The five deacons from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galloway in south west Scotland are at Minsteracres for their annual retreat, and it’s fair to say they’re on a mission.
“This is the fourth year some of us have been here – including the year of our ordination,” explains Bob Simpson, “We come for spiritual refreshment and when we finish we’re ready to go back and get stuck in!”
He is not talking about going home to pick a fight. What he is referring to is Bishop William Nolan’s stated intention as new Bishop of Galloway to increase the number of deacons in the diocese.
For Bob Simpson, Peter Marks, Willie Hiddleston, George McDermott, Bill Corbett and their facilitator for the week, fellow deacon John Woodside, becoming a deacon has been a source of joy and fulfilment, and they would like to see others enjoying it.
“As a deacon, it strikes you as you’re doing things that what you’re allowed to do is amazing. I remember my first baptism. I put my hand in the water and it was suddenly, quite literally awe-full” says Bob.
“I’ve lived my life on my nerves, but there were no nerves on the day I was ordained,” says Peter, “I felt this amazing sense of wellbeing, as if I was being led by the hand.”
Most people are aware of the duties deacons perform during the liturgy, but there is much more to the role including prison, school and hospital chaplaincy.
Both Bill and Willie are hospital chaplains. “You never know whether you’ll be welcome, or whether you will plant a seed,” says Willie, “Through hospital chaplaincy I was able to reconnect a former parishioner with the church. We also had one very shy person who was almost a recluse – and quite unwelcoming – but we were able to reintroduce her to her parish priest.”
John, as a deacon for 22 years, is constantly surprised by the adaptability of the diaconate ministry. His activities are varied from working for the Scottish Bishops’ Conference, diocesan appointments, facilitating retreats, pilgrimage, conferences and workshops, particularly .promoting the new evangelisation. Working also ecumenically, specialising in spirituality, prayer and spiritual accompaniment and community engagement.
Even everyday things can be brought to bear, “Church music and architecture enrich the world around us,” says Peter.
Of their annual visit to Minsteracres, apart from the obvious attractions of its peace, space and beauty, Bob admits ruefully, “They feed us well – all too well!”