I interviewed the Rev. Jon Owens, chair of the Young Episcopal Deacons Task Force of the Association for Episcopal Deacons (AED). When I was in discernment, I met with the Task Force at an AED conference. They were incredibly encouraging and helped make me feel like becoming a deacon really was viable with work and two kids at home. I was incredibly grateful to the Young Deacons for their enthusiasm and their vision of an accessible diaconate. I wanted to share their work more widely. When you’re done with this interview you can find them online at http://youngdeacons.net/.
What is your ministry focus currently?
I serve as Associate for Ministry Development at St. John’s in Oakland. My primary focus is congregational development. I handle evangelism, adult education, marketing & communications, liturgy, and social justice and outreach. I help discern people’s gifts for ministry in the life of the church.
What is your role on the Young Deacons Task force?
I serve as chair of the task force under the Association for Episcopal Deacons.
What has the Task Force accomplished?
The task force was launched 4 years ago. We began surveying deacons under 50 realizing there were fewer deacons in this age group than those [over] 90, which is very problematic for the church. We developed a website and facebook group. We also had some members who did a road trip last year to Episcopal Service Corps sites to tell them about the diaconate. This year we began to focus on resources people can use to help recruit young deacons such as a brochure and a powerpoint presentation. We are encouraging deacons to take this to ministries that have young adults in them in their diocese.
What has the Task Force been focused on in the pandemic?
Our focus during the pandemic is just getting resources ready. I am calling it a preparation year. Next year we hope to focus on continuing education among young deacons.
What is so important about young deacons working together?
As much as we all love multi-generational work, studies show that people also love to be among people their own age who share similar life experiences. Often what happens is you get a deacon who is in their 30’s and their community of deacons in their diocese are second career people. It is not to say that is bad, but it is different when you are doing this ministry as a working individual, perhaps raising a family and you have a whole different generational take on the ministry. The idea of having a community like this becomes important.
How do you see younger deacons impacting the diaconate?
Younger people as we know help breathe new life into the church and its ministries. They provide a new source of energy and different skill sets that can be useful to the church in this day and age. Many young people are interested in the work of social justice and outreach which is at the heart of Diakonia, but they need to be encouraged. Studies show sometimes younger clergy can help impact having younger people in church as it can build a sense of collegiality. The ministry of a deacon can have significant impact on this work. I remember at my former church there were two young clergy, a priest and myself the deacon. We were able to have a thriving ministry for people in their 20’s and 30’s, which were the ones who had no children. I think it made a difference and it is something we don’t get in a lot of Episcopal churches.
Why should young people be interested in becoming deacons?
Many young people have a desire to serve and make a difference. They have the heart of Diakonia, which is defined [as[ servant [-like]. They just need access to the institutions like the church who can provide the vehicle of making the impact in our communities. It is a calling.
What do you have to say to a young person out there who might just be starting to discern a call to the diaconate?
Pray about it. Take a look at the different vows of ordination along with the baptismal covenant in the prayer book. Use that as a vehicle for discernment. Talk it over with your church clergy and don’t hesitate to get your parish to help form a discernment committee to help you think through your discernment. I also encourage [them] to talk to another deacon about their ministry.
What’s next for the Young Deacons Task Force?
Continuing education for young deacons and creating more online community.