PERMANENT DEACONS 10TH ANNIVERSARY: A decade on, diaconal role continues to inspire in different settings
Since their ordination, Permanent Deacons Mark Powell and Paul Russell have taken quite different journeys in terms of their location and role, but for both, serving local communities is of paramount focus. Photo: Jamie O’Brien
By Caroline Smith
In 2006, 14 men were ordained to the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Perth.
A decade on, the Deacons talk to The eRecord about how their work as Deacons has inspired them.
Since their ordination, Permanent Deacons Mark Powell and Paul Russell have taken quite different journeys in terms of their location and role, but for both, serving local communities is of paramount focus.
Deacon Powell – who is based at Good Shepherd Lockridge Parish – said his experience as a Deacon was different from what he’d initially planned, but has been challenging and valuable nonetheless.
“When I think back to the day of my ordination, like all things new, you get a real understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said.
“I remember that I had this real urge to change the world whereas now, it is more about doing what I can do to make a difference in the community that I serve.”
Working in local school communities was a particular learning experience, Deacon Powell added, one which had often led to conversations about the challenges people have with their faith.
“It is in school communities that I have journeyed the most,” he said.
“Many of the people that you come in contact with in schools have become distanced from the Church for a number of reasons. However, they still have this need to send their own children to a Catholic school.
“Once members of the community get to know me, they then make contact to talk about the issues that are affecting their lives.”
Deacon Powell said that by talking to people in this way, he was able to establish contacts that allowed him to undertake further diaconate work, such as baptising students, supporting school staff and preparing couples for marriage.
Indeed, providing support to those receiving sacraments was an important part of his role, Deacon Powell added.
“For me, the most interesting experience is working with young families to prepare them for baptism,” he said.
“As many of these people have had no catechetical formation since leaving secondary school, they have a very immature understanding of their faith - at the same time, they want to know more about it.
“It is interesting to sit with them and see how interested they are in wanting to know about the Church and what it is teaching.”
For Deacon Paul Russell, the journey from ordination was one which often took different turns, and provided many learning experiences.
“As a testament to the diversity of ministry that is possible, I don’t have any of the appointments that I had when I was first ordained,” he said.
“Potentially, I will be exercising a similar ministry in ten years, or like the last ten I may be exercising my ministry in completely different places from where I am currently.
“My own ministry has been varied, however, like so many, I am awed by the privilege to sit with people in moments where they are most vulnerable - it is a privilege to share moments of grace, sorrow, and joy with people.”
Deacon Russell said he had learned a great deal from working as a chaplain to the Australian army, particularly when serving with Operation Anode in the Solomon Islands.
“This time away was very rewarding, working with a culturally diverse group from Australia and New Guinea, Tonga and New Zealand and including a range of faiths – and working with people with no faith,” he said.
“It was a real highlight, especially being at times the only chaplain and pastoral support for the deployment.
“Much of my work as a Defence Chaplain has been with those distant from the Church and it is especially satisfying to 'break down' negative preconceptions that some people may hold, and to reach out to people as the face of the Church.”
However, Deacon Russell also said that the more ‘ordinary’ tasks like preaching and providing faith guidance to parishioners was also an important part of diaconate life.
“The most obvious ministry of the deacon is potentially our role in liturgy where we are most obviously active, and I certainly do find this both challenging and satisfying – and especially when I am able to preach,” he said.
“However, the more significant moments of my ministry have been these moments when thing are less public – when I am journeying with people in preparing for marriage, in searching for answers or struggling, in moments of joy and of grief, or challenge or distress.”
He added that being a husband and father, as well as someone who works in a 'normal' job, had provided him with great support and enriched his ministry.