The Rev. Jonathan Ross likes to tell people “there are more deacons out there, we’ve just got to find them.” Ross, who was ordained in September, was a prime example of a “deacon waiting to be found.”
Ross works with victims of child abuse and neglect as a Family Services Worker for the Vermont Department of Children and Families Family Services Division. “I believe my vocation very much reflects … stepping out into the margins and doing the work of our faith,” he says. “I’ve always found myself in a helping role in any employment. I’m always in a role where I’m able to meet others where they are. And a lot of times when I’m meeting folks, they’re at some pretty low points and some pretty rough places. So that’s really been my bread and butter and what I find fulfilling in life.”
During the process of discerning a call to ordained ministry, Ross was able to connect the dots between his professional work and his vocation within the church. While most people in the ordination process complete a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a placement such as a hospital or prison, Ross was able to draw on his everyday professional experiences to think theologically about his pastoral work.
Not only did this solution meet Ross’s formational needs, it provided a realistic way for a young person with work and family responsibilities to meet the requirements of ordination. “In addition to a full-time job, I also have a family,” Ross says. “I have a three-year-old daughter and so with all of that, traditional CPE was not attainable for me.”
The Rev. David Hamilton, appointed canon for vocations by Bishop Tom Ely in 2016, helped structure the program, which required Ross to write reflections about his experiences. The Rev. John Perry of St. John the Baptist in Hardwick, where Ross was interning, served as his supervisor, providing support and feedback.
“I already felt that I was living into a calling … and this gave me a lot of time to pause, reflect and think theologically on some of the situations that I was put into, just in the line of work that I do,” Ross says. “It definitely gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for how pastoral this work can be, even though it’s in a secular state institution.”
Ross recently worked on the “removal” of a boy who could no longer stay in his home. “And he wanted to bring his Bible with him,” Ross says. “So, talk about God opening up a door. He was saying ‘I want to be close to God during this time,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s have a chat my friend. God is with you, absolutely.’”
Ross will continue his full-time work with DCF as he begins a new role as deacon at. St. Andrew’s in St. Johnsbury. He joined St. Andrew’s on Palm Sunday, and dove right into spending Holy Week with the community. “I’m excited about the opportunity to get to understand the passion and the drive of the ministries of St. Andrew’s,” he says. “They’ve done a good job of staying connected through this pandemic, which is important to them and to the community, and I think there are definitely opportunities for St. Andrew’s to continue to be a resource and a vibrant active part of that community.”
Ross is eager to encourage those feeling a call to the diaconate not to let potential time constraints discourage them from exploring the call. Bishop Shannon recently appointed the Rev. Stannard Baker as archdeacon for deacon formation, and he has convened a group of people who are discerning a call to the diaconate and meet regularly online.
“I’ve joined them a few times because I’m fresh out of the process,” Ross says. He also recommends the School for Deacons sponsored by Province 1 of the Episcopal Church, which is conducted remotely but meets in person four times a year. “It’s very accessible for someone who has a full-time job and a kid, and other things going on,” he says.
With these new programs, Ross says, obstacles are being removed on the path to ordination. “I hope I might inspire someone who’s thinking about being a deacon,” he says. “If I can do that, it would be amazing.”