Deacons are clergy leaders called by God and ordained by a bishop to bridge the church and the world while proclaiming the transformational news of Jesus Christ. Most ordained deacons have a primary appointment at a secular location with a secondary appointment to a local church.
West Ohio Division of Deacons Chairperson the Rev. Rachel Miller said, “I am grateful to God for those who had the foresight and the vision for the Order of Deacon. I am in awe of the variety of call and response as deacons live out their ministry in a wide variety of settings both inside and outside the church, bridging people into relationship with Jesus Christ."
This year the West Ohio Conference joins The United Methodist Church and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Order of Deacon. On this silver anniversary, deacons in West Ohio share what it means to be a deacon within the walls of the church and in the world.
Growing Children’s Ministry in the Community
The Rev. Matt Overman is delighted that Tolin, a trained service dog, is part of the ministry team at Grand Lake United Methodist Church, Celina, in the Northwest Plains District. Overman, a deacon, serves as pastor of children and family ministries at the church where he grew up.
“Children come to the church and walk the dog on his leash through the halls,” Overman said. He has witnessed Tolin’s calming effect on anxious or sad children.
As a teen, Overman felt God calling him to be a pastor, but he wanted to be a teacher. As God persisted in calling Overman to ministry, the call could not be ignored.
Matt's wife Beth was nervous about her husband going into ministry; she had experienced ministry before and had concerns. Later, he was offered a full scholarship to earn a Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary. God's call was confirmed for them with that offer.
Ordained in 2017, Overman leverages his role as a deacon to “lead the church into the community where the kids are,” he says. The church has provided outdoor activities such as Nerf battles and inflatable playground toys. Grand Lake also participates in a community vacation Bible school with four other congregations.
“Children are looking for ways to have fun,” Overman says. In a time of a lingering pandemic and social unrest, he strives to offer hope.
“How can we get kids to take off labels?” he asks. “How can I speak life? How do we see a child as a human being?” Questions like these motivate Overman to live out ministry to children in the community.
For those who hear God’s call and are not sure what to do, Overman says, “If what God is calling you to do gives you energy, to be a bridge and catalyst, being a deacon is a great fit.”
As a deacon, Overman loves the emphasis on being in the community and the world. “Deacons are so misunderstood,” he says. “Being a layperson is not enough [for me], and this is not a stepping stone. This is who God called me to be.”
Serving with Compassion
The Rev. Katie Wilson knew she was called to be a nurse. In the early sixties, she was accepted to nursing school but couldn’t attend. No student would share a dorm room with her because she was black. Today Wilson holds two degrees in nursing as well as her Master of Divinity from United Theological Seminary.
For 29 years, Wilson was a cardiac nurse for the Miami Valley Hospital. Halfway through her career, Wilson received a call from God. Wilson said, “I thought, surely not I.” But God did call her.
Her call was confirmed after attending a workshop at United Theological Seminary. Wilson got in her car to leave and noticed it was extremely warm. She said, “A peace came over me.” That was her confirmation to become an ordained deacon.
“I wanted to be a deacon because that is what I am called to be. I am also called to be a nurse; to care, to hold hands of people and not say anything at their most difficult time.”
Ordained in 2009, Wilson’s gifts from God are compassion and working with people. She welcomes the opportunity to answer questions about nursing and ministry. She has served on the West Ohio Board of Ordained Ministry, the District Committee on Ordained Ministry and as co – chair of the Order of Deacon. Serving in these positions, she reminds candidates to be clear on what it means to be a deacon. “Deacons are not in competition with the pastor. They have their own call.”
Wilson has advocated for patients after witnessing unjust treatment, even in departments that were not her own. Nervous, she reported the treatment to the Vice President of the department. The conversation led to the creation of a task force to address the problems, led by Wilson. She was also promoted.
Wilson stayed busy during the pandemic by calling her neighbors and reaching out to members of Dixon United Methodist Church, where she is assigned. Wilson said, “In the pandemic, I realized how devastating it is to be by yourself.” As she has reached out to others, many began reaching out to her with prayer requests. Her list has grown to 10 pages of names in a notebook.
Through her journey, God opened doors for Wilson revealing she was moving in the direction she is called to go. Wilson said, “You can’t go wrong when you wait on God.”
Written by Amy Graham, Communications Specialist