Barbara and Deacon Stephen Barringer. Photo courtesy of the Barringers

Wives are an integral part of a deacon’s ministry

By 
  • September 18, 2012

TORONTO - When Barbara and Stephen Barringer decided to announce to their children that he would be working towards becoming a deacon, their son’s immediate comment was, “Oh wonderful. Dad’s always been great at preaching and now they’re going to give him a licence!”

As Barringer laughingly recounts this story, it can’t help but be reflective of one of the most essential components of the deacon’s calling: his family. As the old adage says, behind every good man is a good woman — and this could not be more true than when applied to the role of the deacon’s wife in his ministry.

Since one of the elements of admission into the permanent diaconate is the written consent of his spouse, the deacon’s wife is not only a supporting role, but also a critical element of his fulfilment of ministry. The wives experience can be just as epiphanic as their spouse’s, as they discern whether this is the right path not just for the deacon, but for themselves and their families.

“The calling kept coming,” said Jean Doucette of her husband Bob when he first experienced a desire to enter into the ministry.

“When he retired, it came as a very serious consideration. It was discussed together because we had always wanted to work together for the Lord.”

Since then, Jean has been able to fulfill her own call to service through her husband’s work at Penetanguishene, Ont.’s Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

“It’s very rewarding — it’s a huge blessing. The staff, the patients, everyone is very special,” she said.

For some, the call to service is not such a smooth transition, as Barbara Barringer initially experienced when Stephen, ordained in 1994, first told her that he wanted to become a deacon.

“When Stephen first started talking about experiencing this call to vocation, I prayed really, really hard, and, I prayed that it would go away,” said Barringer.

“I realized that it would mean a lot of changes, and I don’t deal well with change — I need to come at change kind of slowly. So, I did pray that this was just something that he had taken a notion of and in a little while it would go away. But, it didn’t. We spent about a year talking about it and praying about it, together and separately, before he began to explore it.”

After what Barringer says were two long years of prayer and discernment, she finally came around to the idea.

“I said, ‘Fine, if this is something you really want to pursue, then let’s go for it.’ ”

Throughout the formation process, Barringer says that the wife’s role was extremely engaging, and actually, quite liberating, as she was able to attend all the meetings and classes. From there, her fears or apprehensions evaporated as it became clearshe would be involved every step of the way. Since then, Barringer has been extensively involved at her parish as CWL president and assists her husband in his work with the parish priest.

The diaconate has come a long way since its initial formation, a fact Jean Murphy, whose husband Daniel was ordained in 1974 as part of the first class, can attest to.

“It was different then. When they first started, I don’t think anybody quite knew how they were going to train them or what they were going to do,” laughs Murphy. “The first year was a year of discovery for everybody.”

Many of the challenges presented by the new program were overcome by a deep sense of community and involvement by the new deacons and their families.

“With the wives, we brought our families down with a pot luck supper every Sunday,” said Murphy. “So, the kids got to know each other and someone was there to monitor them.”

These strong ties within the diaconate community have been perpetuated through the years. Almost all of the areas within the archdiocese independently organize monthly gatherings for the deacons and their wives.

“We’re very fortunate. Where we are, the deacon’s wives meet once a month. Barrie, Orillia and Midland (roughly those areas), have a Mass and a luncheon,” said Doucette, whose community has been noted as a positive example for such gatherings.

“We take turns going to (various parishes) and, what’s really great about it, is it includes the widows of deacons. It allows them a continued support by the diaconate group.”

Going forward, the diaconate will always be hoping for more men and their families to actualize the call to the diaconate.

“It has to be as a couple,” notes Murphy. “That they are supportive of each other’s strengths — that she would support him in his ministry and time expectations, and he would respect the fact that she can be as involved as she wants to be or she can do her own thing. It’s teamwork.”

Besides the fulfilment of the ministry, deacons and their wives can have a positive effect on their relationships and families as well.

“(Our children) helped in the discernment,” said Barringer. “Our son was the one who said to me, towards the end of that third year, ‘You know Mom, Dad in fact talks a lot less and listens a lot more.’ So, he saw that change. A peace came into the family dynamic which was terrific.”

The deacon’s wife reflects not only a call to service, but a life-long connection to their community.

“In the diaconate community itself, it’s a very loving, supporting community,” said Doucette. “I can’t say one particular moment, but each person has been such a gift from God.”

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