Tuesday, March 29, 2016

20 Years Old - And not a day older!

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the United Methodist clergy deacon in full membership.Ordained deacons connect the church and the world through word, service, compassion, and justice. In this capacity, deacons lead the church in relating the gathered community to their ministries in the world, thus connecting the church’s worship with its service in the world.
To celebrate we asked deacons from North Georgia's first class to reminisce about the start of the order. Here are a few of their responses:

I can still remembering attending the deacon discernment retreat that the GBHEM held at Simpsonwood for those of us who were diaconal ministers. During a designated time of prayer and self-reflection on what this new order of deacon meant, I found myself sitting at a picnic table outside the Simpsonwood chapel. With tears streaming down my face, I felt God leading me to say yes to this new order. It was like all the pieces had come together. I had been consecrated a diaconal minister ten years before, yet I felt like there was something missing. It seemed as if there was to be more to my response to God's call in my life, but I didn't know exactly what that was. However, with the new order of permanent deacon, it was as if my response to my call would now be complete. It was not only God's call, but an affirmation of the Church for what I felt was a lifetime response as I saw my gifts in teaching, serving and connecting the church with the world.

Since my ordination in 1996, I have seen a greater understanding of the order of deacon, but there are still many misunderstandings. In my years of serving on both the district Committee on Ordained Ministry and the conference Board of Ordained Ministry, there were many times I had to answer questions like, "When will you become a real minister?" or "Why aren't you called to preach?" However, there have been far more times that people have said, "You have really helped me to see how there are a variety of gifts in ministry" or "You broaden my understanding that ministry is not just one way." I am so thankful that twenty years ago the United Methodist Church opened up a new way for me and so many others to fully say, "Yes, Lord!"

-Rev. Margaret Freeman, Franklin UMC

I remember the 1976 General Conference decision to create a new “office” of Diaconal Minister. We were “Certified Lay Professionals” before that and had to prayerfully consider a “calling” to Diaconal Ministry. During the discernment time, I remember questioning whether the “office” would truly be embraced and understood by the general church. We were encouraged to “live into it” and help educate the church about Diaconal Ministry. I don’t believe the church ever really understood. I remember on the Annual Conference level, Diaconal Ministers were laity but not seen as such by the laity in local churches and of course Diaconal Ministers were not clergy. I remember putting up with clergy and laity alike making fun and calling us Diagonal Ministers. We just focused on serving Christ and doing our ministry. Diaconal ministers were few and one of the great celebrations was we were very close to one another.

Then at the General Conference in 1996 a new order of “Permanent Deacon” later to be called Deacon in Full Connection was created. Those of us who had been “living into” the Diaconal Ministry for twenty years were asked to prayerfully consider a “call” to Ordination. We were encouraged to “live into it” and help educate the church about the new Deacon. We were told what the Ordained Deacon was called to be and what the Ordained Deacon could not do in the church. After “living into” the role for twenty years the form of ministry continues to evolve which is a great blessing but the functions of ministry continue to be confusing to the laity and some clergy in the local church. Still, we just focus on serving Christ and doing our ministry. Seems like twenty years is a magic number doesn’t it. Some of us are called to be trail blazers! Thanks to the Order of Deacons, we are a supportive and loving group. Congratulations to all who answer the call and live into the joy of serving Christ for the next twenty years and beyond.

Rev. Walter Jones, Snellville UMC

I have been thinking and reminiscing a bit. A couple of things keep coming up for me.

One is of Bishop Davis talking to all of us at the rehearsal. There was some initial confusion over whether our spouses and significant others would be allowed to participate in our ordination. The initial decision had been that they would not be allowed to stand with us. That changed pretty quickly with our loud objections to that lack of inclusion of the ones who had been our strength and support over many years. The bishop went on to say that in his view we were the "entrepreneurs" of the denomination. We had the ability and gifts to move our ministries to the people and places where they were most needed. I have remembered that as I have moved and served in three conferences and two jurisdictions. Each time I have been warmly welcomed and my ministry reaffirmed.

The other is looking to my right and to my left as we were kneeling waiting for the bishop to lay hands on us. I had chosen to bring the bible given to me by my home church in Wilmette, IL when I was in third grade. The persons on both my right and left were also holding their bibles received from their home churches when they were in third grade. I was struck then and am still struck by the power of the many ways in which congregations across the connection nurture children. Some even turn out to be ordained ministers!

-Rev. Debby Fox, Connectional Ministries, Associate Director

My Deacon journey has two parts - Journey to being a Deacon and Journey in being a Deacon.

Many people know about Journey to being a Deacon. Originally, I thought that God was calling me to be an Elder. At that time, the ordination process was a two step process of being ordained a Deacon first then ordained an Elder. I was ordained a Deacon after my first year of seminary in 1977. After my graduation from seminary at Perkins, I began my journey going to Elder. As I served the local church, I learned something was missing. I did not have the gifts to be an Elder. That was painful to realize. At the same time, I felt a calling to be a Deacon for life. Yet, our denomination did not have that type of order at that time. The Diaconal Minister was an option in the United Methodist Church which was the lay order of Deacon.

In October of 1983, I went to a Christian Educators Fellowship Retreat on St Simons Island. Part of the program for that retreat was to talk about a new order of Deacon that our denomination was looking at. With that new order, Deacons would be ordained to the Order of Service and Word. This legislation was sent to General Conference in 1984 but did not pass. In the meantime, I felt led to switch ministries to become a Consecrated Diaconal Minister. My gifts and graces fit Diaconal. I was approved and consecrated a Diaconal Minister at the 1987 North Georgia Conference.

The legislation to establish the new Order of Deacon was sent to General Conference for approval in 1988 and 1992. The legislation failed each time. After 200 plus years of the two part ordination process (Deacon then Elder), our denomination was not ready for it.
At the 1996 General Conference, everything changed. To our surprise and delight, that General Conference passed the legislation creating the new order of Ordained Deacon in Full Connection as well as the new Order of Elder in Full Connection. History was made and 200 years of tradition was changed. At the 1997 North Georgia Conference, I was honored to be one of the 40 plus Diaconal Ministers who were ordained to the conference's First Class of Deacons in Full Connection. What a joyous celebration that Ordination Service was that night. My true calling to be an ordained Deacon for life was finally fulfilled due to both my Gifts and Graces fit this new Order of Ministry.

That night, my Journey in being a Deacon began. After the ordination celebration was over and Annual Conference had finished for that year, we had to work to pioneer and establish the new Order of Deacon. That came with educating ourselves even more about it as we taught it and talked about it to our congregations and even other clergy. I thought it would take the next 30 years after the 1997 ordination to truly establish this Order of Ministry. There have been been many great and wonderful times over the years establishing the Deacon. At the same time, it was not easy. Some of us experienced very challenging times and even hardship serving as Deacons. Yet, it was all part of the pioneering process. We hope that some of the hardship that we experienced would eventually help the future Deacons down the road of life and ministry.

Looking back over the last 20 years, I am so thankful that the Order of Deacon was established. I am very honored to help make history in our church. Most of all, I am extremely grateful to serve as a Deacon.

-Rev. Don Thrasher, Toccoa First UMC

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It Worked For Me

At the end of 2012, I felt called to lead an adult small group at our church. Since I work in family ministries, this was out of my job description and frankly not on my radar. But as we all know, a call cannot be ignored no matter how hard we try.

So in preparation for my last sermon of the year, I clearly heard God tell me to use the information in the sermon to put into a small group.  The sermon was about putting your faith into action.

The problem was that, like the rest of America, I'm too busy. And if I wanted people from the rest of America to join in, then I'd need to make this as easy as possible for them.

So using my blog (untileveryonehears.com) and a smartphone app called WhatsApp, we were able to start a small group based on the Means of Grace. Each day in January we worked on participating in a different means of grace. I would blog about one each day and we stayed connected and accountable via WhatsApp. WhatsApp allows us to chat in real time. We can pray for each other on the spot. We can share ideas. We can let others know where we saw God.

It is going really well. It doesn't make up for our face time at church but it does keep us accountable and it keeps the thought for the day in our minds more often.

It could be really useful for any small group or in lieu of a meeting when we get too busy but still need to stay connected.

-Rev. Shannon E Karafanda (Hopewell UMC - Tyrone, GA)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do you want fries with that?

A few of you may have seen where I posted a video of my daughter last week. She was throwing one of those terrible two tantrums earlier this year because we had left the playground at McDonalds. She really doesn't like the food so much as the toys and play place that are part of the eating experience. In case you missed it, here it is:

To be fair, she does have a good side. She can be quite gentle and funny. Here's a clip of her putting her baby bunny to sleep:

I'm not sure that these huge mood swings ever leave us as we get older. I think we just learn to control them in public. I can tell you that I sing my daughter a lullaby every night. She's one of the only people who requests my magnificent serenading on a daily basis so I'm more than willing to help. But I also know that if one of my boys blows up a latex balloon in my presence, I will turn into the Incredible Hulk (and they don't like me when I'm angry).

It took three kids for me to actually be able to laugh at the tantrums and to realize that they really are funny if you sit back and watch. Perhaps I should have someone record my Hulk moments so that I can then laugh at myself.

I was reminded recently that anger is not really a bad thing. We always think of it as a "sin" because it is usually directed at someone and we really don't want others to direct anger toward us so why should we be angry at others?

But Jesus got angry. He got angry a lot. He turned over tables. He called people names. I think he even got a bit snarky at times.

But what most of us want to remember is the Jesus with the children around him. The one who tells stories. The Jesus who holds a lamb. The Baby Jesus who doesn't cry.

And what we really have is both. Jesus the angry and Jesus the gentle. Jesus the just and Jesus the giver of grace.

So the next time your child throws a fit and later on gives you an unsolicited hug, remember that they are being Jesus-like. Its our job to help them control their emotions so that they will be the most effective at just the right time.

Or you could just ask them if they want fries with that.

Until Everyone Hears,
Shannon is a Deacon in full connection in the North Georgia Annual Conference. Her specialty is Family Ministries and is serving at Hopewell in Tyrone, GA.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I AM - The Gatekeeper

"I am the gate for the sheep." - John 10:7b

I went to a wedding last weekend where the reception was in a gated community's country club. It was a beautiful place and I felt very posh as I rolled up to the gate house. I had on my wedding finest. John was in a suit. Dori had on an Easter Sunday dress and the boys had on pants that weren't sweats or jeans. We were looking good!

As I got up to the gate, I rolled my window down and told the attendant we were here for the wedding. I expected her to ask which wedding or my name and check it off of some list, but instead we were just allowed to proceed.

In a way I was a bit stunned. Where was the security? Can I dress up and try this at other gated communities? Part of me was let down too. Here I was invited to this fancy event and you don't even want to know who I am? I must be important or on a list somewhere right?

Jesus talks about sheep and gates in John 10:1-6. I don't always like the idea of Jesus keeping people out or in but there are some great things about gates that I do like.

1) Gates keep us together. We may not want to be in the same pen as the black sheep but we're all in this together. Maybe that's for a good reason. Perhaps we should learn how to live together and support each other. Togetherness can be a good thing if you have the right attitude about it.

2) Gates set us apart. There's a very different image of sheep wandering along a mountainside grazing for food then of sheep together behind a fence. If we pass a farm in America and see a few cows in a pasture we'd say "Moo!" but if we saw hundreds of cows behind a fence we'd say "Wow! Look at all the cows!" There is something to be said for being set apart and how others will notice our behavior.

3) Gates help us to be at home. I don't live in a gated community but I do have a garage door. After a long journey, I'll hit the button to open up the door and know that I am home. When I"m at home and I hear the garage door opening I know that one of my family is coming home. For me, being at home is a great feeling of comfort and grace. At home, I'm loved for who I am and not for whom I'm supposed to be.

If Jesus is the Gate, then he keeps us together, set apart, and helps us feel at home because he loves us for who we are. He doesn't care what we are wearing or if our name is on some list. He invites all who want to come in and tells them "Welcome Home."

Until Everyone Hears,

Rev. Shannon Karafanda is blogging devotional thoughts daily during Lent. Check out her site by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Giving Back

Usually the week after Christmas is down time for most clergy. After all the prep to make sure that people are able to spiritually celebrate Christmas, plus the stress of making sure that Christmas with our family is special, we are dead dog tired.

I'm already kind of there now but I'm still excited about Christmas and waking up on Christmas morning to see the joy on my kids faces as they see what we've given them.

I love this time of year because I get to give back to my kids without feeling like I'm spoiling them.

Of course, in reality, I probably am spoiling them. We are blessed with so much while other have so little.

So instead of taking next week as a week off, I'm assisting one of my churches (Sacred Tapestry) in a mission week. I don't suggest this for most pastors (especially lead pastors that really do need the break), but if someone in your church can lead this - its a great idea!

Starting on Sunday, Dec 26 we have a different mission activity each day. We're going to make soup kits for the food bank, gather canned goods, sort at the Atlanta Community food bank, landscape at the United Methodist Children's Home, cook and serve at Nicholas House, and gather pet food for the Humane Society.

I'm happy to have something to look forward to next week and it warms my heart that I'll be able to keep the warm fuzzy feelings of Christmas going for at least one week more as I can continue to be the giver that God wants us to be.

If you can join us, we'd love to have you!

Merry Christmas,

Rev. Shannon Karafanda

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Churches

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The time of your life when you begin an exciting but possibly stressful adventure - the new job. In my case I've got double the excitement and double the stress. I'm the lucky one to be newly appointed to two churches as an Associate Pastor of Family Ministries. I split my time between them during the week and alternate Sundays.

Starting any new job has its ups and downs but these two have particular aspects that make them most unique:

The Worst of Times: (some of the challenges I'll face with this new appointment)

1) Are we there yet? Both churches are a good distance from my house. One is in Marietta and has the possibility for some major traffic jams. This week its taken me 45-60 minutes to get there. The other is in Cartersville and takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

2) Where am I? Keeping track of what church, what day, and who all the different names and faces are will force me to be mega-organized and to rely on my memory that may not be as sharp as it used to be after three kids.

3) What day off? Both of these churches are new churches (about two years old). Having worked at a new church before, I can tell you that it is a LOT of work. I'm sure both churches could fill up my working hours in a full time capacity but I'm only appointed part-time at each. I'm definitely going to have to delegate, equip others, and get used to saying "NO."

The Best of Times:
(the things I'm really gonna like)

1) Time to myself. I know the commute will get old sooner rather than later, but getting away from the kids and from work during the ride will be a welcome change. I plan to get a lot of praying done and to listen to my Bible on my iPod. It was during my commute to Buckhead, when I was a computer programmer, that I fleshed out my call to ministry so I'm hoping that this time alone will help me transform the world.

2) Variety. Sacred Tapestry and The Church at The Well are VERY different churches. Different from the church I grew up in and different from each other. I know that most people think that church is church so I won't go into details here but if you were to visit both you'd understand - we're not just thinking outside the box; we're shocked to find there was a box to start with and we're recycling it for better use.

3) Recalled to life. The main theme of Dickens' novel "A Tale of Two Cities" was resurrection. Many of his characters were given opportunities to have second chances and make their lives better. With each new church I go to, I look at it as an opportunity to take what I've learned and bring something new to the table. I get to flex my creative muscles and take things to a whole new level which intrigues me on a personal and professional level. By doing so, my goal is to enable people to experience a new life in Christ, to participate in His resurrection and transform the world. So honestly it matters not whether I'm part-time, full-time, or over-time, but whether I'm using the time God gives me to use the gifts He's given me. If I succeed in that, then I can say in the end "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

If you are ever in Cartersville or Marietta visit me at The Well or Sacred Tapestry, but please remind me of your name (and which church I'm at if possible).

Until Everyone Hears,

Sunday, June 13, 2010


One of my favorite movies is Akeelah and the Bee. Against some major odds, Akeelah ends up going to the National Spelling Bee. The movies' themes center around love, support and coaching others, and overcoming loss. It is only through the help of others that Akeelah makes it as far as she does.

I'm having a very Akeelah and the Bee moment this week. I'm going to be ordained as a deacon in full-connection in the United Methodist Church. It is like many other milestones in my life in that it is both an ending of a long journey but also a beginning or continuation of another journey or calling.

In 1998, God told me to go and preach the gospel. It turned out He wasn't kidding. After 12 years of trying to convince Him otherwise, He's finally taught me that I'm in this for good. He's prepared me. He's equipped me. He's sustained me.

But it hasn't been just God but God working through others. So many people have been there along the way and I'd like to take this time to thank them all. So here goes...

Thanks to:

1) The people who said I couldn't do it. That's right. Every time someone said that I couldn't do this I began to doubt too. I told God - no. And each time, He showed me I could do this and made me even more determined to reach my goal.

2) The people who said I shouldn't do it. You know who you are. Thank you for helping research what I was getting myself into. It hasn't been and won't always be easy. I understand why you said that. But please understand that I'm following God's call and have been through a very thorough discerning process. I'm a big girl and I'm ready to roll.

3) To those who love me no matter what crazy thing I do. You are the ones that love me as God does - bad hair days and all. You helped watch my kids when I needed to study in seminary. You proofed papers for me knowing that I'm a spell checking nightmare. You sent me a message telling me to hang in there. You took me out to have fun to get away from things that were often too serious. You hugged me and cried with me when I needed to heal. You laughed with me so hard that I thought I might do bodily damage. I can't thank you enough.

"You know that feeling where everything feels right? Where you don't have to worry about tomorrow or yesterday, where you feel safe and know you're doing the best you can? There's a word for that, it's called love. L-O-V-E."

And it goes for me too - that's what I feel for all my friends, for all my family, for all my coaches. Thank you. Thank God. And celebrate this accomplishment with me. You deserve it!

Until Everyone Hears,