Leaving work a few weeks ago, I noticed two bike riders approaching the stoplight on 12th and Bellevue Way. Single file in traffic, they pulled up side by side at the intersection. They slowed down carefully, avoiding a full stop, to keep from losing momentum and putting a foot down on the pavement.
One of the riders began to wobble precariously, and as he was losing his balance, the other biker reached over and steadied him, keeping him from tipping over, until the light changed and they got moving again. Once the rider regained control of his bicycle, his friend let go, and they continued their journey—together.
We all lose our balance at times – if not on a bike, in life. Our deacon can be that rider beside us, who reaches out to keep us from falling, helping us to regain our balance.
When I was newly married and just a year into seminary, my husband and I were knocked off balance by the sudden discovery of a mass in my brain, leading to emergency brain surgery and a long and difficult recovery. The church we belonged to had a small but effective group of deacons who appeared at our sides, keeping us from crashing to the ground. They brought hugs and company, hand-picked flowers and a hand-stitched quilt, notes, a meal, a phone call. Small things, I suppose, but I remember them as bright lights of love and connection amidst a consuming darkness. In a time when my family’s balance was tested, those deacons reached out and steadied us, more than a few times, as we scrambled to get our footing and get on our way.
That’s what deacons do – help us find our balance. Since the disciples appointed the first group of seven in the early church, deacons have been about the most fundamental needs of others: food, clothing, health, finances. The fact that Stephen, the leader of that first group of deacons, was stoned to death after just a few months on the job tells us that from the very beginning, deacon ministry has been about the essentials, doing ministry that makes a difference – no small potatoes here.
In fact, big potatoes were on the menu at BelPres on December 1, along with meatloaf and sides and homemade desserts, when Deacon Team Leaders Charlie Brakebill and Stacie McKinney and 21 of their deacons cooked and served an evening meal to more than 40 men without homes, who ate dinner and slept in several Upper Campus rooms for the month of December.
As Charlie commented afterwards, “This experience blessed me in so many ways…and when we do something like this…I realize that being a deacon is something that anyone can do! You don’t need to be preparing for ministry or have certain training or anything – this is serving that we are all called – and equipped – to do.”
“We all lose our balance at times – if not on a bike, in life. Our deacon can be that rider beside us, who reaches out to keep us from falling, helping us to regain our balance.”
The Mikkola family would agree; Katie is the official deacon on Charlie’s team, but she and her husband, Peter, brought their two boys to serve the meal and sit with the group of homeless men this year: Niklas is 6-years-old and Torsten is 8. The boys were excited to talk with the men, and had an extended conversation with a man named Mr. Robert. The next day, Niklas told his parents that he hoped to see Mr. Robert again the next time his family served. Torsten was quick to reply, “I don’t want to see him next time – because that would mean that he is still homeless!” The Mikkola family felt so blessed by serving, they are already talking about how to do it again.
Deacons continue to be an essential and transformative part of God’s ministry team at BelPres, across Seattle and the Eastside. Not only is becoming a deacon a wonderful way to say yes to God’s work in our own hearts – it’s a way to help others see God at work in their lives. “Break our hearts, O Lord,” begins a familiar prayer, “with the things that break yours.” This is a true deacon’s prayer, for deacons are concerned with the fundamental needs and concerns of their neighbor. When we are taken up with these concerns, our hearts are broken and broken and made whole, time and again, by a loving and personal God.
According to Katie, the Mikkola boys now offer prayers each night for those men who are homeless, “especially for Mr. Robert, who taught us how to make paper boats.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Robert says a prayer of thanks for those two boys, who helped him regain his balance that night, so he could continue on his way.
Deacon nominations are open as of January 1 at BelPres. Nominate someone who has a deacon’s heart, or self-nominate.