Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number,
Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows
were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.”
It wasn’t long after Pentecost that the early Christian community experienced growing pains (Acts 6:1-7). There were already factions alleging that their widows were being slighted in the daily food distribution. A solution was found in selecting a group of men who could “wait on tables” to allow the apostles to “devote [themselves] to prayer and to serve the word” (Acts 6:4). The seven men chosen are sometimes called the first deacons.
The Rev. Liz Miller is a deacon who “waits on tables,” overseeing the Trinity, Bethlehem, Soup Kitchen which serves about 150 people (including widows) daily. Trinity Church was founded by the Church of the Nativity. At Trinity’s consecration, in 1872, the bishop of Central Pennsylvania declared it “a model of durability, convenience, cheapness, and taste.” The parish’s commitment to outreach certainly has been durable. In 1881 there was a small pox epidemic, and the parish ministered to the community. A member, Captain James Wiley began Wiley House to care for children orphaned by the epidemic, and this eventually became Kids Peace. Outreach continued, primarily through the distribution of clothing and food. In 1982 the Soup Kitchen was born out of the back of a station wagon, serving people hot soup and bread. An Animal Food Bank was started at Trinity and is now independent. Liz may be the only official deacon there, but Trinity is characterized by its diaconal ministry of service.
Caring for widows is one thing Episcopal House does well. It was started in 1968 as a diocesan ministry in Allentown, owned by Episcopal Housing of the Lehigh Valley. The 19 story Episcopal House provides independent living apartments for low to moderate income senior citizens. Its objective is to create an environment where elderly resident may live independently and with dignity. In the past two years, The Rev. Twila Smith, from Mediator and Grace, has been doing Sunday afternoon services in the chapel twice a month, and on special feast days. She has built up a small congregation there. They are mostly widows, from a variety of denominations, and with her ministry, Twila feeds them all.
In what ways does your congregation embody a diaconal ministry?