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Deacons fill role of church handymen
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Pleasant Hill Baptist Church deacons, from left, Benny Fields, Jesse Lovell, Paul Currie, Mike Garner, Chris Sexton and Stanley Black, discuss visiting families in need. - photo by Tom Reed

A deacon in the Christian church serves as a steward to both God and the church.

But then there's other duties, such as visiting families during trying times, volunteering at the church, praying for members and assisting the pastor.

And they have been serving the church in this way for more than 1,000 years.

"Acts 6 tells the church to look out among them and pick seven men ... full of wisdom," said the Rev. Gerald Atkins, pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church on Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.

Atkins explained that in Acts 6 there were women of the church who were widows and felt like they were being overlooked.

"It was causing a problem in the church so this (a deacon) was God's answer to that," he said.

Acts 6 is the first mention of deacons in the Bible, and it also details how they should be chosen for the church. Although, the word deacon was not referred to until 1 Timothy 3.

Atkins said there are three major reasons why deacons are a necessary part of the church.

"No. 1, it meets the need. No. 2, it promotes unity in the body and (No.) 3, it freed the hands of the apostles to do the preparations for the word of God," he said.

"We know the role of deacon is a role model; you don't ask just anybody to be a deacon. It has to be somebody who is truly spiritual. ... They are mature, they are respected and when they speak people really listen."

The role of a deacon at Pleasant Hill is very important, which shows in the number of deacons at the church. There are 18 active deacons, according to Mike Garner, chairman of the deacons.

"There are several more looking to come on board," said Garner, who said the church just ordained four deacons last week. "It's a calling by God I believe, having the love for the people, desire to serve God and seeing a church grow and what God has called the church to be."

One of the most powerful roles the deacon body serves in the Baptist church is ministering to church families. The deacon's goal is to be the first spiritual contact to their assigned family, Garner said.

Atkins said each deacon is assigned between eight and 12 families who they will minister to and help in a time of need.

Many Christian denominations select and elect deacons in different ways, but at Pleasant Hill the church body elects the deacons.

"This past election we contacted eligible male members of our church and of the ones who met the criteria ... those men we had an opportunity to go a little further," Garner said. "These men were all found credible and in accordance with the church constitution and bylaws."

Garner also said some churches enact term limits, but not at Pleasant Hill, where deacons can choose to remain in active service or become inactive.

"They are all servants, whatever the denomination," Atkins said. "The dominating force in their life should not be money. They have the right view on how to handle finances, they are a servant and steward of God. A family man who is raising his family in a godly way."

The role continues in other churches and denominations, Atkins said, even called by the same name.

"In Southern Baptist life the role of the deacon and definition of the deacon is pretty much consistent," he said. "But if you were to go into another church ... you would even have the same name in some denominations."

In the Catholic, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, for example, the deacon is ordained or certified in some way.

Although, in the Methodist church, deacons fill another role entirely.

"In the United Methodist Church the deacon is an ordained clergy person ... typically in charge of service or a position linked with service," said the Rev. Paige Bennett, who is the pastor at Chicopee United Methodist Church. "They are teachers but not preachers."

Bennett said deacons in the Methodist church would have titles like associate pastor of pastoral care, music director or children's pastor.

"I grew up in the Baptist church and as an adult I am in the Methodist church and the roles are different," Bennett said.

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