The word “deacon” is derived from “diakonia'', a Greek word which means “to serve”. Deacons are members of the clergy along with priests and bishops. The deacon’s ministry has three dimensions: liturgy, word and service. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ,who came "to serve and not to be served."
This column will focus on the service of the Deacons in the Diocese of Norwich.
The Norwich Diocese Diaconate community has a history of donating a house to a needy family in Haiti as an annual group charitable gift. These houses are not the kind and size of the houses we are accustomed to. In the mountainous regions of Haiti much of the population live in huts constructed with local vegetation and scrap construction materials.
The Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), headquartered in Norwich, has a program to build sturdy one-room dwellings they call a 'Happy House.' A Happy House has a concrete floor, cement block walls and a secure metal roof. Some of our deacons who were doing volunteer work with HHF suggested to our diaconate community that we might take on a group project, donating enough funds to build a Happy House. It cost $850 to construct a Happy House at that time. We have done it as a project each year since then.
In his pastoral letter, “Diakonia: Instrument of God’s Own Charity,” Bishop Cote emphasized the role of charity in the ministry of a deacon. "In his threefold ministry of Word, liturgy, and charity, the deacon's distinctive call is to works of charity."
He then quoted Archbishop Robert Carlson: "Only when the deacon combines his service at the altar of the Eucharist with his service to the needy of the world, only when he becomes a 'bridge' linking the sacrament of charity with the concrete practice of charity does he become a 'living icon' of Christ the servant."
While our deacons perform many individual acts of charity, this particular act of group giving appealed to us on multiple levels. At each of our annual convocations the deacons enthusiastically endorsed renewing this project. But the cost of this project has steadily risen each year.
By 2016, the cost had risen to $1,250. In 2017 we switched to a $1,900 'Happier House,' which added a solar panel for lighting, a composting toilet, a rainwater collection system and a water purification system. In 2020 the Happier House cost $2,500. Every year we have been able to fund the house and give the surplus of our donations to HHF to use where they felt the most need.
In 2019 HHF suggested we use part of our surplus donations to participate in their 'Give-A-Goat' program. Give-A-Goat distributes pregnant goats to the most at-risk families in rural mountain villages. Recipients breed the goats to develop a herd, using the offspring to help pay for food, rent, medicine or education.
Goats are hardy animals, adaptable to Haiti's rough, mountainous terrain, and can graze on poor, dry land unsuitable for other livestock. In 2019 we donated for two goats and in 2020 we donated for six goats, with the remaining donations able to fund a Happy House.
As we prepared to launch our 2021 project at our November convocation, we discovered that conditions in Haiti made it impossible to build a Happy House. The huge earthquake on Aug. 14, 2021, followed two days later by Tropical Storm Grace, had damaged and destroyed so much of the infrastructure, including roads and bridges, that it was not possible to get the building supplies to the areas where HHF is building houses.
Wishing to continue our annual project to help Haiti, we decided to devote our entire donation to Give-A-Goat. We were able to fund 19 goats – and that is how the Norwich Diaconate community went from housing construction to animal husbandry.
Completing this project each year vividly heightens our awareness that many people in the world have so very little of what we consider the basic necessities. It is a gift to us to be able to provide them with such essentials. In addition to our material gifts we pray for their safety and success. We also pray for the success of HHF and our Norwich Diocese mission in Haiti and our diocesan Outreach to Haiti ministry.
By Deacon Lawrence Goodwin