Meet Your Fellow Deacon: Phil Smith

by Allison Groot, CDM Administrative Assistant

It’s eight o’clock on a Friday morning. Phil Smith puts on his lab coat and begins his day at work. A full-time senior scientist for a national veterinary laboratory, his “nine-to-five” is no walk in the park. Nonetheless, when his work at the office is done, he heads over to his local Home Depot, where he also works as a part-time appliance salesman. Then, when his shift ends at 10:30 that night, instead of going home to his family like usual, he sets off towards Barre, VT, hoping to get a few hours of driving in before he pulls over to get some rest. Phil is on his way to the Presbytery of New York and New England’s Deacons’ Conference, which starts at 8:45 the next morning.

What’s more amazing than this remarkable (but true) account is Phil’s dedication to the office and work of the diaconate at his local church, each week. On top of working two jobs, caring for his family, and participating in regular church events, Phil says fitting in his service as a deacon is “just ordinary life.” He continues, “My family has a lot going on, but many of the deacons I serve with also have busy schedules. We just have to fit the important things in; that is the commitment we’ve made.” 

Clearly, diaconal work is very important to Phil and the three other deacons with whom he serves at Second Parish OPC, Scarborough, ME. It’s important enough to often make plans to fit in a diaconal visit on the way home from work or make a spur-of-the-moment trip to help a church member. In fact, Phil says that having the opportunity to be a point of contact for people in need and “jumping in to help when there is a need” is one of the aspects that drew him to be a deacon.

But for Phil, mercy ministry isn’t merely impromptu service. When asked what diaconal service means to him, he said, “Diaconal service is intentional service; it’s an opportunity to get to know God’s people…God has given me gifts that I can help others with, and one of the ways I can help people is through the ministry of his church—whether that is financial, stacking wood for someone, helping someone get to and from church, or coordinating funds [to be sent] overseas.” Phil also spoke about the importance of communicating the purpose of our service to those we interact with: “[The gospel] has to be communicated on a consistent basis.” This sums up the motivation that lies behind diaconal work for Phil.

Though he admits there are many ways in which his calling to serve is unique to that of a deacon, Phil believes service to the church is really a calling for every church member, including his own family. “The kids learn to serve with me,” he says. As for his wife, he says her gift is “letting me be available…when I need to get to church early for a meeting, she is willing to get all the kids ready, which allows me to serve in that manner. It wouldn’t be possible for me to do those things if she wasn’t so willing and flexible.”

While he teaches his children the meaning of serving God by serving the church, Phil also acknowledges that he is still learning and growing as a deacon. In fact, some of what he is learning comes from what he’s doing in the workplace. “In science, much of the work revolves around researching and meeting the requirements of products that our clients need and that will sell on the market.” 

But what do those skills have to do with being a deacon? He goes on, “It’s interesting that some of this applies to how I approach people [diaconally]. I’m learning to ask, ‘What is the need?’ It’s probably not just this one thing they tell us up front, like paying a bill. The need is usually significantly deeper. And it’s important to think about what the deeper need is, what would best meet the need, and how I can find out what is truly at the heart of the situation to really help in the most effective manner.”

Phil has found what many deacons may find to be true. To minister to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals, one has to get past an analytical, task-oriented mindset. He says, “I’ve learned and I’m still learning that our work [as deacons] comes down to patience. I just want to fix the situation. But that doesn’t work with people. I must remember that each person is coming from a set of life experiences that I don’t often know about, and I don’t always need to know, but I do need to be patient and loving enough to help them in areas [where] they might not even know they can ask for help.”

Though Phil’s busyness is characteristic of his work life, he hopes to remember, as a minister of mercy, to slow down and listen for others’ sake and for the sake of reflecting the care and compassion of Christ.


Meet Your Fellow Deacon: Shabehram Irani

by Allison Groot, CDM Administrative Assistant

Shabehram “Billy” Irani grew up in a Zoroastrian home. The Zoroastrian religion is fixated on the supposed ongoing battle between good and evil, god and spirits of wickedness. Steeped in beliefs inundated with works-based righteousness, it was not until he was invited to Franklin Square OPC that Billy heard the true gospel of Jesus Christ. 

In 1995 his now-wife, Gaitry, invited Billy to her church, not only introducing him to the OPC but more foundationally to the Christian faith. There, he says, “I was born again.” He writes, “The Lord Jesus, through His word, changed my heart and I was baptized at that Church.” Billy was welcomed by the church and found a home among the believers there. When he and his family moved to Ronkonkoma, NY in 2005, the Irani’s began attending Bohemia OPC in Bohemia, NY. They were welcomed just as they had been in Franklin Square.

Over the years, the church has become family to the Iranis. It didn’t take long for Billy to desire to serve that family. As an accountant and banker, it made sense for him to take up the work of church treasurer. As a man with a servant’s heart, it made sense also for him to take up the work of deacon.

Bohemia OPC is a smaller congregation, comprised of about 30 communicant members. Though small, the congregation has experienced more than their share of trials. In 2020, their Pastor, Meint Ploegman passed away suddenly in a tragic accident. Through this tragedy, the diaconate was blessed with many opportunities to serve the congregation. Yet, this was only the beginning of difficulties for the small church. Soon, Covid would force the church to move services online, and low attendance threatened to close the church completely.

As the leaders of the church, the elder and deacons (along with many others from the church) earnestly prayed for the Lord to provide them with a pastor who would care for the church. In time, the Lord surely provided. Billy writes, “We were all praying every day, and the Lord helped us find a pastor to shepherd our folks in Bohemia.” Rev. Adriano Silva, previously an associate pastor in Orlando, FL, recently transferred his credentials from a sister denomination to the OPC and will be installed as Pastor of Bohemia OPC by the end of July.

The arrival of Rev. Silva has been a much-needed encouragement to the congregation. However, even in the absence of a shepherd, the deacons of Bohemia OPC continued leading their congregation to pursue mercy ministry. Possibly the most significant ministry of this kind is the food pantry which Bohemia OPC has been operating since 2015. Led by their three deacons, the congregation is thankful to be able to serve their surrounding area in this way. Billy and the other two deacons view this as an invaluable ministry in their community, as it is as busy as it has ever been.

Beyond this, it seems that cheerful giving is a usual characteristic of the congregation, as they are quick to contribute to the deacons’ fund each month, which Billy says “goes to various ministries of the denomination and to the needs of our members.” 

Though giving is easy for many, Billy shares that receiving is what many people struggle with, as many deacons can understand. “The biggest challenge is helping our members financially. We know that some need financial help but we don’t want to offend them,” he writes. And yet, the Lord has always blessed his servants in ministering to the needs of his people. The deacons of Bohemia OPC are thankful that the people in their congregation have always graciously accepted assistance when it is offered, and this has proved to strengthen the church as a whole in their care for one another. 

Despite all the trials that they have faced over the past three years, Billy attests that by the grace of God the people of Bohemia OPC have grown even closer. From joining with his fellow members to joyfully serve at the food pantry, to rallying a group to clear out the church’s backyard for an outreach picnic, to relying on his relationships with members to approach them with assistance in their time of need, it is clear to Billy that the Lord has used these strong bonds to help carry out His ministry of mercy. 


Meet Your Fellow Deacon: Greg Torres

by Allison Groot, Administrative Assistant for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries

For the two months of his son’s short yet precious life, Greg says the members and deacons of Christ OPC of Janesville, WI, where he now serves as a deacon, showered his family with the love of Jesus through thoughtful words, gifts, assistance, acts of service, and prayers.

Across the church, saints understand their service to one another as a reflection of the love, humility, and care our Savior displayed to us in our time of rebellion and desperation. The Committee on Diaconal Ministries expresses this in “Principles for the Ministry of Mercy”: 

Following the example of our Savior, who though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich, it is the duty of all saints to be hospitable and to come to the aid of one another in material things, according to their various abilities and necessities.

Greg Torres is particularly aware of this pattern and considers himself privileged to take part in it. He was the husband and father of a family painfully affected by the loss of a child. He was ministered to in the name of Christ. He was comforted by God’s people in a time of inconsolable grief and hardship. And in that time of mourning and desperation, the church’s service to him and his family kindled in him a new desire to devote himself to the ministry of mercy.

Greg writes, “It was through this experience that I not only grew in my faith and matured as a Christian, but I truly realized the importance of the work of deacons in being able to share the love of Christ by providing comfort and providing for other needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ as they face challenging or difficult times.”

With that realization still fresh on his mind and heart, he was ordained and installed as a deacon of Christ OPC in May 2019—less than a year after the loss of his newborn son.  

Now, Greg serves alongside four other deacons to minister to those in trying circumstances both in and outside the church community. He admits that though the Lord has sovereignly placed him in many roles that developed his abilities to lead and serve others, such as holding a local elected office, it was his experience enduring difficult circumstances and receiving care from the church that prepared him most to care for others as a deacon.

Though, Greg confesses that having the desire to serve is, in some ways, only half the battle. He shares that sometimes the hardest aspect of diaconal ministry is discerning the needs of those within your own congregation. On the other hand, he shares that ministry to those outside the church seems to scarcely bear observable fruit. He writes, “So much of what we do can feel fruitless. We help people financially or in other ways, we share the gospel, and so often it seems the folks appreciate the financial help but fail to appreciate the gospel.”

Yet, in both circumstances, whether it’s ministry to those inside or outside the church, Greg knows that the ministry of mercy is always worthwhile. This conviction is encouraged and strengthened when the Lord is pleased to build his church through such ministry. Greg recalls, “One individual who had attended services off and on for some time, having found themselves in the midst of multiple bad situations. The deacons helped with life skills, set expectations, and provided financial help. Most importantly we shared the gospel and showed them Christ’s love and our willingness to help and care for them. Today this person and their family are doing much better and are members of our church.” 

Though many acts of diaconal service are done with very little tangible fruit, the Lord is faithful to his people and assures them that service in the name of Christ is never in vain. Indeed, this is one of the many ways God blesses his people. Greg reflects, “Seeing the faces of those at church, for whom we have had the privilege of helping and caring, is all the encouragement I could ever ask for. I do my best to remember this when I have doubts about the work we do.”