Following is an educational piece and part one of a three-part series offered by Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld on the role of Deacons in this synod and in God’s church.
We are blessed to have Deacons in this synod – persons who have answered God’s call to participate in divine mission by engaging in a call to Word and Service. Over the next few issues of What Matters, we will share some information about this roster of dedicated persons who serve the church. With special thanks to Deacon Carol Schikel who wrote Welcome to our Deacons! Wait, what? What’s a Deacon?, let us begin to learn something about this roster of servant leaders from her.
“When the ELCA was formed in 1988 it established three rosters: pastors, deaconesses, and associates in ministry. In 1993 a roster of diaconal ministers was added, and the first were consecrated in 1995. These rostered leaders are called through the ELCA to serve congregations as well as through other officially called ministries. Some on each of the rosters of the ELCA are chaplains, therapists, musicians and cantors, seminary faculty and administrators, social workers and churchwide and synod leaders.
At the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly changes were made to the three rosters of lay leaders. As of January 1, 2017, those who have served on the lay rosters as associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses are now part of one unified roster of ‘Ministers of Word and Service,’ and are called deacons. The other roster of the ELCA continues to be known as “Ministers of Word and Sacrament,’ called pastors.
The ministry of the diaconate, that is of deacons also called ministers of Word and Service is recognized by churches throughout history and around the world. The earliest deacon of the Bible was Stephen. The ELCA continues to seek to honor the significance of deacons serving at the intersection of church and world, bringing a sharper focus to the ways the church responds to the needs of people. Our new roster more closely aligns with the global church, providing clarity and empowerment to those the church calls to serve.” (When the ELCA forming this roster of lay ministry, it also puts us in congruence with our full communion partners: The Episcopal Church, The Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church.)
The word “deacon” means servant, or one who serves. The word is used in a non-gendered way as has become more common in many cases over the last few years. For example, we no longer refer to those who serve in restaurants as waiters and waitresses but rather, whatever their gender, they are servers. Looking at the biblical witness we even see St. Paul in Romans 16:1, state “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” (NRSV)
More next time.
Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld