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: John West

by Allison Hill, CDM Administrative Assistant

What is the role of a deacon? What is his primary responsibility in the church? Most likely, the answers many deacons and church members may generate in response to these questions will contain, if not solely focus on, the notion of “service”—service in the church, for the church. John West, deacon at Mid Cities OPC in Bedford, Texas, would agree. However, he would take it one step further. Calling his fellow deacons to a higher order of service than merely performing the tasks required in the local congregation, West claims that it is the deacon’s duty to “cultivate an environment in the church that is conducive to the entire body serving one another and the outside world.” Deacons are to set the standard of service within the Church.

John West has served as a deacon in the OPC since 2019, but previously served a longer stint in a non-OPC congregation. Resultingly, he has spent many years of his life caring for the needs of the local church, as well as thinking about how he can best serve the church in his role. Over the years, his perspective has certainly evolved and been strengthened. Speaking on the significance of the diaconal office, John asserts, “The deacon is the cornerstone of service in the church. It is what I would hope all men would aspire to be. If you want to serve the Lord in the body, then really think hard and long about why you aren’t a deacon. The ability to serve is the gift the Lord has given us.”

Notably, John’s transition to the OPC also impacted his view of diaconal work, as he previously served in a church where mercy ministry largely emphasized long-distance, short-term work. “In the OPC, diaconal work is focused on serving the body. It is ongoing and sometimes it is messy, but it is encouraging to get to see the fruits of your local, long-term efforts,” John says. He continues by saying, “The people who need help aren’t always outside your building—they are frequently inside your building. I feel drawn and compelled to minister to them first.” 

Though with a renewed vision of who to serve, his outlook on how to serve has also changed. John frankly admits, “I’m not climbing up on roofs anymore. Other people are much better suited for that kind of work.” Yet, one thing has remained the same: “I enjoy working with people; I truly love getting to know the people of the church.” 

Luckily for John, people’s needs generally aren’t limited to roofing projects. In fact, he shared that his work as an Information Technology professional has shaped his service as a deacon. John says, “My work helps me do diaconal work better. I am thankful for my vocation, and I can see how the Lord has used it to enable me to bless the local church.” From broadcasting services for the church to working on people’s computers, and even coordinating the efforts of others in the church to fulfill various areas of need, John’s service to the church is closely connected to his vocational employment. 

Another area of service John has come to love is hospitality. This has only been enhanced by his wife, Suzanne, and her gift for welcoming and caring for others. He says they simply have a desire to love and serve people more than things. Hospitality ministry is a sphere of service John has greatly enjoyed observing and participating in with his local congregation. In recounting the encouragement drawn from specific opportunities he has seen hospitality demonstrated, John shares that of a particularly difficult situation: a dear couple’s loss of a child. However, as John recalls, “it was a very rewarding time for the life and strength of the church as we all had the opportunity to pray for them, serve them, and draw closer to them in deep, meaningful ways. It was a blessing to see that family served and provided for.” That, he recalls, was one of the best times in the life of the church right in the middle of one of the worst. “To see the Lord provide for his people through his people is encouraging because it embodies and constitutes the ordinary means God has ordained for the care of his people,” John says. 

These reflections reinforce John’s professed affinity for “helping people help other people.” John again comments on the responsibility of the diaconate by saying, “We build up the body by serving them, but service doesn’t stop with deacons. We build up the body by encouraging them to serve one another.” Thus, to the deacon, he says: “You can’t do it all, but you can ask for help and usually get assistance from others to do anything. People are eager to serve, they just need a leader. You have the privilege to lead by serving.” To the church member, John provides this simple, yet motivating reminder: “You don’t have to be a deacon to serve your church.”