Diaconate Commissioning Church Luncheon Remarks

Thank you everyone, thank you Diaconal team, for being willing to step forward in faith as a community to further our calling and mission from God.  Our mission statement is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to our neighbors, to welcome them into loving community, and to equip them to glorify God.  

I want to share some snippets from my personal history as well as the history of ACC.  I come from a broken family of divorce.  My Dad was a methodist minister but I did not hear the Gospel proclaimed from him or my mom.  My mom and dad did believe strongly in living lives of action for the poor and those who experienced injustices.  For that I am forever grateful.  However, their actions were void of the good news of Jesus Christ.   They divorced when I was 12 years old and the damage was deep and extensive on myself and my three siblings.  Our family would have needed mercy fund assistance and other social support if it were not for our generous grandparents who supported us for many years.  

Fast forward to college...I decided to go into the helping professions and pursued my Masters degree in Social Work, in NYC.  I was blessed to eventually work for Redeemer Presbyterian Church, ACC's mother church, for their Diaconate.  One of my job responsibilities was to consult with other churches who were starting up Diaconate ministries.  One church decided to integrate their internal mercy carework with their outreach ministries.  I remember going back to their model in my head many times over the years wishing to be apart of a church that had an integrated, multi-purpose Diaconate.

Fast forward to 2013, when, with excitement, I attended a meeting to discuss the formation of an outreach ministry at ACC which was eventually named the Neighborhood Justice and Mercy Ministry (NJAMM).  Let me read a segment of our Diaconate Manual that Laura Kaufmann, one of the founding leaders of NJAMM, wrote:  

“The NJAMM Team got started in the fall of 2013 when pastors and lay leaders decided to formalize what was already a vision for the church - to contribute to the flourishing of Astoria by extending mercy and justice to our neighbors. Under the leadership of Jon Storck, pastor of Grace Fellowship in Sunnyside, the team decided to partner with existing organizations, both Christian and non-Christian, that were already doing work to meet the needs of the community. For ACC, these organizations were New York Cares, Hour Children food pantry, and the Boys and Girls Club.  We offered practical and theological training for regular volunteers, and mobilized them to commit to one or more of these organizations. We also planned church-wide events for which anyone could volunteer, including children. These included Astoria Park cleanup, the Boys and Girls Club holiday party, and caroling and crafting at the New York Center for Rehab and Nursing.

Throughout the first couple years of ministry, it became clear that we needed to lean on the Lord’s wisdom for how our church could be most beneficial. Some of the opportunities we pursued didn’t work out, and others opened doors to more consistent types of ministry, such as the Bible Club for the kids of the Boys and Girls Club. We began to focus on the doors God was opening, and accepting the ones He closed. We also desired that our outreach ministry serve the internal ministry of the church, and vice versa, rather than making them completely separate. In other words, we wanted our neighbors to become part of our church! As we moved even further along, it became clear that we needed to focus on how the team fit into the leadership structure of the church, and how that might affect casting a vision of mercy and justice to church members. Instead of saying “NJAMM is doing this” we wanted to say “ACC is doing this,” and then have the structure in place that could most effectively mobilize people. At that time, we began discussing creating a Diaconate. What better way to carry this out than to follow the biblical model for service?

In 2015 and early 2016, we had several meetings with the pastoral staff to discuss this idea, and plans began to take shape. We modeled the structure loosely after the structure of New City Fellowship Chattanooga (the pastor, Randy Nabors, gave us guidance and training through this whole process). In August 2016, the session approved the formation of a Diaconate and our first team of Deacon/ess nominees were trained in the Winter/Spring of 2016-17.”

Personally, as I look back to 2013, God had readied me to jump in and be a part of the formation of our Outreach Ministry.  Two years into it, in the Fall 2015, I experienced a spiritual renewal of sorts and went deeper in my walk with God.  I sensed God was preparing me for something more.  Then the Session of ACC approached me about helping to launch a formal Diaconate.  My first reaction was resistance...I had worked for 9 years at Redeemer for their Diaconate.  I was very content doing the outward face of mercy and justice ministry through NJAMM.  God got my attention though and I clearly heard Him say to proceed, in faith.  I did and God changed my heart attitude.  I realized that the seed that was planted years ago consulting with the church that formed an integrated Diaconate was coming to fruition.  God seemed to be calling ACC to an integrated Diaconal model of ministry.  AND one that was unabashedly built on evangelism and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to save souls and heal and restore brokenness at all levels.  One year later, in the Fall of 2016, a group of 9 of us were nominated and began training.  One year later we are here today, celebrating the beginning of our Diaconate.  

I want to end with Acts 2 and 4.  These passages describe how the early church functioned.  They were devoted to the Apostles teaching, fellowship, eating together and prayer.  They were together and had everything in common.  They gave materially to the church and made sure all had what they needed.  Clearly the first example of having a Mercy Fund!  Chapter 2 vs 47 says, "The Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved!"  Chapter 4 says the church was one in heart and mind, the Gospel was shared regularly, there were no needy persons among them and much grace was upon them.  These verses give us a picture of what God intends His church to look like - unity, worship, teaching of God’s word, eating together, which we are doing quite well today!, mercy and justice ministry and evangelism.

I have a passion for seeing the church function/operate under God’s mighty hand, unleashed with God’s passion for mercy, compassion and justice both among us, his people and in our neighborhood.  ACC is a gift from God to us and our neighbors.  This Diaconal ministry is for all of us - this initial team is leading the way but our model calls for many volunteers/servants, the nine of us cannot do all the work.  Our Diaconate has three arms initially - Outreach, Helps and Mercy Carework.  The Outreach and Helps arms need many people to be involved and at many levels of commitment - some low commitment and some with more time commitment.  

I’ll end with this challenge, spoken in love.  If you aren’t serving the church in some way - it could be with the Sunday Operations team on the Welcome Team, or the Hospitality Team or the Nursery Team, or with one of our outreach ministries, or as a Community Group host or leader...then take the jump, as Pastor David encouraged us to do last Sunday.  Let’s get to work in God’s church and here in Western Queens!