Source: Catholic Outlook, August 2016
By Elizabeth McFarlane
The life of a deacon is a life serving on the edge. Christian charitable service, for which the diaconate principally exists, extends well beyond the walls of the church to the marginalised and vulnerable.
Deacon George Bryan, who was ordained to the permanent diaconate on 8 May and who is deacon assisting at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish in Blacktown, said serving those on the edge is uncomfortable, “but you need to embrace the uncomfortable and learn how to be effective in it”.
“It’s about dancing in the gap. You can’t just live with it, you have to be in it and you have to learn to dance in it,” he explained.
“In a hospital ministry, I’ve done some things that I would never have thought possible, but it’s always because I’m embracing ‘dancing in the gap’.
“Holding the hand of a woman in the cancer ward while a big cannula is inserted because nobody else is there isn’t comfortable. Listening to someone’s story who has just been told they’re going to die isn’t comfortable. They’re not comfortable places, but they’re life changing.”
Deacons are intermediaries, the go-between as it were, constantly challenging themselves to dance in the gap. Deacons like George can preach, celebrate baptisms and marriages, conduct Communion services and other liturgical celebrations such as funeral services. They do not celebrate Mass, anoint the sick or give absolution.
Over time, the ordination of deacons had become a step towards ordination as a priest, but one of the major decisions of the Second Vatican Council was to reinstate the permanent diaconate, an ordained ministry open to both married and single men.
George met his wife, Kaye, more than 40 years ago when he asked her to dance at a Catholic Club in Hurstville in 1973.
The couple married in St Therese’s Church in Mascot in 1974, were blessed with two children and are now the grandparents of three grandchildren.
Members of St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, George was raised in a devout Catholic family. Despite not aligning herself with a particular religion, Kaye has been instrumental in keeping George grounded in his faith and vocation, and has been by his side throughout this eight-year journey towards the permanent diaconate.
“I was very fortunate to have a wife who acknowledged my religion as being part of me,” George said.
“One of the really important things in our marriage is summed up by what Kaye said at our 30th wedding anniversary. We had everybody around and she said, ‘It’s been 30 years of tolerance and compromise and I wouldn’t swap a minute of it.’
“You have to be able to handle each part of the complete package. Somebody asked me when I was in formation, ‘What would you do if someone said you could not be ordained because your wife is not Catholic?’ And I said, ‘That’s kind of like saying you can’t be ordained because you’re too tall.’ It’s so integrated.”
George attributes his early retirement and his call to the diaconate to a tension that was building in his work and faith life.
“My work was extremely demanding and I was working quite long hours. I had picked up on Benedictine spirituality through a talk at our parish and I decided to visit St Benedict’s Monastery in Arcadia,” George said.
“I went to a series of retreats and there was a tension between my intense work life and this place of real serenity.
“I visited the monastery whenever I could fit it in and I made some really significant decisions there, one of them being retirement.”
For George, it was about recognising the Spirit working in his own life and vocational call. “I’m not saying that I’d be game enough to let go of the steering wheel completely but I have become much more attuned to a direction that I have not planned,” George said.
“Benedictine spirituality places great weight on Christ in the other and on the idea of hospitality. Hospitality doesn’t just mean a tea and a biscuit. That’s nice, but it’s not really what hospitality is about. Hospitality is being with people – living with people.”
The permanent diaconate is a living sign of the servanthood of Christ’s Church.
“My advice to those discerning their vocation is to develop a prayer life based around the Psalms. It’s my belief that if you’re grounded in the Psalms and you move from that, then you’re moving into solid territory,” George said.
To view a gallery of photos taken at George’s ordination click here