Baptist deacons convene to discuss role in society

Involvement with youth urged to counter violence

July 23, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The hands and feet of God have come to town.

More than 1,500 Baptist deacons from 17 states have been meeting this week at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, participating in prayer meetings, Bible study and panel discussions on the church's role in solving contemporary problems. They are delegates to the 65th annual gathering of the National Baptist Deacons Convention of America, which wraps up today.

In the Baptist church, deacons are lay people who assist a pastor by serving in a ministry.

"The deacon is a spiritual leader," said James H. Taylor, a member of First Baptist Church in South Richmond, Va., and a past president of the Deacons Convention. "The deacon assists the pastor in caring for not only the people in the church, but humanity in the community, on the job, in the neighborhood and everywhere we go."

"We are the hands and the feet of God," said J. Martin Capehart, a deacon at Timothy Baptist Church in West Baltimore, who served as Deacon Convention president from 1988 to 1992.

"We're not up front people like pastors or bishops," he said. "We're more or less the runners. We're what you'd call the bottom rung of the ecclesiastical ladder."

A church ordains as many deacons and consecrates as many deaconesses as needed, based on the number of its ministries. For example, Capehart points out, his church, which has about 400 members, has 15 deacons, while a large congregation such as West Baltimore's New Shiloh Baptist Church, with 6,000 members, has about 200 deacons.

Generally, deacons are men, and deaconesses are women, but Capehart, president of the Maryland deacon's convention, said that is changing.

"It's a new thing that's coming in," said Capehart, who travels the Mid-Atlantic training deacons. "Every state I work in has woman deacons. Not in every church, but in every state, there are churches that ordain women as deacons."

It's an idea whose time has come, he said.

"The word `deacon' comes from a Greek word diakonia, which means `servant,' " Capehart said. "It has no gender."

At this year's convention, the body of deacons approved $20,000 for various charitable causes, including the United Negro College Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, orphanages, senior citizen homes and the American Red Cross disaster fund.

During a symposium on what the church can do to combat crime and violence, the deacons and deaconesses were urged to volunteer in their local schools as greeters welcoming children with a positive word, or to be a "lunch buddy" sitting and talking with students during lunch breaks.

"Some young people leave home unhappy and greatly distressed," Taylor said. "We're hoping [the deacons and deaconesses will] go back and contact the schools in their area and say, `I want to be a volunteer.' The grandfather and grandmother images are very important to our youth."

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