A Summit Not to Be Missed
by Trish Duggan, Communications Coordinator, OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries
“Please don’t use the expression, ‘I’m only or just a deacon,’” Rev. Bill Shishko strongly and lovingly cautioned the men at the 4th OPC National Diaconal Summit. “Hopefully that will be knocked out of you if you’ve used it in the past.” Shishko went on to share his experience at his former church, the OPC of Franklin Square, and how he worked to build the diaconate there. Diaconal work is hard work, he admitted, but, “I just came to revel in the work, the variety of the work, the excitement of the work that deacons do. I love and esteem the work of the diaconate, and I’m hoping that I can bring some of that love and excitement to you this evening.”
That type of wind of blew throughout the three-day event. Plenary sessions as well as workshops gave practical and spiritual encouragement to lift each deacon brother. Just like Aaron and Hur lifting the arms of Moses, one man lifted another in training and in fellowship. The Bible teaches that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” There was no lack of that this year.
Registration began early on Thursday, June 2. One group arrived very early in Chicago, coming from California; they had taken the red-eye. Each one registered and some made their way up to take a quick nap before the events of the day officially began. Slowly, and steadily the nearly 200 men, deacons, deacons-in-training, elders and pastors coming to support their deacons, arrived; smiles and greetings to all, thankful for this special occasion.
It didn’t take long before the smells of barbecue filled the lobby of Fischer Hall, drawing the participants out of their rooms. The unseasonably beautiful weather enabled the use of outdoor picnic tables spread across the lush green grass that lined the small slope of the dorm lawn. Soon the seats were filled, and a loud hum of conversation and laughter filled the air. And this was just the beginning of the warm comradery that developed as friendships were established and re-ignited.
The schedule was full; dawn till dusk. Immediately following the first main session on Thursday evening, its content described by one deacon as “steak for breakfast”, it was time to cross the campus to the gas-lit firepits where dessert and fellowship began to stir. Handshakes and hugs animated the scene as small groups gathered to catch up, further confirming the appreciation to again be face-to-face.
From there it rolled: sessions, food, and fellowship. Plenary talks by fathers of the OPC, Bill Shishko, Al Tricarico, Ron Pearce, Craig Troxel and Nathan Trice, were given to the whole group, while workshops, taught by pastors, elders and deacons, were attended in smaller groups.
Rev. Al Tricarico, associate general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, and former missionary to Uganda, reminded the group of God’s grace, “Brothers, you know Christ. You have been rescued from stranger status. And have been welcomed by Jesus into the home of his Father. Now, remember that and gladly welcome strangers in. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. People who are not like us or not known to us can make us feel uneasy. But if God has welcomed you, how can you withhold your welcome when others come into your life and orbit?”
Challenging workshop offerings such as Rev. Eric Watkins’, “Mercy Ministry in a Social-Justice World” gave insight to what is missing in secular, social justice arguments. After carefully protected directness, Watkins said, “I feel like our deacons are one of our most underused resources in our church as it relates to confronting some of the challenges of Mercy Ministry that the world calls social justice. Who carried out the heart and compassion of God, not only in the church but outside the church in the Old Testament? It was to be the priest. How does that ministry translate in the New Testament? It comes to the office of Deacon… “[Deacons need] to be the sort of frontline of engaging some of the things that are now popping up in a social justice context, and we’ve got the best tools and the best resources. “This is what mercy, justice and compassion really looks like. It’s gospel-centered, it’s church-oriented. It’s the hands and feet of Jesus reaching our communities where the pain actually is…”
Rev. Chris Cashen in his workshop, “Refugee Relief”, also focused in on the need to love the stranger, and how the deacons can encourage their congregations to love and minister to the refugee community. “For deacons, ministry to refugees is such a practical way to encourage your congregants, to engage the congregation, [and] to participate in Mercy Ministry.” He reminded them that they are to lead the charge, but encouraged them not to do all the work.
All five plenary sessions and nine workshops were squeezed into the limited time allotted, offering much wisdom and ability to share experiences and challenges; something that can’t be done by phone or on a Zoom call.
The three-day conference came and went quickly, but not without leaving a lasting impression on all who attended. “Attending the summit helps you understand the best practices as a deacon and reminds you that you are not alone. Getting good instruction is vital to being a good deacon. The food and fellowship is an excellent way to be refreshed and excited to return to church life,” according to Peter Heinisch, deacon at Providence OPC in Rockford, IL.
Luke Fawcett, deacon, Resurrection OPC, Matthews, NC said “If you haven’t been to a Summit, you got to do it,” and his deacon-mate, Nathan Brinkerhoff, agreed, “There’s one thing you can’t experience by watching the videos, and that is the singing. If you’re not ready for it, it will almost take you by surprise. It is wonderful— it’s that good.”
If you missed it this year, you’ll have to wait several years for the next, but in the meantime, go to OPCCDM.org to check out the videos of the sessions. It’s truly not the same, and in the future, we hope you’ll make plans to attend in person. No doubt, the food and training you’ll receive will be great. But the infusion of encouragement from the fellowship and the obvious strength in diaconal numbers you will find irreplaceable!