Friday, December 06, 2013

Sugar cookies, deacons & forgiveness

I'm in awe of people like Fred Steinbach, who upon retirement begin preparing for a second career rather than polishing up a golf game or composing a "bucket list" of generally inconsequential things to do before death sets in. 

So it will be especially meaningful to be at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Des Moines on Saturday when Fred and three others are ordained as deacons in The Episcopal Church after years of formal study and on-the-job training. The service begins at 1 p.m. at the cathedral, 815 High Street downtown, and all are welcome. Reception follows.

I've been baking cookies for the reception, which seems a little odd --- cookies for the cathedral --- but the home parishes of those being ordained have divvied up responsibility for the 21st century equivalent of loaves and fishes --- and St. Andrew's chose dessert. 

My cookie repertoire is limited; not a big fan of fancy ones --- or of chocolate chips. So it's basic sugar with a dozen or so of the peanut butter variety thrown in for good measure. Here's my mother's basic sugar cookie recipe --- and I'm sticking with it. No gloppy frosting or holiday sparkles, please:

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg slightly beaten
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar; add the egg and vanilla and mix; then mix in the sifted dry ingredients. Form into balls, dip into sugar, place on cookie sheet and flatten with a fork. Bake about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. All done.


Fred and the others ordained Saturday will be "transitional" deacons. That implies that if all goes well they will be ordained as Episcopal priests after at least six months, most likely within a year. Three are women; Fred, the lone male.

They're widely scattered, some in other states at the moment, and don't really know each other. Which is why the women, at some point, decided Fred's name was Brian --- and kept calling him that in forgetful moments. This is one of the reasons why I have at times referred to them as the queens of heaven, but now repent.

Deacons form a clerical order in the Episcopal/Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and some other traditions. It is not a lay position, so after Saturday, you can refer to Fred as the Rev. Mr. Steinbach.

Episcopal priests generally are ordained transitional deacons first, but many deacons choose to be deacons and have no aspirations toward the priesthood. Most work in partnership with a priest or priests but any diocese worth its salt has an attached deacon or two who reports to the bishop. 

Among their missions are to proclaim the Gospel, which is why deacons often preach; to assist in administering the Eucharist; and to serve the parish, the community, the poor and the outcast in many ways.


Much has been written about Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95. His life and example provided brilliant lessons in the place forgiveness and reconciliation can play in human relations --- and the most significant phase of his career began at age 71 when he was released from prison. There's a lot of hope there for all of us, blessed be.

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