CCC Blog

Servant Leadership: Deacons

In worship this past Sunday, we looked at the story of the first Deacons (Acts 6:1-7). In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “deacon” (diakonia) means “to serve.”  While the Apostles tended to the “spiritual food” (the Word of God), making sure the study of the Word was not neglected, the Deacons were tasked with making sure that all were fed with physical (literal) food; that none were neglected nor excluded.  Where we see the distinctive role of Deacon best in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) today is during communion.  Elders occupy the role of Apostle, speaking words about the spiritual significance of the bread we eat.  And Deacons make sure that all are fed.  They distribute the literal bread among the people.

At our traditional services at Central, deacons serve trays of bread and grape juice to people among the pews.  They then serve one another along the pew,  except on Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday when, like at our weekly 9:00  contemporary service, we serve by “intinction.”  This is a Latin word that means “to dip into.”  At these times, members come forward and dip bread into a cup of juice before partaking of it.  But there really isn’t a “right” way to do it.

Our ancestors, Presbyterians in Scotland, served communion 4 times a year.  That tradition carried over to Colonial America where the August communion celebration (after the planting and before the harvest) grew to be huge, outdoor, festive affairs.  Multiple congregations came together and sat at long tables, where the bread and cup would be passed down the long rows.

When the Disciples of Christ split from the Presbyterians, we carried some of those practices with us.  One of our founders, Alexander Campbell, in his book The Christian System published in 1835, noted that some congregations invited congregants to the front of the church in groups, where they sat at an actual table and passed the bread and cup, as if to replicate those August outdoor  services. 

Campbell, who was our most influential founder, came to believe that the best way to serve communion was to pass the elements to one another in the pews.  Each congregant, in serving his/her neighbor the bread and cup, conveyed to them, “You are a Disciple of Christ (my brother/sister).  As Christ embraces you in his arms, so I do in mine.” 

For many Disciples, coming forward for communion looked “too Catholic” and therefore was resisted.  But in recent decades, there has been a trend toward the orthodox and Disciples are becoming less biased toward practices that were once conceived as “too Catholic.”  Serving communion by intinction is quite pragmatic from a planning standpoint (it requires less overhead to implement) and pragmatism is, not coincidentally, a cornerstone Disciples value.  Moreover, there is something powerfully intimate and personal about receiving communion, one-on-one, or dispensing it and hearing (or reciting) the words “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.  This is blood of Christ, shed for your salvation.” However we distribute the elements in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it is far more important that we do it than how.   

Blessings – Michael


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Over Thanksgiving, I spent a lot of time on highways.  Literal highways.   I drove from Decatur to central Ohio; then on to southeastern Ohio along the West Virginia border; then up to Michigan before returning home by way of Chicago and northwest Indiana.  Though the vast majority of the journey was on interstates, our family did spend 30 miles or so last Friday morning on an old state highway in Ohio.  Route 821.  We were in search of the cemetery where my grandparents are buried.  The terrain in that part of the country consists of steep hills, blind curves, sharp corners and even a one-lane bridge or two.  The road meanders along the path of the Muskingum River, before heading due north through one-horse towns with names like “Whipple” and “Lower Salem.”  It was a cool, crisp morning and the warm sun rose against the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky.   It quickly melted the frost from the tips of the blades of grass.  None of us in the car minded the extra time it added to our overall journey.

As a child, I loved when my mom drove the old state routes from Grandma Brum’s house to Zanesville, where we had to get on the interstate.  And for a half-hour last Friday, I was back in those old days.  One of my children even said from the back seat “I wish the whole ride were like this.”  To which I said, “Me too, though it would take us nine hours instead of six to get there.”  But that’s what those old state highways do.  They force us to slow down and pay attention to where the road is leading.  You simply can’t be in a hurry and you have to be patient.  Because the highway won’t let you get there any faster.

Whereas the interstates allow us to jet our way over the countryside at the fastest of speeds albeit in mostly straight lines and with mind-numbing monotony, the state highways require us to slow down and pay attention to where the road is leading.  You simply can’t be in hurry and you have to be patient.  The highway won’t let you get there any faster.  Yet it simultaneously offers glimpses of life we would otherwise certainly overlook – an rusty filling station pump here, a house with a sagging roof there, a church’s skyward spier over there - each inviting our questions and observations, and engaging our imaginations.

This week we begin the season of Advent.  Advent encompasses the four (4) Sundays before Christmas and begins this year on December 3.  While we are tempted to “jet” our way toward Christmas as the month of December zips along at speeds that grow increasingly more rapid with each passing year, Advent is like a trip down a winding, country road.  It is God’s regular invitation to us to slow down and pay attention; to look inward; to question and observe the things we see within, which we would otherwise overlook were we not given the chance to examine them.

Praying for this kind of Advent this year – for you and for me…

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