By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
The 21 men in formation in the latest permanent diaconate class for the Archdiocese of Louisville are on a journey to know and serve Jesus all while trying to balance careers, families and schedules, according to Deacon Pat Wright, director of the Diaconate Office.
In addition to their normal course of study, the diaconate class has initiated several additional ministries to serve the people of God.
One of the ministries — a “movie and popcorn night” at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — was begun earlier this year by Bryan Bush, a member of the diaconate formation class of 2016.
One night while praying about how he was going to get involved in a ministry outside of his parish — a requirement in the diaconate program — the idea came to him, he said.
Bush and a few classmates found an old popcorn machine and movie projector at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They hoped both machines would work, so they advertised the upcoming event by handing out flyers to the homeless men served by the society.
“We had no idea if people would come or even if the equipment would work. We trusted that God would provide if he wanted this to work,” Bush said in a interview earlier this week.
As it turned out, both the machines and Bush’s idea worked well.
More than 50 homeless men came to that first movie night. The movie and popcorn nights have since grown to include a religious themed movie once a month with soft drinks, cookies and popcorn. About one third of the 2016 class is now involved in this particular ministry, Bush noted.
Deacon Pat Wright said he has tried to incorporate a sense of charity that involves members of the community outside a deacon’s own parish.
“A lot of people see the deacon at the altar or know he visits the home bound,” he said in an interview last week. He said he wants people to know deacons and their spouses are involved in a wide range of ministries including participating in mission trips to Eastern Kentucky; conducting Communion services at nursing homes; ministering to those in prison; serving as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused or neglected children; volunteering at hospitals; and hosting Bible studies.
He noted that deacons have always been involved in charitable acts but now the program is “taking it to the next level.”
Bush said he and his classmates have learned that a deacon is a bridge between the altar and the world.
“We are learning to minister at the table of the word through academics, but also to live in service at the table of charity,” he said.
The success of the movie nights at St. Vincent de Paul led the group to expand the ministry to Wayside Christian Mission. The group held the first movie night at that location a few weeks ago and more than 100 men and women attended.
Mike Fitzmayer, also a member of the 2016 class, said the mission of the diaconate is service, especially to the poor and forgotten.
“The men at St. Vincent de Paul have very little for themselves,” he said. “We reach out to these individuals and hopefully make their evenings a little special.”
Deacon Wright challenged the men in formation to step outside their comfort zones when choosing a ministry outside their parish.
“In moving beyond it, they realize it’s not them doing it, that God is working through them. … They find out ‘they’ (the homeless) are persons like you and me. The key is to create a relationship,” Deacon Wright said.
When he started working with the homeless men at St. Vincent de Paul, Fitzmayer said he was a bit out of his element.
“I was not aware of what these guys go through. After talking with them and getting to know them, I am now very comfortable with them,” he said.
Fitzmayer said that just being present makes a difference to the homeless men he encounters.
“Most of the time the guys just want someone to listen to their story. Is that not what Jesus did in his ministry?” he said.
The diaconate class is also using the monthly movie night to distribute fall and winter clothing items. This came as a direct result of listening to what the men said they needed, Deacon Wright said.
For those who wish to donate items, many parishes will have collection points. If there isn’t one, Bush said to ask the parish deacon. Clothing items that are needed are men’s sweaters, hats, gloves and socks. All donations should be donated by Nov. 3.