Deacons: How They Serve (Part 3)

Following is an educational piece and final installment of a three-part series offered by Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld on the role of Deacons in this synod and in God’s church.

Deacons offer a ministry of Word and Service, sharing the hope of Christ, helping where there is need, and equipping others for healing and justice in the world. Deacons are spiritual lay leaders of local, synodical and churchwide contexts.  They hold a theological masters degree and training or degree work in a professionally focused area. Diaconal ministers serve under call through agencies, institutions, synod councils, and traditional church programs. Whatever the particular role or context, deacons are responsible for some form of service ministry.  The biblical basis of the diaconate is rooted in Jesus’ emphasis on service and ministry of relief to the poor, care for the sick, and justice for the oppressed.  This servant ministry was of great importance in Hebrew culture and practice.

Some proclaim the Word through preaching and teaching in congregations.  In addition to modeling Christian faith at work, many have a stated responsibility to empower, equip and encourage others like themselves to be the church in mission, living out their own daily baptismal vocation of service to the neighbor and care of creation “This last responsibility of deacons, to empower and equip others, is a keystone for the emerging ministry of deacons of the ELCA. Whatever their particular role or context – whether deeply engaged in proclamation and service in non-ecclesial contexts or serving in congregational or other “church” settings – every deacon of the ELCA has a two-fold focus to serve the neighbor and to empower, equip and encourage the people of God for their daily baptismal vocation of service to the neighbor and care of creation. This ministry is understood to be distinct from, alongside, and in mutual complementarity with the ministries of pastors of the ELCA.”

Deacons are persons who have answered the call to stand on the front line as spiritual leaders in the church, modeling for others the necessity and the dignity of laity in ministry.  Deacons in this synod do exactly that – they model what it means to answer the call of God to servant ministry in this church.  They witness to that sending with which we leave worship; they go out to serve the Lord!

Do you know a Deacon?  How does that person serve?  For example, our synod is served by the ministry of Deacon, Vicki Hanrahan, leading our equipping ministry.  Triangle Ministry is served by Deacon Judy Nolde, Chaplain and Deacon Meg Nielson, Outreach Development Manager.  Bethel Lutheran Church (Madison) is served by Lisa Huber, Director of Pastoral Ministries.  First Lutheran Church (Janesville) is served by Deacon Peg Haeger, Ministry Associate to name a few.  Other deacons have served as parish nurses or faith formation coordinators.   Might your congregation be well served by the ministry of a deacon?  As we walk into the future, remember there are two ministry rosters in our church – Ministers of Word and Service and Ministers of Word and Sacrament.  Deacons serve alongside Pastors as valued co-workers in a ministry team.  Do you need someone to walk with your congregation in ministry?  Might you be well served by considering calling a deacon?

Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld


Deacons Part 1
Deacons Part 2
Deacons Part 3


Deacons: ELCA Constitution Addresses Ministry of Word and Service (Part 2)

Following is an educational piece and part two of a three-part series offered by Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld on the role of Deacons in this synod and in God’s church.

Part 2 – Deacons in SCSW: ELCA Constitution Addresses Ministry of Word and Service

There are 12 pages in the ELCA Constitution that address the Ministry of Word and Service, pages 42-54 specifically.  In an effort to assist us in understanding more about our deacons, I want to call you attention to the sections of the ELCA Constitution printed below.  (You may access the ELCA Constitution at )

7.51.  This church calls and receives onto the roster qualified persons to provide a ministry of Word and Service, exemplifying the life of Christ-like service to all persons and creation: nurturing, healing, leading, advocating dignity and justice, and equipping the whole people of God for their life of witness and service within and beyond the congregation for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

7.61.02.  Responsibilities. Consistent with the faith and practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, every minister of Word and Service shall:

  1. be rooted in the Word of God, for proclamation and service;
  2. advocate a prophetic diakonia that commits itself to risk-taking and innovative service on the frontiers of the Church’s outreach, giving particular attention to the suffering places in God’s world;
  3. speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world, witnessing to the realm of God in the community, the nation, and abroad;
  4. equip the baptized for ministry in God’s world that affirms the gifts of all people;
  5. encourage mutual relationships that invite participation and accompaniment of others in God’s mission;
  6. practice stewardship that respects God’s gift of time, talents, and resources;
  7. be grounded in a gathered community for ongoing diaconal formation;
  8. share knowledge of the ELCA and its wider ministry of the gospel, and advocate for the work of all expressions of this church; and
  9. identify and encourage qualified persons to prepare for ministry of the gospel.

WOW.  Did you know all that?  Deacons have a valuable ministry in this church.  Deacons serve alongside pastors.  Note that, for the most part, deacons are not responsible for what I call the A, B, C’s of ministry – Absolution, Baptism and Consecration of Eucharist. This means deacons do not preside at Holy Communion or Holy Baptism or pronounce absolution at Confession.

Can you see why the ministry of deacons can be valuable in congregations, agencies, synods, and our churchwide organization?

More next time.

Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld

Deacons Part 1
Deacons Part 2
Deacons Part 3

Deacons: An Introduction to Ministers of Word and Service (Part 1)


Photo credit: Ken Harris, St. Paul’s LC, Beloit

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


Deacons Part 1
Deacons Part 2
Deacons Part 3