“Most Encouraging Zoom Call of Covid”?

by J. Zachary Siggins, Associate Pastor of Living Hope OPC, Gettysburg, PA

This article first appeared in the August/September issue of New Horizons.

When I saw the Committee on Diaconal Ministries’ virtual deacon event “Continuing the Conversation” advertised as possibly “the most encouraging Zoom call you have during COVID,” I must admit I was skeptical. Is it even possible to have an encouraging Zoom call now that we’re a year into a pandemic and Zoom fatigue is part of our lives and
lexicon? I opened my email, clicked on the link, and entered the call. Over the next hour and a half, I found that the event lived up to its advertisement.


Encouraged to See an OP Diaconate
When we think of the diaconate, most of us probably think about the deacons of our local church. As chairman of
our presbytery’s Diaconal Ministries Committee, I try to remember that the presbytery really has a regional diaconate. But when I sat there scrolling through multiple pages of “gallery view” on the call and saw the little boxes representing well over a hundred deacons from across the OPC, I was reminded that we also have a denominational diaconate! This connection to one another, as CDM administrator David Nakhla reminded us, is what it means to be a presbyterian deacon. We have a network of deacons with all kinds of gifts and experience to call upon in the mercy ministry of the church.


Encouraged to Hear How the Lord Has Blessed
I was also encouraged to hear about the blessings the Lord has brought to churches both despite and because of
the COVID-19 pandemic. Richard Dickinson, a member of the CDM, reminded us all in his opening devotional that we often have our best opportunities to serve and glorify and enjoy God in experiences and circumstances that we wouldn’t choose. Scott Pearce, a deacon at Church of the Covenant in Hackettstown, New Jersey, shared that the church’s rarely used food pantry was suddenly an important help to families whose businesses were closed and whose income was lost. John West, a deacon at Mid Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas, told us about brothers stepping up to help after the recent winter storms that caused power outages across Texas.

Encouraged to Hear about Challenges
In his address for the event, Nathan Trice, president of the CDM, focused our attention on the challenges faced by
our churches, and deacons in particular. This primed the pump for conversation in breakout groups about those challenges.

First, Trice spoke about how our churches had to balance ministering to the needs of both body and soul in 2020—to balance legitimate concerns about public health with the important needs of the soul. Recognizing the difficulty of finding that balance, the second ministry issue he identified was the need to preserve peace and unity in the church despite our disagreements over these questions. Rather than leaving me lamenting (or worse, complaining about) the conflict and disunity we’ve experienced this past year, Trice prompted me to reflect on how navigating these challenges should leave us better equipped to deal with conflict in the church in a healthy, loving, and biblical way going forward.

Finally, Trice spoke about the challenge of ministering to the needy apart from physical presence. Recognizing that we’ve always had the category of a “shut-in,” our ministry was considerably complicated by the fact that, briefly, we all became shut-ins and then, for longer periods of time, were unable to minister in person to the needs of our shut-ins. Even creative solutions felt inadequate to meet the needs of those unable to participate in the regular ministry of the church.

Reflecting on the challenges of this past year might seem like an odd way to be encouraged, but Trice’s focus on what we’ve learned led to rich conversations in our breakout groups.


Encouraged about Diaconal Ministries in the Future
When our facilitator asked about how deacons can uniquely contribute to caring for the needs of both body and soul, many said that meeting physical needs opened doors for ministering to spiritual needs as well. Many of the needs of this past year required elders and deacons to work together. We care for Christ’s dearly loved people with greater effectiveness and fruitfulness when the shepherding ministry of the session and the mercy ministry of the diaconate are viewed as distinct but inseparable parts of the ministry that the church is called to carry out in Christ’s name.


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