Deacon Laurel Retires
by Jim Hart
Three “P” words describe well the lifetime of The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon: Persistence, Presence and Patience.
Laurel’s Persistence at following God’s call to service kept her alert to opportunities when they appeared. God’s Patience with her while the phases of her life eventually offered opportunities for service. God’s gift of Presence enabled Laurel to connect with people to serve God through those connections.
“When I was a teen-ager,” Laurel said, “I felt a real call to the altar, but girls couldn’t be acolytes then.” So she sat in the pews each Sunday and watched as boys served God at the altar with the priest.
But the divine magnet kept drawing her toward the altar. When she was of age to have a driver’s license, she drove the family car each Thursday to attend an early-morning communion service before going to school.
During her first marriage, she attended an Episcopal church in North Seattle for 18 years, but never was asked to serve at the altar. At age 44 she moved from Seattle to Boring, where the call to serve became undeniable.
”That’s when I felt with more conviction that I needed to go to work for God,” she said, “but I didn’t know what that meant.”
While attending Holy Cross Episcopal church, a bilingual congregation in Boring, one of the members sought volunteers to become Lay Eucharistic Ministers. Laurel quickly volunteered and started training to participate in liturgy.
“But even then,” she said, “I still felt like there was something more that God was calling me to do.”
After reading a book, “The Servant Church,” she realized that being a deacon would not be a good way to support her second marriage. God’s call was postponed again; but God has patience. A few years later, her second husband decided that his lifetime call was to get in his boat, set sail and plot a southerly course. Laurel was left with tears and time to plan the rest of her life.
God’s Holy Spirit was active at that time in the lives of Laurel and Jim Hart, who proposed marriage on their first date. Laurel accepted the proposal three days later on their second date.
But, at that point in her life, Laurel wanted to be certain that her third spouse would not walk away when he discovered that she was on a path to becoming very active in her church. She was all smiles when Jim promised, “where you go, I will go.”
Jim’s 40-year background in Catholic churches was very active, especially in reading Scripture to large congregations and serving as a Eucharistic minister.
St. Luke’s was the church the newly married couple chose to attend nearly 23 years ago, especially after Jim attended his first worship service at St. Luke’s and was heartily welcomed. “What I didn’t know,” he said, “is: I’ve been an Episcopalian all my life, but worshiping in Catholic churches.”
Laurel began five years of concentrated preparation, education and training before ordination and making a lifetime vow to serve God and the Episcopal church as a deacon.
Her training included three years Education for Ministry and an additional year of classes when the diocese opened its new Academy to educate postulants for Holy Orders and Lay persons.
Laurel said that during the training she learned she didn’t have to be the head “worker bee” in all ministries. Instead, her task is to help others find places where they can use their gifts to minister to people in need.
Laurel says God’s most important gift to her is in being present to people. She so easily understands the concerns of others and draws them into a deeper understanding of themselves. That gift allows her to speak in a way that gives people courage to look beyond current challenges and see hope for the future.
Jim saw her gift of being present for people in the early stages of their marriage when they were members of a handbell choir that visited the women’s prison near Wilsonville. At one point during the visit, each choir member sat next to an inmate and began to get acquainted. Jim said he looked across the room and saw Laurel. “It was so obvious, “ he said, “that the inmate had complete trust in Laurel and that she was deeply involved in supporting the woman in her emotional pain.
Following God’s call, Laurel also volunteers as a chaplain at a local hospital — a position that draws even more deeply on her reservoir of compassion for the sick, the elderly and the dying.
Her volunteer time at the hospital and as a Hospice visitor, have been in addition to encouraging members of St. Luke’s church to use their God-given gifts to help others.
Laurel says what she remembers most from her work at St. Luke’s is preaching about her awakening knowledge of the long-term impact of racism. She was influenced by Katrina Brown’s documentary film “Traces of the Trade,” exposing the history of U.S. slave trading. Laurel and St. Luke’s Rector, Sara Cosca-Warfield, participated with other church members in “Sacred Ground,” an anti-racism program which Brown and two others created for the National Episcopal Church.
FYI: Laurel is not retiring from her lifetime vow to the diaconate. She is just retiring from her position as a deacon, and must break away for a significant time from any connection or knowledge of St. Luke’s and its members.