As related in the book of Acts, the first deacons were appointed to help the Apostles with certain tasks that needed to be done, but which they didn't have the time or resources to handle by themselves. Recognizing this fact, seven believers — Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas — were chosen and given the responsibilities and authority that we now associate with the office of deacon.
This past Saturday, my wife was one of a group of seven Episcopalians who were ordained to the office of deacon in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Now, we in the Presbyterian church also ordain deacons, but it is a bit different in our tradition. Although there is some overlap — both types of deacon are specifically called to works of service toward the poor and those in need — "deacon" is an often ignored role in Presbyterian circles. Many churches don't have deacons at all, in fact, and such responsibilities are assumed under the office of "ruling elder" (this is to say, as opposed to "teaching elder," another name sometimes used for ministers). In Episcopal Churches, "deacon" is a much more significant role. One cannot become a priest without first becoming a deacon. In fact, even when one becomes a priest, one remains a deacon. "Once a deacon, always a deacon," as I've heard more than a few times over the past few years. Among other things, this means that, although I also hold the office of deacon (within the Presbyterian tradition), and thus we both are deacons, only my wife can now properly be addressed as "Rev. Baker-Wright."
In keeping with this... "elevated" understanding of what it is to be a deacon, the ordination ceremony, which was held in the "pro-cathedral" for the Diocese of Los Angeles (St. John's Cathedral), was far more elaborate than mine. While the ordination service in my church was basically about 5-10 minutes worth of a regular Sunday gathering, the Episcopal ordination service was dedicated to that purpose alone, and it took roughly two hours.
"Low church" Christians no doubt could be easily confused, or at least amused, by some of the traditions of the liturgy in the ceremony. For example, in this image, the seven people about to be ordained prostrate themselves before Christ. It is a symbolic gesture of service, very much in keeping with the role. But since most Protestants don't do anything like this, it is only to be expected that such an image solicits a few jokes when posted. One of my favorites among my Facebook friends who have seen this image: "Oops...I guess they forgot to not lock your knees...." Truly, this image would be an ideal candidate for a "funny caption contest."
This ordination service is by no means the end of an already-long journey. Assuming all goes well, Michelle will become a priest in another half-year or so. And, of course, even then, that's only the "end" of the first part. The life of service still lies ahead. Even so, it is a significant event, and one that we were very happy to see take place. I took quite a few pictures (and my in-laws took a few more). You're welcome to see the entire album at this link.