truth in this idea but it can easily lead you to miss the central point here, as it did in my life for years.) The frequently used and abused idea of “my cross” has an entirely different frame of reference. It means myself, my awkwardness, my personal trials and pains, my many mistakes and (of course) my core self-centeredness. To take up my cross is to die to my ego-trips and constant thoughts about me. It means coping with life’s everyday business without trampling on others or making them suffer because of my ego (and real) needs. This gripped me afresh this morning as I entered into the discipline of this Lenten season after Ash Wednesday.

Further, to deny myself means to reach a point in my life where where my self is no longer the most important thing in the world. I must take a back seat, and I need to learn to do it joyfully. Thus I must learn again and again to accept resentment, diminishment and (even) rejection. Supremely joyful Christians know this dying daily experience and thus they enter deeply in God’s love in the process.

If you’ve lived long enough you know what this means for you personally. This is why we can rightly say “my cross” and personalize this idea. My “cross” and “your” cross are not the same but the core of our call is identical. Follow Jesus into daily death and through this death live in the power of resurrection. This alone will take me into the experience and reality of what I call costly love.

The Edmundite Show – John H. Armstrong

Dr. Armstrong came to Vermont as a guest of the Vermont Ecumenical Council. During his visit, he addressed clergy and laity of several Christian denominations on the topic of Christian Unity.

Chalking Our Home at Epiphany?

I confess that until recently I had never heard of the ancient Christian custom of chalking the door. (Some say it began in Bavaria.) This custom is an Epiphanytide tradition that is either celebrated on the eve of Epiphany, or on the Sunday of Epiphany (today). The purpose is to bless one’s home. The tradition is still practiced by many Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Catholics, as well as other similar traditions. The practice is to chalk one’s door with a pattern such as 20 τ C τ M τ B τ 18, where the numbers refer to the year 2018 in this instance. The four crosses (I have used a Greek letter τ (tau) since my keyboard did not offer me the “cross” style as a choice) are combined with the letters C, M and B. These Latin letters C, M and B refer to the three magi: traditionally known as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. But these three letters are also the Latin abbreviation for the words: Lord bless this house!

In some contexts the minister will pray over chalk in the liturgy and then the people take the chalk home to mark their doors in a family ceremony. This custom has a biblical foundation in the story of Israel. You will recall that they marked the door to their home during the passover in Egypt so that they would be saved from death.

There are at least two ways this custom has been understood by churches. It is a liturgical practice that serves to protect Christian homes from evil spirit beings until the next Epiphany Day, at which time the custom is repeated. Families also perform this act because it represents the hospitality of the family of Jesus to the Magi (and ultimately to all Gentiles). Thus we mark our homes so that we too will be hospitable to others.

The chalking thus serves as a special house blessing which invites God’s presence into one’s home.

When I was a young boy my parents bought a new family home, only about three blocks from my first home. I have a lasting impression of them inviting guests into our home on a Sunday evening for a “blessing of the home.” (Anita and I did this in our first home because of my parents model to us.) There was music, food, a brief message and some prayers. I think I was about five, maybe just six, years old. I remember this like it was yesterday. I always thought of our home as a special place, a gift from God and a place of safety and gospel grace. My parents lived this faith and all were welcome at 709 Westwood Drive, both black and white. (My home was the deep South, in the pre-Civil Rights era. I knew of no other home so open to all people!)

I think of all the nations that have come to the shores of America, just during my own lifetime. America has generally been a land of openness with a warm welcome for all who come to our shores. (Our laws regarding immigration and refugees have changed, sometimes radically,  but generally we have been both welcoming and tolerant to newcomers.) We should remember at this Epiphany that all of us in this great land came from somewhere else, unless of course we are Native Americans. We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Chalking our homes this year (even if only in reading about the service in a post like this one) might remind us of this fact and then address our anger at others we do not know or innately fear. What kind of welcome are the followers of Jesus Christ giving to the various peoples who come here? Have we adopted an angry and deeply political response or are we open and generous to others not like us?

On this Epiphany let us pray for the attitude of Mary and Joseph who welcomed strangers to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.



Lord, Orchestrate My Desires (Revised)

You received a blog from me just a few minutes ago. As soon as I posted it I saw so many errors in the text that I was mortified. (I wrote this after prayer this morning and did not do a serious edit after I finished it.) So, please read this same post with my numerous corrections.

While I am at it, I intend to write more blogs in 2018. TO do this I will write less posts taken from other sources and posted on my Facebook wall, a wall that is privately read by some friends. So watch for more blogs and please forgive me for being in such a hurry to share my newest blog early this morning. I hope this edition is a better, more readable, version of what I tried to write before.


Lord, Orchestrate My Desires

Much of our life is about understanding and responding to our passions and desires. The dictionary says a desire is “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.”

Each of us are afflicted by certain passions and desires that occur because of the fall of Adam and Eve.  This is something like a disease that has passed down to us as humans. (The Eastern and Western Churches have different theologies of how and why this happened; i.e. of the effects of the fall.) But from the word “passion” we get another word: “passive.”  One Orthodox writer says: “The passions are sin sicknesses that have occurred in our hearts after the fall that feel so natural we can have them operate in our lives and we are its passive victim.  Because of this, to be healed from them, we have to fight.  We don’t fight in our own strength, but in the grace of Jesus Christ.  It is still a fight, however, because healing from the passions feels very unnatural to us.  But in fact, the effects of the passions in our life is quite unnatural.  We were never created for this.”

Many of the passions we experience as persons feel quite natural and pleasurable to us, like gluttony pride, lust, anger and avarice.  But in reality, these things cause us to suffer and pull us away from loving and trusting God. Jesus plainly says we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24.

Everything in life, even good things, has the potential to draw us away from the love of the father. Yet most of our desires are fixed, or caught, in the illusions of deeper fulfillment.

As pleasurable and deceptive as these human passions are, we can be healed from them. But this healing can only be found in deep mystical union with Christ. This requires a transformative process that is often painful, prompting Paul to write,  “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

What do we need? We need to see ourselves rightly. We need to know the difference between the passions and desires that entrap us and lead us to move away from the father’s love. We need to realize that these passions and desires are unnatural for us. They are a sickness. We will become well the more faithfully we live in the Spirit and thus allow the fruit of the Spirit to flow in us (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). As with any sickness we attain wellness through healing. The problem with so much Western teaching about sin and fallenness is that it cannot produce hope in us. We assume we are so deeply wedded to the power of our fallen passions and desires that we will always fail so long as we live in this world. (This is one reason we read Romans 7-8 the way we do, a reading that I have long felt missed what Paul was really saying!)

St. Innocent of Alaska wrote: “Every individual instinctively strives for happiness. This desire has been implanted in our nature by the Creator Himself, and therefore it is not sinful. But it is important to understand that in this temporary life it is impossible to find full happiness, because that comes from God and cannot be attained without Him. Only He, who is the ultimate Good and the source of all good, can quench our thirst for happiness.

So if St. Innocent is right, and I believe he is, then we need to turn our desires toward true happiness. And true happiness can only be found in the father’s house, where love abides in grace and mercy. We need to seek God’s love because “God is love.”

Healing from our passions, thus from our fallenness, is always a process. But if we concentrate on this process overmuch we will always fail. We must choose an audacious and bold direction with our life by making choices about what we will do, say, read, etc. We can begin each day by choosing a way that we will gladly embrace, even if it is painful. I can ask God, through the freedom he has granted to me in Christ, to orchestrate my desires in a vibrant loving melody rich in harmony. He can transform my desires and passions into one central desire for the kingdom of God!

Let us pray in 2018 for this single-minded desire for the kingdom, for God’s love and mercy. Here we can find the continuing transformation that will allow us to overcome our passions and desires. But we must never expect that this process will end in this life. This is summed up well by Abba Evagrius:

“What a man loves, that he certainly desires; and what he desires, that he strives to obtain.”


Live the Life You Imagined

The famous Henry David Thoreau wrote:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Live the life you have imagined.


That’s not a biblical way of putting it but it is a good way to lay hold of God’s love and purpose for your life.

I will soon by sixty-nine years old. I can now confidently say that I have not lived every part of my life in the way I wish I had. Who can? But I say I have confidently moved in the direction of my dreams. I have lived a life than very close to what I imagined as a young man in college and my twenties. I am satisfied, deeply so. I have made mistakes but I have learned from them, or so I hope.

In the end I am at peace with God, my wife, my children, grandchildren and my friends. Those who are not at peace with me, so far is it is within me, I have tried to be at peace with them. I have enemies but I love them. I have friends too, a lot of them. I could not have confidently moved toward my dreams without so many dear and true friends.

Live your life for God’s glory, for real purpose. Move confidently toward his love and rest in his grace. He is good, all the time.


The Document of the Origins of Jesus of Nazareth

Matthew’s Gospel has always caused modern readers some consternation when they read the first chapter. Why is this long “genealogy” put here at the beginning of the first Gospel?

I prefer to first think of this list of names here in terms of what is clearly said in the first verse, Jesus is “the son of David, son of Abraham.” But genealogy might sound confusing. One version says, “This is the document of the origins of Jesus Christ.” I like that. It is clear and connects with me in a different way. Why?

The Bible is careful to connect events and persons from the history of God’s redemption. The entire Bible draws strength from a continuity of history and thus from the fidelity of God to his own promises. This is the key to this list, or document, of the origins of Jesus.

There are 42 names in this list. They are arranged into three series of 14 names each. It is quite obvious this list is not complete nor does Matthew mean it to be so. Why Abraham? He is the father of the faithful, of true believers. God promised to unite all the nations around his family. Jesus is also the son of David. Why? Because all Israel knew that from David would come the Savior of the world. This list includes the adoptive father of Jesus, Joseph. Among the Jews, this adoption was sufficient for Jesus to be considered, like Joseph, son of David. The list also includes four women.

All of this document of origins announces, rather discreetly, that Jesus came to save Sinners and to open the kingdom of Israel to the multitudes that would stream in from the pagan world. The Savior is is the fruit of the earth and the the flower of the chosen people (Isaiah 45:8). God led the Jews to a degree of human and religious maturity where the teaching and ministry of Jesus would take on it full meaning.

This document of the origins thus reminds us, especially during Advent, that we are in solidarity with Christ, the anointed One, the Messiah. We are in solidarity through distinctly human ties, thus through the history of Jewish families. This is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the whole world.

Joseph’s Utterly Unique Vocation

The late philosopher and atheist Jean Paul Sartre one wrote a Christmas play called Bariona. In this play he tries to imagine Joseph in Bethlehem, and writes: “He [Joseph] feels himself slightly out of it. He suffers because he sees how much this woman whom he loves resembles God; how she is already at the side of God. For God has burst like a bomb into the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated forever by this explosion of light. And I imagine that all through his life Joseph will be learning to accept this.”

Think of this and ponder it anew. Joseph’s vocation is utterly unique. He is the foster-father of the Son of God. I see in this man a model for making good decisions and for dealing with profound doubts. But the text of Matthew 1:24-25 says: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” 

Obedience was not easy for this man, even with the appearance of angels and the clarity of the dreams God gave to him. He is a model of faithfulness to us as we meditate on the birth of Jesus during Advent. What is your vocation and how faithfully do you follow your course in life as you love the King?

Living My Way Into the Life of the Trinity

No truth is (perhaps) more complex than that of the Trinity, one God in three persons. But I am persuaded that no truth is more central to living well as a follower of Christ. The Trinity is not a debate, at least for me. It is revealed yet it is a stunning mystery. A professor, playing on an earlier line, once said, “If you deny the Trinity you may loose your soul but if you accept the Trinity (and truly embrace it) you will likely find life and freedom.” So true.

My journey into God has been deeply Trinitarian for decades but much more so in the last twenty-plus years. My first memories of God, as a young child, were a mixture of terror with that of a friendly person who loved me. So far as I remember I always believed in God. But I also believed in hell and believed I might go there. (Massive confusion helps create this fear yet Scripture does, quite plainly, warn us of judgment.) I also believed in Holy God, everywhere present and all-powerful. I think as a child I imagined heaven as a place that I would go where God would allow me to take a “guided tour.” It was quite literal and highly imaginative, as is often the case with children.

So many small children are taught that they should not be naughty but nice. But what is “nice”? Who knows for sure. And what if “nice” is not enough? I remember several children dying in my circle of friends before I reached age sixteen. I was always aware that I too would die. I actually thought about dying almost every day. At times I was terrorized by these thoughts. In fact, one day as a storm rolled across my area I ran into the house and asked my mom, “What happens to me at death?” Sometime later I “understood” that Jesus came to take away my sin and because of His grace and forgiveness He would save me if I trusted him. My mom wisely showed me that following Jesus was not a “simple formula prayer” and over time I “gave my life” to Him (daily) to follow Him wherever He would lead me. I still have the flannel board piece that has the cross mom used to show me “the way” as she explained his death and my hope for forgiveness through Him. Later, I was baptized since I grew up in a Baptist church. That was a powerful moment as I entered into what “felt” like a dying experience to come out feeling like I was “new” (cf. 1 Peter 3:21). My first sense that baptism had some sacramental consequence was that experience at age seven. Strange as it is, I was in a church that opposed this notion but I “felt” otherwise and later would learn why.

But what about the Trinity? It was a mystery, as I said above. But that never stopped me from trying to solve it. I love solving problems. The question is: “What is a mystery?” Many back off once you put it this way. Not me. As I reached my teen years I was puzzled and kept reading. I asked a lot of questions. Very few around me were interested but I was deeply interested. Words like “I and the Father are one” and “I will send you the Spirit” were deeply puzzling yet filled with power for me.

During my freshman year at the University of Alabama I finally heard some serious teaching on the Holy Spirit. (Some of it was most unsatisfactory but at least I began to desire the fulness and power of the Spirit in my life and I saw that this reality would make a huge difference if the Spirit indeed filled me with his grace and power.) I conceived of the Spirit as a “breeze” who enflamed my soul with power to witness and love for God. That’s a start but not a solid place to stay.

Yet deep inside of me the “fear of hell” remained strong. What if I had not really repented as a child? What if I had been deceived? What if my faith was not from God but a delusion? I was searching for the elements of the Christian religion that are gentle and helpful towards removing craven fear and destructive thoughts.

Gerald O’Mahony, SJ, in his most excellent memoir A Way to the Trinity: The Story of a Journey (1988), had a very different experience than my own, growing up in a pre-Vatican II home in Ireland. But he refers to his fear as “that old schizophrenia,” a term I can relate to as a childhood Baptist. The weight of my struggle came down more often than I care to admit on fear rather than grace and forgiveness. For example, I would sit through “invitations” to come to Christ and time and again want to go forward to “be sure” I had done it right. This is pure Pelagianism, one of the ancient heresies of the church, but I had no idea what this meant at the time.

What was missing? I believe it was a healthy view of the Trinity but I will come to that in a later post. For now it was a failure to understand that grace was a deeply personal and very human relationship.

The way of St. Ignatius has helped me in my adult life. In The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola the believer is urged to think for thirty days on God calling me to and for the future. Ignatius introduces the Trinity by showing three persons jointly deciding what to do about the the terrible state of the world. He decided to send His Son into the world as one of us. Once this is grasped the retreatant is urged to contemplate scenes from the early life, public ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. What I began to realize from this practice was that I had a much deeper consciousness of the life of Jesus as a continuous whole. Joined with this I had a deeper and stronger sense of myself as His follower. I could picture Jesus here and there and me with him, following and loving. I was on the way to living in the life of the Trinity but did not know it for some time.