Deacons Serve God and the Faithful in Their Parishes and in the Wider Community
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a deacon is “a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came to serve and not to be served. The deacon is to be a servant in a servant Church.”
Dave Drayton, deacon at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and St. John Church & Student Center in East Lansing, has taken this call to heart. His parish duties include preaching, presiding at weddings and baptisms and leading marriage preparation programs and classes on the importance of the family unit. He truly enjoys marrying couples and baptizing children.
“Marriages are a special thing. I’ve seen couples fall in love and become wonderful wives and husbands. Being able to marry a couple is really cool,” he says. “With baptisms, watching the parents and grandparents is a special joy in and of itself.”
Another way that Deacon Dave serves others is through his involvement with three groups that exist to share the love of Christ by exercising the corporal works of mercy. He serves on the boards of St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) and Holy Cross Services, and acts as spiritual adviser to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the Lansing area. These organizations serve “our brothers and sisters who need our help,” as he says.
At every Mass he attends, whether on the altar or in the pew, Deacon Dave prays for trust and unwavering faith in Jesus – for the same trust and faith the Roman centurion displayed who asked Jesus to heal his servant and said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
It is a simple prayer, but one that he has prayed for years.
Although he was raised Methodist, he attended Sunday Mass once in college, and the priest asked for servers.
“No one went up there, so I decided to help,” he says. A few Sundays later, he volunteered again, but this time, the events of the Mass would change his religious path.
When it came time to wash the priest’s hands, Deacon Dave mistakenly poured the wine instead of water. After Mass, he apologized and explained to the priest that he was a Methodist. When the priest asked why he was serving Mass, he replied, “You asked for help … so I came up.”
For the next eight weeks, he met with the priest for morning coffee and read a book about the Catholic faith. He committed to becoming Catholic and was soon confirmed in the Church.
Years later – after his children were grown – the proud father and grandpa decided to enter the diaconate program.
The diaconate ministry is supported by DSA dollars.
While in the program, he needed a practicum outside his parish – something of service that also made him uncomfortable. That was when a young woman invited him to help at the children’s home that is part of STVCC. What was supposed to be a six-month assignment with the organization turned into a vocation and new outlook on life.
“The kids have faced hardships that no kid should face, like sexual and physical abuse or abandonment. I was amazed that they prayed and gave thanks for having a safe place to sleep, clean clothes, food they liked, things to do and people who care about them,” he says. “I would go home and think, ‘I’ve never given thanks for having a place to live, being warm or being able to take a shower.’”
Although he always felt safe at home and in himself, in just 15 minutes with the children, he was humbled.
Over the next six months, Deacon Dave became close with the kids and more involved with the organization, also helping with the counseling center. When his practicum ended and he was ordained, he was assigned to both his parish and St. Vincent’s. Deacon Dave later joined the organization’s Board of Directors.
He also serves on the board for Holy Cross Services, a human services agency that provides a network of mental health, substance abuse, homeless and children’s services. “I really love this group. I’ve met people there who give to others who are really in need themselves,” he says. “They are like the widow who only had enough food for herself and her son but made bread for herself, her son and her guest.”
Deacon Dave serves as spiritual director for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lansing, which assists those in need on a person-to-person basis. The group serves more than a dozen parishes and has three thrift stores. Therefore, when Deacon Dave hears about someone looking to donate items – be it household items or clothing – he raises his hand on behalf of St. Vincent de Paul and these other organizations and helps connect those who want to donate with those who need the items.
“I gain so much from this group. It’s unbelievable what they do for people of any religious belief and the poorest of the poor,” he says. “They are true disciples. I’ve been really blessed to see how people help their sisters and brothers without judging them. Regardless of what they might look like or what problems they’ve had, they are our brothers and sisters and need our help.
“I talk about these organizations to make people aware of their work and how much they need volunteers,” he says. “The joy you get when you see the smile on a person’s face or receive a hug from a kid – and you’re just giving them something small – it’s truly amazing. I need to do more of it. That’s how and why I do all of this.”
Deacon Dave’s work in his parish and his community comes down to seeing people through the eyes of Jesus. He uses the tools God has given him – listening, praying and making connections in the community – to fulfill the role of deacon, “a servant in a servant Church.”