On the Move: Deacons in the Diocese of Chicago

November 04, 2015

The Rev. Larry Green knows something about what makes an effective deacon. “Effective deacons are hustlers,” he explains. “They look at their job as outside the walls of the parish, and can really listen to those needs and hear their concerns, and they can find a way to bring those needs and concerns back into the parish.”

Ordained in 2005, Green has served as deacon at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago for more than a decade. His passion for his vocation is palpable, but there was a time when he wasn’t even aware of deacons. “When I first got thinking about ordained ministry, I didn’t really know the diaconate existed. I kind of thought it was priest or bust, and then all of a sudden I realized after I got started in the process that the diaconate was definitely my route, because I have always been into doing service. And it is a servant ministry.”

In addition to his ordained ministry, Green continues to work as founder and president of a legal recruiting, consulting and career counseling firm. “Some people wonder how I do it,” says Green, whose long days often take him to the office, the church, and the neighborhood streets where much of his ministry takes place.

An important part of his role at St. Chrysostom’s is to empower parishioners. “If someone comes to me and says they’re looking to get involved, I can get them involved and I can do it quickly,” he says. “And I give them options. Even when I meet newcomers, I give them a whole menu of not only service times and descriptions, but the activities and ministries they can be involved with.”

Green spends much of his energy on “Neighbors in Need,” a long-standing ministry of St. Chrystostom’s that feeds roughly 90 to 120 people each month and offers additional services such as coats, hats, gloves and socks to each guest in early December.  “My job and responsibility is to work with our lay leaders in making sure that we recruit people to cook, serve, as well as being on site each month, and being the shaker/baker/coordinator of making sure we get everybody engaged,” says Green, who stresses the importance of true welcome. “We’ve been able to make guests welcome to worship. We want to make clear this is not just a ‘you can only come every third Tuesday for this’ kind of thing. We’ve had several people who have attended worship services, so it’s a totally encompassing welcoming ministry – we want you to feel free to come whenever.”

Green’s ministry has also expanded to “The Little Red Wagon Project,” a new venture that ministers to homeless people living on nearby Lower Wacker Drive. “We put a red Radio Flyer wagon at the back of the church, so it’s very visible to people coming in. We ask people to put in ready-to-eat food donations like bottled water, apple sauce, fruit cups, beef jerky, crackers and cereal,” says Green. Once a month, parishioners take what they have collected and serve it in the neighborhood with napkins and utensils. “That ministry is evolving, and it’s not just Larry Green as a deacon’s ministry,” says Green. “This is a ministry of the whole parish, so we’re starting to engage groups. Our first group to go out with the wagons will be with our Wednesday night covenant group. And then we’re going to have the men’s fellowship group, the youth group, and the women’s group do one. We’ll also have some people who want to come every time. And that’s okay too.”

During Sunday morning services at St. Chrysostom’s, the wagon comes up the aisle as the gifts are being presented. “It comes up and it’s blessed,” says Green. “and a few of the food items actually go on the holy table as the symbolic part of this ministry.”

Green is one of 52 deacons serving in the Diocese of Chicago, and he credits the strong community he found during his formation process. In 2013, Bishop Lee formed a task force to ensure that deacons and their formation remained a priority for the diocese. “The diaconate in the Diocese of Chicago has always been strong,” says the Rev. Sue Nebel, a member of the Deacon Leadership Team. “But as things began to change in the church and the world, it became clear we needed to take a fresh look at things.”

In a report issued in May 2014, the task force found that the diaconate would benefit from a new form of leadership. “Now we have the Deacon Leadership Team,” says Nebel. Formed during the summer of 2014, the team consists of leadership from all orders (deacon, lay, priest), meets monthly, and splits work among five areas of responsibility: discernment, formation, deployment, relationships, mission, growth, and continuing education.

One priority of the Deacon Leadership Team, according to the task force report, should be “to create initiatives to increase the number and diversity of deacons in the diocese.”  In July, the Leadership Team hosted a meeting for people interested in finding out more. “The 25 people in attendance ranged from someone who has already been nominated by his parish and been told he will be invited to a postulancy weekend, to someone who was just kind of curious,” says Nebel. “People were all over the map.”

Nebel has also met with the Hispanic Affairs Commission about the diaconate at the invitation of the Rev. Victor Conrado, a member of the leadership team. “I would talk, and then Victor would translate into Spanish,” says Nebel. “And there was this wonderful moment when someone said, ‘could you just please define ‘discernment?’ And it was one of those aha moments when you realize you use terms in the church that no one understands.’”

As new deacons are recruited, new formation opportunities will need to keep pace. Diaconal formation, says the task force report, should be “accessible to people with diverse languages, educational backgrounds, ages, work schedules and obligations.”

“We’re looking at online learning, we’re looking at small groups, working with a mentor, various formats, and trying to help people tailor a formation plan first of all to evaluate what their life experience is,” says Nebel. “But one of the things that people valued about the old model of the school School of Deacons was the sense of community. So we are working on how are we going do that.”

To learn more about the diaconate in the Diocese of Chicago and the work of the Deacon Leadership Team, which meets monthly, please email Nebel or any member of the Team.