For nearly a decade, Deacon Liz O’Donnell has guided our pastoral care ministries with compassion and faith. She has worked patiently over that time to serve people it would be easy for us to overlook: our sick, homebound, and hospitalized parishioners. Liz has always understood the sacred importance of what we say as we commission the Eucharistic Visitors each week at the 9 o’clock Eucharist: “we who are many are one body, for we all share one bread, one cup.” Even when people can’t be here with us, they are a part of our church and deserve love and care.
Most of what Liz does you would never even know about: the dozens of phone calls she makes each week to check on people, all the personal visits she makes to homes and hospitals, the coordination of our Eucharistic Visitors and Stephen Ministry, the follow up communication with folks who’ve had surgery or experienced a loss. We are a congregation of 1800 people, and it takes a special kind of servant-leader to pour herself out week after week in order to help everyone know they are remembered and loved.
Liz has decided that she will retire from her role and responsibility as Deacon for Pastoral Care at the end of May. We will hold a celebration of her ministry between services on Sunday, June 4, to honor all the ways she’s blessed the people of our church. I hope you will mark that day down on your calendar. She will then embark on some travel and retreat over the summer, but don’t worry, she’s not leaving us for good. She’ll join the corps of retired clergy who bless our church by their presence and occasional assistance and support.
Liz’s departure will require us to make a transition in how we facilitate our pastoral care. The Vestry has identified as one its 5-year strategic goals that “we will hire another staff person to support pastoral (Compassionate Service, Goal B),” and so we were already considering how to grow our pastoral care ministry at Transfiguration. Over the next four months, we will engage in deliberate discernment about how to build upon all that Liz has done in order to help us go from strength to strength. If you have a heart for servant ministry, I hope you will get in touch, as we will need many people to replace the impact one strong little lady!
Around the time that Liz retires, we will be blessed to welcome a new member of the clergy team: Shea Gilliland. Shea will graduate from Duke Divinity School this May, and come aboard as our new curate in June. Shea is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Dallas, and he will be ordained a transitional deacon this summer, then, God willing, ordained a priest around the end of the year. As a curate, we will help Shea grow into his vocation and learn how to thrive as a priest (what a treasure trove of mentors we have here!), and his responsibilities will likely include support of our worship, welcoming, and outreach ministries. Shea is married to Summer, and they have a one-year-old daughter, Olive. I’ll share more information in coming months about Shea and his family, and how we can support them in their move from North Carolina and transition into Transfiguration.
I give thanks to God for the blessing of knowing and working with Liz, and I give thanks to God for bringing a new servant into our midst even as she steps away. In God’s economy, there is always love enough to do what we are called to do. So pray for our dear friend Liz, and also for Shea and his family, as they all prepare for new chapters in their lives.