Elaine Parrent wears her deaconess scarf at OKC-St. John’s
By Holly McCray
New deaconess Elaine Parrent is legally blind. Because of her visual impairment, she cannot drive. She always enlarges text on a computer screen. Indistinct shifts in floor surfaces may cause her to fall.
But she clearly sees God’s purpose for her life.
She was commissioned as a United Methodist deaconess—a specialized laity role—in St. Louis, Mo., on April 29, in a ceremony piggybacked with the global Assembly of United Methodist Women (UMW). Side by side, Parrent and Kathy Caldron walked in the processional and assisted in serving Communion. Caldron is Oklahoma Conference UMW president; Parrent serves in that role for South OKC District.
Other Oklahoma UMW members were in the St. Louis audience of 1,600 people.
"Here’s this church full of people. My sister from Kansas was there. And, of course, I can’t see past the first row," Parrent said.
But she could feel her goosebumps.
"It was a very humbling experience. All these people were coming through, and they were speaking to me. They were thanking me for doing this! It was so affirming."
Today Parrent continues her work as church business administrator at OKC-St. John’s, her employer since 2003. She views her work career differently due to her study and training as a deaconess. It’s more than a job; it’s her mission.
Her faith journey has not always been so focused.
When she began attending St. John’s in 1995, she volunteered for kitchen duty. "That’s where I always went when I worked for any organization," she said. "I was comfortable there. My vision was my excuse to not do (more).
"But there had always been this ache. It’s hard to put into words."
Parrent holds college degrees in mathematics and psychology. She supervised in an accounting office for 12 years. At St. John’s, she began to expand her volunteerism, including office tasks.
Ed Dexter was appointed as pastor. He emphasized mission "outside the building," she said. And her view of God began to blur. Parrent said, "It was the natural progression of learning what the ache was about: mission. And having somebody verbalize it.
"(Ed) said God is someone you can be a friend with. And I went Huh? In my perception, God was this huge man, up in the sky, beating down on you."
Dexter’s teaching was transforming.
"My eyes were never the problem. My attitude was," summed up Parrent. "I used (my vision) as an excuse instead of letting myself see what I could do."
At St. John’s, "the people were so hospitable, so loving. With the church body allowing me to do whatever I felt like I could, I grew out of that visually-impared excuse mode and became much more mission-oriented."
Her mission knowledge "increased so much" by her participation in UMW and the annual School of Christian Mission.
In 2007, UM deaconess Susan Hunt spoke to the St. John’s UMW members "about deaconesses, of which I’d never heard," Parrent said. "I went home and went to the website. It just made sense to me."
The formal path to becoming a deaconess begins with discernment and includes five core studies: Church history, polity, doctrine, the Testaments, and theology of mission.
Parrent traveled to New York City and Nashville; she read a lot. She expressed deep thanks for the support she receives from her home church.
Most deaconesses work in secular roles—inner-city schools, health care, rural communities—rather than as church staff. Parrent relishes the variety of mission connections at St. John’s. Among them: a daycare, quilters guild, Financial Peace University, Girl Scouts, food pantry, and New Journey fellowship.
Her duties at the church continue, but as a deaconess she now sees all her life in new ways. "It’s a learning experience in the whole faith journey, of different ways to look at things, interpret, and understand from people outside my little niche," she said.
"The business part of me won’t let me just sit. I’m still learning."
Parrent is one of three deaconesses in the Oklahoma Conference. Pat Hoerth serves at Turtle Rock Farm, a retreat center in northern Oklahoma, and Nancy VanAntwerp directs Reach Our City, providing health care in Oklahoma City.