"I wish to promote the vocation of deacon for the Diocese of North Dakota."
With these words, spoken shortly after his consecration as 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota in May 2004, the Rt. Rev. Michael Smith set the wheels in motion for a North Dakota School of Ministry. The school's first class of deacons will be ordained this summer.
Smith began developing this school by putting out a call for discernment to all congregations in the diocese. Each congregation was asked to look long and hard at itself and, after prayer and reflection, to recognize and raise up people for training to serve as deacons.
The response was better than anything Smith expected.
"Originally I thought perhaps 20 would sign up, and at best 10 would be ordained as deacons," Smith said.
In September 2005, 31 individuals, representing 11 congregations across the diocese, started the deacon discernment process.
"We were strangers, ranging in age from 22 to 82," said Bonnie McNaughton of the Church of the Advent in Devils Lake. "Our professions and backgrounds were as varied as the color of our skin."
Over the next two years, the candidates met every two months at Sacred Heart Monastery near Richardton. There they took courses that were canonically required, including reading various textbooks, taking tests and quizzes and listening to guest lecturers. Several deacons and priests from the diocese also participated in the training weekend as mentors and spiritual leaders.
Now the School of Ministry in North Dakota will begin bearing its first fruits. On June 8, Beth Lipp and Zane Ness will be ordained at St. George's Church, Bismarck.
The following morning, Angela Goodhouse, Brandon Maui, Terry Star and Delores Walters will be ordained at St. Luke's Church in Fort Yates.
On June 22, Mike Hall, Linda Liebert-Hall, Bonnie McNaughton, Terry Overbo, Crystal Towers and Charlotte Robbins will be ordained at Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo.
The next morning, Barbara Olson, Gadi Edward and Zechariah Reng will be ordained at Gethsemane Cathedral for their ministry at the Church of St. John the Divine in Moorhead.
On June 30, Donald Leroux, Elsie Magnus and Arthur Raymond will be ordained at St. Paul's Church in Grand Forks.
As they begin ministry in their various parishes, they do so with fond memories of their time together in formation and training.
"We have bonded," McNaughton said. "And have become a close community of Christian servants who are about to begin our service in the 'real world'"