There’s a phrase that Deacon Wayne Norrell uses to answer many questions – “There’s always something to be done.”
He recently celebrated 38 years of being a deacon in Sunray, Texas, at Christ the King, a church that Catholic Extension helped build in 1960 and has supported over the years. He was in the first class of deacons in the Diocese of Amarillo. And when asked why he became a deacon, he said, “There’s always something to be done.”
Sunray is a small community of 2,000, located about 75 miles north of Amarillo. The area’s main industries are oil, gas and agriculture—corn, maize, sunflowers, cotton and soybeans.
Having lived in Sunray since 1947, Deacon Wayne has seen the parish grow from 13 families to now over 100. The parishioners are a mix of 70 percent Hispanics and 30 percent Anglos.
The Sunday Mass at Christ the King is bilingual and, once a month, the church also offers a Spanish Mass on Saturday nights. The parish is served by Father Gabriel García, although Deacon Wayne remembers many years when there was no priest assigned to the rural parish.
So what exactly are the tasks that Deacon Wayne does—the “somethings” that need to be done? “Everything from setting the table to taking out the garbage,” he said.
In between these tasks, he is busy continuously with the parish. As the only deacon for the church, he does a bit of everything. He prepares parishioners for the sacraments: baptism, communion and marriage. Not that he’s a total expert.
“After 38 years of marriage, I’m still learning about marriage every day,” he said. “Just ask my wife.” But he still has plenty to teach.
As the parish continues to grow, there is increasing demand for these services. There are more than 100 children in religious education and 18 are preparing for first Holy Communion.
Deacon Wayne also enjoys preaching. He loves to proclaim the Gospel and find ways to make it meaningful to people’s lives.
He gets calls in the middle of the night to attend to the sick, transport someone to the hospital or pray with people who are struggling. He also helps repair the church when the building falls apart.
Another of his ministries is to build bridges to other Christian churches. Catholics are the minority in this area, but Deacon Wayne has helped the small Catholic population gain acceptance in Sunray by developing strong relationships with the seven other nearby Christian churches. He belongs to the Ministerial Alliance and brings together members of other congregations to discuss common issues and also to preach in each other’s churches.
“The former bishop said that I am the only deacon he knows who has preached in every church in town,” he said with a laugh.
Deacon Wayne is inspired by Pope Francis.
“He is a simple, humble man who knows a lot,” he said. “He teaches us that no matter what one’s ministry is – as a lay person, deacon, priest, religious, bishop or pope – we need to take the mindset of Jesus to serve and not to be served.” And of course he added, “Pope Francis tells us that there is always something to be done, so go do it!”
Deacon Wayne is happy to join the almost 50 deacons in the Diocese of Amarillo in helping out the priests, who are overburdened with work. “Priests are often stressed with too many things to do, too many people who need their attention,” he said. “I want to help take the load off.”
So after all these years, does he plan to retire soon? “Not yet,” he said, “There’s still something to be done.”
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