Deacon Forum - Rev. Cindy Hillger, St. Martin's-by-the-Lake, Minnetonka Beach
A phone call 11 years ago changed my life. My parish priest at St. Martin’s-by-the-Lake was excited to tell me ECMN was looking to expand the diaconate and asked me if would I be interested in becoming a deacon. I stumbled for an answer because frankly, I had no idea what he was talking about. Our family was relatively new to the Episcopal Church and our faith community didn’t have a deacon so I didn’t have a clue about the expectations or responsibilities of the position.
The priest explained the discernment process, ordination ( I would wear a collar?) and the role of a deacon in a faith community. It was all new to me. I had spent more than 25 years as a journalist working in extremely competitive newsrooms, fighting daily deadlines and living with anxiety over the number of people watching our newscasts each day. By the time I was in my late 40’s, I was exhausted and needed some time to take a step away from the news business and get my 2 boys through their teenage years and into college. That’s when I got the call.
Before starting the process, I did some discerning of my own . I asked myself some hard questions and spent a lot of time talking over the decision with my family and good friends. I wondered if I was capable of handling the responsibilities of leading a congregation into community outreach. I had any no experience in church leadership except as a lay-reader once a month, hardly enough to be considered for ordination. I was just learning the history and traditions of the Episcopal faith and felt woefully “unchurched.” Was I ready to dig deep into the faith that was still somewhat unfamiliar to me?
Finally, I was very hesitant to leave a congregation that had embraced me and my family . The rector was a friend and mentor who had seen me through a serious health issue and our worship experience became so embedded in the life of our family that I was reluctant to give that up.
After weeks of trying to answer these questions and allay my concerns, I decided to answer the call with a tentative, timid “yes.”
I was grateful for a process that would either solidify my commitment or usher me back into my comfort zone of lay-reading and regular worship at my beloved faith community.
I filled out the ECMN diaconal application and the diocese assigned me to a discernment committee led by a wonderful priest, Joanie Delamater. She and deacon Jim Shoulak challenged the 4 of us in discernment to examine our faith and our motivation to move forward toward ordination. We wrote spiritual autobiographies, talked openly about our strengths and weaknesses, and what I found the most compelling, listened to ordained deacons tell their stories. As the months and meetings went by, I realized I was ready to make the lifetime commitment to the ECMN diaconate and have never looked back. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Rev. Janet McNally who guided me through the final academic portion of the diaconal training and kept me on the path to ordination.
I spent almost 3 years interning and then officially serving at St. David’s in Minnetonka, working with Rev. Katherine Lewis and a congregation passionate about their faith, community and each other. As reluctant as I was to leave my home congregation, I found a warm, welcoming group of new friends and mentors at St. David’s. From the first sermon I preached (which was well-received but horrible!) to the challenge of leading the middle-school youth group, to being part of a gifted, loving pastoral care team, St. David’s provided me with invaluable resources and training. I’ll be forever grateful for their patience and love as I found my way in this new role of church and community leadership.
Nearly 7 years ago, the Bishop asked if I would be willing to head back to my home church, St. Martin’s. I must admit, I was a bit nervous about the opportunity. Not because I wasn’t anxious to re-connect with the congregation but I was worried about how they would accept me in a new and different role. I also loved the people and the work I was doing at St. David’s. I feared I wouldn’t be able to replicate the experience. With some assurances from the lay leadership at St. Martin’s, I accepted the offer and realized my fears were unfounded. The congregation welcomed me back —in fact, it was as if I never left.
St. Martin’s has an active Faith-In-Action ministry team with a long history of good works in the community. I quickly became a member of the team and we have worked hard to deepen our connections to the social service providers in the area, in particular, WeCan and the Westonka Food Shelf in Mound and Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners in Plymouth. We partner with each on food, school supply and Christmas gift drives, provide yearly financial grants and hold service days at St. Martin’s to purchase and package whatever their clients need throughout the year.
Affordable housing is an issue we’re passionate about at St. Martin’s. Episcobuilders, born out of our congregation, partners with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those who can’t afford one. Since its creation, Episcobuilders has helped build 55 homes across the metro.
We also partner with Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a non-profit with 200+ faith communities as members that actively work to end homelessness. In the last 3 years, St. Martin’s worked to build two 53-unit family-supportive apartment developments in Plymouth and Hopkins. Beacon operates Families Moving Forward, a program providing temporary housing for the homeless, and we’ve been fortunate to partner with St. David’s as their congregation provides temporary shelter and meals for families transitioning out of homelessness.
It’s been a busy 11 years years since I got the call from my parish priest but I must admit, they have flown by. I’m continually surprised and saddened to see the great needs of those around us, especially since COVID has left so many struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Yet I’m inspired by the generosity and faithfulness of the people I serve with, in the ECMN community and also the congregation and staff at St. Martin’s-by-the-Lake. I look forward to another decade (or more!) of working to make a difference in the lives of those around us.
Deacon Facebook and Web Page
There are always new and informative posts on the deacon’s Facebook page. Please check it out here. Additionally, we are collecting our Commission meeting notes and Deacon Stories on our Diaconate page on the ECMN site here.
Retired Deacon Stories
The Commission is working to collect ministry/life stories from retired Deacons in Minnesota. We hope to produce a compendium of Deacon stories that reflect the life of Deacons in Minnesota that will monument our history. In addition to interviews, stories of Deacons who have passed on are welcome, and will be added to the collection. For further information, contact The Rev. Harlan Strong at email@example.com.
School for Formation (SFF) Opportunities:
Do you get the School for Formation newsletter? Do you want to stay up-to-date on the SFF's offerings? Sign up for the newsletter here and join in on the donation based Spring courses.
Upcoming courses include:
- Safe Church Training
- Security and Emergency Management
- Building Bridges Across Race and Culture
- Christian Spirituality
NEW On-Demand Course:
Make Me an Instrument of Peace: A Guide to Civil Discourse For Groups. A new offering from the School for Formation's partnership with ChurchNext. This free 5-week online curriculum was built in conjunction with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and its Department of Faith Formation. "Civil discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. The goal of these conversations is to be in deeper relationship and to more truly know each other’s’ dignity and worth." Log in to find it here: https://ecmn.pathwright.com/
There are several other on-line learning opportunities through the ECMN School for Formation that can be found HERE.
Twin Cities Stand Together (TCST)
ECMN is partnering with TCST to operate a community center out of the Gethsemane building that will house programs for downtown residents of all ages, serving the needs of our most marginalized citizens, and will act as a hub for groups who are working to address systemic racism in our city. For more information click HERE.
Hunger in the Time of Corona Virus
The Rev. Georgianna Smith offers the following website for a summary of food insecurity in key U.S. locations, link HERE.
In our Prayers
- Bob Hoffman, in discernment
- Lowell Johnson
- All homeless, and those living on the street
- Vaccine for COVID-19
- People of have contracted and/or died from COVID-19
Are there others, email firstname.lastname@example.org?
Chaplains for the Diaconate
The Reverends Harlan Strong, Brenda Hoffman, and Rick Todd are the members of our Commission who serve as Deacons for all the Deacons in Minnesota. They are here to offer connection, prayer and support for us and they welcome your emails. They are happy to talk with you one-on-one regarding and needs. Harlan can be contacted at email@example.com, Brenda at firstname.lastname@example.org and Rick can be contact at email@example.com.
To ECMN Deacons
Your work matters to the Commission, and to ECMN, and you deserve to be heard and recognized. We want to hear your concerns and suggestions for improving our ministry and for being in solidarity with each other as we build up the body of Christ. Email the Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace and Blessings,
Brenda and Terry
Commission for the Diaconate Communicators
The purpose of the Commission for the Diaconate is to serve as a resource for the community of deacons within ECMN and they hope to do this through networking, coordinating events, and pastoral support.
As a way of increasing communications for and among all deacons in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, the Commission for the Diaconate has launched an online newsletter. It is intended to be a monthly communication, and will follow monthly commission meetings. The format will include updates, announcements, and events. The Commission will be working on creating an accessible on-line forum space where deacons can share ideas, post articles, and network with each other. Stay tuned for that information! For now, please consider joining the ECMN Deacon Facebook group.
To communicate with The Commission, you can always email email@example.com. The current Commission members are:
The Rev. Dawnlynn Greeney, Convener/Chair (St. James, Marshall)
The Rev. Janet MacNally, Vice-convener (St. Paul's Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis)
The Rev. Georgianna Smith (St. Clement's, St. Paul)
The Rev. Harlan Strong (Epiphany, Plymouth)
The Rev. Rick Todd (St. John's, White Bear Lake)
The Rev. Brenda Hoffman (Ascension, Stillwater)
The Rev. Terry Erickson (St. Mark's Cathedral, Minneapolis)
The Rev. Lynne Sprick (St. Mark's, Lake City)
The Rev. George Ham (St. John's, St. Cloud)