“How does it feel to have an award named after you?” asked Deacon Pam Nesbit, President of the newly named Association of Episcopal Deacons (formerly the North American Association for the Diaconate) while we were sharing an elevator at the recent gathering of the Association of Anglican Deacons in Canada. Good question.
When I stepped down from my position as founding President of AADC (I think it was in 2005), the Board asked me to leave the room and when I returned, they announced their decision to name an award after me. I didn’t find the stepping down easy, and I must confess this news made me even grumpier. I was reminded of the reaction of Moses Coady, founder of the cooperative movement in Nova Scotia, when he was made a monsignor by the RC archbishop: “Those ****s can’t do that to me!”
In fact, when I was asked some years ago if I would stand for nomination for the “Stephen Award”–more accurately, the “Recognition of Diaconal Ministry in the Tradition of St. Stephen”–of what was then NAAD, I declined. It went against the grain for me to associate diaconal or servant ministry with anything that smacked of competition or “excellence”.
Being a deacon in my mind means making room for others, making space for those who are sick or vulnerable or disadvantaged to be healed and strengthened and integrated, not claiming the limelight for oneself.
And yet in my heart, when I think of the two women who have received the award since it was established, I am proud and moved. Marlene Carscallen was one of the first candidates to be ordained to the lifelong or distinctive diaconate in the diocese of Toronto. I mentored and supervised and laid the stole on her shoulder at her ordination. She served faithfully in a nursing home for seniors, in a well-to-do but spiritually hungry parish in north Toronto, and more recently as the Diocesan Coordinator for Diaconal Ministry. She was pastoral and attentive to me and to many others – a true networker among deacons.
The second recipient, Chris Ross, who was given the award at the London AADC conference last week, has been a feisty and resilient advocate of the diaconate and those whom they serve for as long as I’ve known her – going on thirty years now. For years, the diocese of Kootenay was ambivalent about and resistant to the idea of a distinctive diaconate. Yet Chris endured these wilderness years with humour and good will, and when the circumstances were right, she led the way for that ministry to be restored, and then gave her energy for a Canada-wide association to be formed, at a time when her life was in transition and upheaval.
I have mixed feelings about “awarding” people for ministry, and even more about having the award named after me. I appreciate that The Episcopal Church has chosen the language of “recognition” (though I BLUSH that they use the name of Stephen and Canada uses the name of Maylanne). And in the end, I am very pleased and proud that these two fine women have been recognized for their contributions, and in a way that links them to me, their friend and ardent admirer.