Wednesday, November 10th, 2021
In our ongoing series spotlighting deacons across the diocese. To learn more about becoming a deacon, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The following is from the Rev. Lynn Czarniecki.
The heart of my call to ministry is to share the unconditional love of God with individuals who are suffering in some way, so that they may experience the presence of God in their lives and so know spiritual comfort and support. I first realized that I wanted to live out the words in Matthew 25:34-46 while, as an advanced pediatric nurse, I cared for children dying from AIDS. Somehow, I knew that I had to bring the love of Jesus more explicitly to them and their families. I was not sure exactly what God wanted me to do so I explored ways that I might minister to those living on the margins and discovered the diaconate. Deacons are called to serve the poor, sick, imprisoned and others out in the world. It seemed like a good fit for me. I participated in Education for Ministry for four years which helped me in my discernment. I went on to study at Drew Theological School, earned a theological degree, was ordained deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark NJ, trained as a chaplain by taking a year of Clinical Pastoral Education and worked as a hospice chaplain for seven years. Ministering to the dying and their families became my primary diaconal ministry. At the same time, I served as deacon in four different churches in my diocese (in Newark deacons serve 3-year terms) fulfilling the deacon’s role in liturgy, pastoral care, adult education and outreach ministry. I retired in 2013 and moved to Philadelphia. I am presently the deacon at Trinity Memorial Church in Center City.
For many years prior to my ordination, I had struggled with the challenge of having a family member living with serious mental illness. I came to realize that my loved one was not going to be cured anytime soon and that we would have to learn to live and cope with the pain and sorrow mental illness brought to our lives. After a period of self-pity, I decided that God needed me to do something to make the world better for my loved one and all those living with mental illness. I joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and began an amazing journey of supporting, teaching and advocating. I believe that the work I do for families is definitely fulfilling the mandate for deacons to serve people living on the margins. I was trained by NAMI to facilitate support groups for families and to teach NAMI’s course, Family to Family. Before the pandemic I was facilitating three support groups for families a month and teaching Family to Family two times a year. I also served on the advisory board. I met with deaneries to let clergy know that I was available to come to their churches and teach about how faith communities can help folks impacted by mental illness. I had an information table at three conventions.
Since COVID hit I have been facilitating three family support groups per week, staffing NAMI’s helpline two days per week and I have taught our Family to Family course three times, all virtually. I need to share with you that there are so many families struggling and suffering with mental illness.
As we say in NAMI everyone knows someone. Their stories are heart wrenching. They consistently talk about the inability of their loved ones to get mental health care, to get housing, jobs or just plain compassionate support. The system for mental health is fragmented, underfunded and sometimes just cruel. They experience stigma which in reality is discrimination. I listen to them, I teach them, I support them and I love them. Amazingly they do this for each other. In meeting after meeting they love and support one another, just as Jesus taught us. I am honored and moved to be a part of their lives and in my own way to bring God’s love to them. This is what diaconal ministry is for me.