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Bringing a fresh perspective to the pulpit.

Preaching is an integral part of a deacon's ministry, says William Ditewig, a deacon for the Washington archdiocese and professor at Santa Clara University in California. This was made clear at the Second Vatican Council when bishops were reminded of their primary duties as teacher and preacher, said Ditewig, former executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These tasks as teacher and preacher extend to priests and deacons.

When preaching is done right and the deacon draws on his unique lived experiences, the deacon's preaching can bring a relevancy and reliability to a congregation.

"As men who live and work in the world and usually have families, deacons bring a different perspective to the pulpit," said Greg Kandra, a deacon ordained for the Brooklyn diocese in 2007.

"If I mention in a homily my wife or my in-laws, I can sense people in the pews sitting up a little straighter and thinking, 'This is something I don't hear often in a homily' " Kandra, creator and author of The Deacon's Bench blog, told NCR.

Deborah L. Wilhelm, a homiletics instructor for the diocese of Monterey, Calif., echoed Kandra's words.

"Many deacons ... bring a family life perspective to their preaching that might not otherwise be heard," she told NCR. "Most of them are employed outside the church, so their daily lives have a different kind of rhythm and flow than priests' lives tend to have."

Wilhelm's husband is a permanent deacon in the Monterey diocese. They went through formation together; as he studied for the diaconate, she earned a master's in pastoral studies through an extension program from the Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension of Loyola University New Orleans. Then-director of the diaconate, Fr. Roy Shelly, invited her to stay on as a teacher in the formation program. By the time she started teaching with retired Bishop Sylvester Ryan, Wilhelm was already working on a doctorate in ministry from the Aquinas Institute of Theology

"You'll find deacons out and about in the world, in their secular jobs and in the community's areas of need--the hospitals, the jails and prisons, the homeless shelters, and so on," Wilhelm said. "A deacon, as preacher, can make these 'marketplace ministries' visible to us, the assembly at Mass, because we too are to go into the community's areas of need and become the face of Christ in a hurting world."

"Deacons are supposed to bring the experience of the people to the table in their preaching," said Tim Roberto, currently in his third year of deacon formation in the Oakland, Calif, diocese.

Roberto's secular job is national sales manager at Star Stainless Screw Company. "Deacons should preach from a practical life perspective--how does today's Gospel speak to me as an employee, spouse, parent, child, sibling, balancing a budget, being a concerned citizen of the U.S., and so on," he said.

But deacons also agree preaching isn't for everyone.

"Ordination does not necessarily give anyone the gift of preaching," Michael E. Bulson, a deacon for the Salt Lake City diocese, told NCR.

"The biggest weakness in preaching that I see is serving up old platitudes or warmed up ideas that people have heard many times before and they never really relate to or carry with them when they leave the worship space," he said.

Bulson is the author of three books, all including homilies for deacons pertaining to each liturgical cycle.

"After I started serving as a deacon. I gradually discovered that preaching was what I was most called to," Bulson told NCR. He preaches every other Sunday at St. Andrew Parish in Riverton, Utah, and has also begun preaching at the Spanish Mass.

"One of the reasons I wanted to become a deacon, and felt called to do it, was because I'd spent 40 years in the pews hearing a lot of mediocre and boring homilies," said Kandra, who worked 26 years as a writer and producer for CBS News in both New York and Washington. "I knew there was a better way to do it, and I wanted the chance to make preaching engaging, relevant and interesting."

With Kandra's background in journalism and communication, preaching comes more easily to him than it may to others.

"For other people. I know, [preaching] is a chore. And it's time-consuming to do it well. I spend several hours a week praying over the readings, looking at commentaries, and then drafting, polishing, practicing and tweaking those seven or eight minutes in the pulpit," Kandra told NCR. "Not everybody has that kind of time, or makes it a priority"

The late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington believed that every deacon should be able to preach, said Peter Barbernitz, ordained as deacon in 1996 to the Washington archdiocese.

"If you want to preach, you have to do it well or you will not be given a chance to preach anymore," Barbernitz said. "The opposite is true as well. If you preach well, you are given more opportunities to preach."

Butson said, "With more and more deacons coming into the clerical role, the likelihood of finding good preachers has increased significantly."

As more men are called to the diaconate, more preachers will stand at the pulpit, offering a new voice of relevance and inspiration to the congregation.

[Porsia Tunzi is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is]
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Title Annotation:Deacons
Author:Tunzi, Porsia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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