The Role of the Deacon


Several years ago I heard a story that I shall not soon forget:

A young man, climbing in some rugged, high mountain peaks, came across an eagle’s nest. The nest contained several eggs. He took one and gently carried it back to his home. He then put it with several eggs an old hen was setting over. In due time all of the eggs were hatched, and there came forth the eaglet with the baby chicks. During the next several months the baby eagle grew along with the chicks. He scratched in the barnyard for his food like chickens do. Although he grew to full size, he still never flew. The young man watched the process with great interest. He wanted the eagle to fly. So one day he took the eagle up on top of his house and said, “Thou art an eagle, fly.” But the eagle just flew down to the barnyard and commenced scratching like the chickens. A few days later, long before sunlight, the young lad took the eagle to a lofty crag high among the mountain peaks. Then, as the first streaks of sunlight burst over the mountain range, he said, “Thou art an eagle, fly.” The eagle began to stretch its wings; its eye caught a shaft of sunlight; a sensation swept through it from wing tip to wing tip. The fresh, cool air, the smell of pine trees, and an exhilaration it had never known coursed through the great bird. Its wings spread wider; power swept through its entire frame. It began to lift off the arm of the young man. Soon it was lifting and soaring hundreds of feet above the high peaks. It lifted higher and higher and soared farther and farther into the endless sky. It saw more in an instant than its earthbound chicken companions saw in a lifetime. From that time forth the eagle was never more content to be a barnyard fowl.

Once a deacon has felt the power and exhilaration of truly magnifying his priesthood and lifting to the endless bounds of service, he too will no longer be content to be a barnyard fowl, an ordinary boy. He will want to represent God on the earth and be one of his holy and choice servants.

A deacon “is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.” (D&C 20:60.) “No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church.” (D&C 20:65.)

A deacon’s duties include passing the sacrament, visiting homes of members and receiving fast offerings, providing messenger service for the bishop and his counselors, and home teaching as a junior companion when there are not sufficient priests and teachers. These responsibilities are commonly known by almost every deacon.

The deacon also has other responsibilities that are a little more subtle but vitally important.

Dress Standards: Every deacon is expected to be appropriately attired as he performs his duty. When passing the sacrament he should be dressed conservatively with a dress shirt and tie. Loud or gaudy patterns of dress attract the attention of the Saints and take their minds off the sacred sacramental service. No young man would deliberately violate his priesthood ordination by causing this distraction. His hair length should be such that it does not give a feminine appearance or distract members’ concentration.

When a young man is a messenger for the bishop he should be neat and clean in appearance and be one in whom the bishop could feel justifiable pride. As the deacon visits the homes of members he should be neatly dressed to function in his priesthood assignment. In some few cases the only contact inactive members have with the Church is the monthly visit of a deacon to receive a fast offering contribution. That brief visit may have a powerful influence on our inactive members. Deacons should be neat and clean and their conduct should be dignified with warmth and friendliness. A genuine smile and firm handshake by a young deacon might well cause serious reflections by inactive members. A home teaching assignment ought to be carried out in the same dignified manner. A deacon should always be prepared to bear his testimony to a family should his senior companion invite it.

Conduct: A deacon must conduct himself properly in all things. This is, however, especially true in his conduct at the sacrament table. We have all seen immature deacons who play, make faces, laugh, push other deacons, and in general are very light-minded about this sacred ordinance. Such a young man should be taught that he is violating the sacred trust that the Lord has given him to assist in the ordinance. A deacon should conduct himself following a single standard. We do not have a double standard in the Church. A deacon should refrain from telling dirty stories, reading pornographic material, using profane language, or being abusive or rude. It takes maturity to live the standards, and those deacons who do will find success in the world and great opportunities for service in God’s kingdom.

Worthiness: All of our priesthood assignments should be determined by our worthiness. A deacon should be honest in all of his dealings. The truth must be part of his conduct and expression. Never would he violate this by lying or cheating at home, school, or a place of entertainment. A deacon must be morally clean and pure in thought. He would never violate the Word of Wisdom or be involved in drug abuse. His concern should be to prove himself worthy every day of his life. As he does, growth, development, and success will be his. One of the greatest goals we can have as individuals is to become pure in heart. As we faithfully strive to live worthily, we become pure in heart.

Service: Many years ago I attended a conference with President Marion G. Romney. During the break between sessions of conference, we went for a short walk. One of the things he said to me was, “Brother Featherstone, do you think the brethren of the priesthood will ever come to understand that they were born to serve their fellowmen?” In one sentence he gave me a concept that has been a great motivating factor in my life. I commend it to you.

I earnestly pray that every deacon will come to understand that he was born to serve his fellowmen.

[illustration] Illustrated by Ted Henninger