A column by
Lin Von Dreele
highlighting interesting people and events in the
Episcopal Church
of the Holy Spirit,
Mars Hill,
North Carolina

January, 2015




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Our New Deacon Is Coming!

It was a sunshiny December Thursday, and I was in Weaverville drinking iced tea at the Well-Bred Bakery, while reading my book and glancing up each time the door opened. I was at the bakery for the purpose of meeting Holy Spirit Church's new deacon.

Then a man walked through the front door, and I knew immediately he was Michael Ashmore. Sitting down at my table with his coffee, Michael blurted out, "I feel I've won the lottery!" That was only the first time — not the last — that he expressed his pleasure over being called to be our deacon.

First impressions: I saw in front of me a broad-shouldered, fifty-six-year-old man exuding good humor and an energizing love of life. Laughter comes easily to him, yet in our later conversation he quickly became focused and serious when topics took a turn in that direction.

Like all deacons, Michael receives no compensation from the church where he is assigned. To support himself, he works as the Communications Director for DCI Donor Services, an organ and tissue procurement organization based in Nashville. It serves Tennessee, California, and New Mexico, which means Michael travels a good deal. He is currently working on a video project showing the impact of organ donation on the lives of both donors and recipients. Says Michael, "Receiving new life through a donation or providing new life to a recipient is a sacred act."

Michael is a Southerner, born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, although his father's work transfers took the family to Maine and Georgia and back again to settle in Greenville. He's had an eclectic Christian journey, testing out several Protestant branches as well as Roman Catholicism. His father was a Baptist, his mother a United Methodist. In his early twenties Michael was confirmed as a Catholic and played the organ at a Lutheran church. He graduated from Chapman University with a double major in psychology and sociology. Michael found his way to the Episcopal Church while living in Columbia, South Carolina.

Then he moved to California in the early 1990s, where he met his partner, Patrick Colunga. Michael became active in his congregation in Sacramento. He had felt for a long time that he would find his calling in the church, so he approached the bishop in Northern California about beginning the process toward ordination. But the bishop told Michael he would not ordain a partnered gay person.

The bishop insisted Michael wait until the National Church officially approved that ordination. Michael's frustration drove him to find his own way. He became a lay chaplain at a homeless day center where this momentous event changed his life: He was visiting with a group of homeless men just before their meal at the shelter. Among the men was a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. The man was not only helpless, he was filthy and smelly. The other men and Michael took him into the bathroom, and while the men held him up to the sink, Michael washed the man's hands. Michael reflected, "I knew I was washing the hands of Jesus."

Years later, Michael wrote the bishop to say how grateful he was for this experience of service, in which he found compassion for the marginalized. The bishop wrote back to Michael, apologizing for his stance on gay ordination and confessing that he had changed his mind. You might interpret the bishop's "no" as God's way of preparing both men for deeper ministry.

Fast forward to the twelve years Michael and Patrick have been in Asheville. St. Mary's had become Michael's church home. There he has served with our own O.C. Edwards, who conducts services at St. Mary's on Tuesday evenings.
Michael went through the discernment process at St. Mary's and will be ordained at All Souls Cathedral Saturday, January 10, 11:00am. The next day, his fifty-sixth birthday, he will preach at St. Mary's. The following Sunday, January 18, Michael begins his ministry at Holy Spirit Church.

Michael visited Holy Spirit incognito several Sundays ago. Walking in, he experienced peace and comfort. He found the gentleness of the service to be a beautiful expression of the liturgy. Carolyn Ogburn's playing impressed him as full of care and reverence for the music. The spirit of tenderness was evident to him.

Michael is eager to do "whatever is needed" and to be a part of our faith family. He and David will work out the areas in which Michael's gifts can be best utilized.

At the end of our interview that sunny Thursday in Weaverville, Michael repeated his pleasure and feeling of good fortune to be called as our deacon.

Quite likely it is the parish of Holy Spirit Church that has won the lottery.

—Lin Von Dreele