Posts Tagged ‘What is a Deaconess?’

Risk, Loss, and Gain -or- What I Gained from Losing

I lost my deaconess pin. Again. And I started on a downward spiral of berating myself for losing something so special. Blessedly, before I got too far down, I interrupted myself and was able to reframe the loss in a way that gave me peace.

Don’t get me wrong, the deaconess pin—made of real silver—is very special. I received it as part of the consecration rite in which I officially became a deaconess. Each of us, as deaconess students, look forward to the day when we will get to wear the pin.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples' feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The deaconess pin is an important reminder of our servant-hearted ministry. And wearing the pin is a great conversation starter with folks who don’t know about our ministry, or about the love of Jesus—the source and model of our serving.

But sometimes even important things get lost.

What really turned around my thinking about losing my deaconess pin this time (it is the third pin I’ve lost), was when I paused and remembered the stories of other deaconesses I admire who have lost pins more than once. “I’m in good company,” I told myself.

What’s more, part of why I lost my pin was because I was wearing it a lot. I wore it everyday (and every night) that I went to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the hospital before she died. I wore it everyday that I planned meals for the Tinker family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death and funeral.

I wore it to remind myself that what I was doing was, in fact, ministry. It wasn’t some ground-breaking innovation in church-work, nonetheless it was ministry. It was ordinary, everyday ministry.

So, the clincher for me was the realization that I lost my pin because I was…using it.

It reminded me of my attitude about the “good dishes.” I know some people have the idea that you don’t want to use the good dishes because something might happen to them!

But my thinking is, if I’m never gonna use my good dishes, then why do I have them? What good are they?

Not much, not really.

I mean, sure they can sit there and look pretty. But tucked away in a china cabinet, they’ll be quickly forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. And even their beauty will fade into the background.

They will be safe though.

Of course, my deaconess pin, like the good dishes, was vulnerable by being used so much.

But what good is it if I don’t wear it? It would be safe in one sense, but not wearing it is its own kind of loss.

And you know all those nights I spent with Elaine? I made myself vulnerable by being of service in that way—my sleep was often interrupted, I was away from my husband and son, and I lived out of a couple of bags for 3 1/2 weeks.

Most of all though, by being there with Elaine—by spending so very much time with her—I came to care more and more deeply for her. And while that bond being strengthened was its own reward, it also made me more vulnerable to the pain of losing her.

But I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the finest china. No amount of silver could replace the ways my life was enriched by being there with Elaine in that time.

I took risks with that pin. And I lost it. But what I gained made it all worthwhile.

Why I Love Conferences Even Though I’m an Introvert

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I’m a certified introvert–one of those people that draws energy and strength from time alone to think and process. I’ve taken the Jung Type personality tests numerous times and have flip-flopped on everything else except introversion. With all my need for alone time it always surprises me how much I love conferences. But I do! I’ve been thinking about why and here is what I’ve come up with.

Expanding my world of ideas

A common description of introverts says that we like to spend time in our “inner world of ideas.” And that is very true of me. I can be in a crowd of people and be totally withdrawn into my own thought-world. If someone says my name, I’ll come back to the group. If you need me, you will have my undivided attention. But if you don’t need me right now I’ll just be here in my head.

The thing about a conference is that it feeds this inner world of mine. New ideas from keynotes and workshops get added into my own mix of thoughts. I think pretty good thoughts on my own, but I think even better thoughts when my brain has more tumbling around up there. The talks I go to at conferences energize my introverted self because they give me more to think about.

One-on-one conversations

Another thing about introverts is we tend to be more comfortable interpersonally with one-on-one connections. Having gobs of people together in one place can be a bit overwhelming (see above about withdrawing into my inner world). This in itself can be reason enough for many introverts to avoid conferences altogether.

I don’t let that sea of people scare me away though. Instead, when I go to a conference I like to carve out time for deeper, more intimate, conversations. Sometimes this means talking with my husband about what I’m learning. But oftentimes I find one or two other participants that I can talk with about what we’re thinking about, what life is like these days, or how we’ve been growing in our faith. By nurturing one-on-one connections at a conference, my introvert friendship needs are wonderfully met.

The rule of two feet

Even though my inner-world of ideas and my intimate friendships can be nourished at conferences, there are times when the whole thing gets to be a little too much for me. Sometimes my brain is too full for just one more remix of “let’s all say where we’re from and what we do and who we came with and why we’re here and what we really, really love about being here.” Sometimes I just can’t do another thing with another human being.

When I feel like that I exercise what my Deaconess sisters refer to as “The Rule of Two Feet.” We have this understanding among us at our Deaconess annual meeting that if a given scheduled activity is too much, or if you are just too tired and need a nap and you can’t come to every, every thing it is okay. We trust your “two feet” to take you where you need to be throughout the event. Even though other conferences don’t state an official two-feet rule, I find that my ability to appreciate any conference is enhanced by respecting my two-feet.

True to type?

While it may not make sense on the surface that a confirmed introvert could be so exuberant about a conference, it works for me. In fact, paying attention to my introvert needs is what makes a conference so great for me. I don’t speak for all introverts because their experience could be very different from mine. I’m simply sharing what works for me and why I love conferences.

What about you? How do you feel about conferences? How does your personality influence how you participate in large group events?

A Teacher Who Saw My Heart for Justice

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Today’s tribute is about Mrs. Winegarden who was my 10th grade English teacher. Mrs. Winegarden lost her battle with cancer a number of years ago, but I have held her in my heart all these years.

Mrs. Winegarden required us to keep a journal. She read all the entries as the year went along and commented from time to time. At the end of the year she made a career prediction for each of us and wrote it in our journals.

Mrs. Winegarden’s prediction for me was:

I see you as a zealous ACLU lawyer!

I had written throughout the year about my faith in Jesus, about mountaintop youth group events, and even about my sense that I was called into ministry. I was sure that Mrs. Winegarden would affirm church-related ministry as my vocation. But she didn’t.

When I asked Mrs. Winegarden about it she said that in all my writing throughout the year I frequently wrote about “standing up for the underdog.” She noted that I was outspoken about things like discrimination and respect for all people. She said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if that became a centerpiece in my vocation.

While I still don’t think I’m destined for a legal career, I think she was right in some way.

In that class I wrote a paper about “ageism” and how children are often disrespected or mistreated just because they are young. Even then I was forming my attitudes about the kind of mother I would be. Today, as a mom I favor positive discipline and non-punitive parenting.

In a single journal entry I lamented abortion and capital punishment. Back then I was already forming an ethic that included respect for the unborn as well as dignity for convicted criminals. Nowadays I continue to scratch my head when someone affirms one but not the other.

I wrote in that 10th grade journal about the evils of racism, how bad stereotypes are, and my greatest ambition being to make the world a more loving place. It all sounds so idealistic now, think Jackie DeShannon’s “What the world needs now is love,” but Mrs. Winegarden was right that these types of concerns have been a big part of who I am.

Even in choosing to be a Deaconess, one of the hallmarks of Deaconess ministry is what we refer to as a “bias for the broken.” This means we pay particular attention to what Matthew 25:40 calls “the least of these” or what Mrs. Winegarden referred to as “standing up for the underdog.”

Maybe I’m too much on the fence to be a lawyer battling over rights like the ACLU does. I tend to look for quieter ways to make a difference, even if it is just one person at a time. But it means so much to me that Mrs. Winegarden saw that passion in me back then. I thank God for her insight into my future.

How I Became a Deaconess

20130319-043432.jpgBeginning in my ‘tweens, once a month members of my Lutheran congregation on the hill would lovingly cook a big meal and drive from our little suburb to the big city of Columbus, Ohio. We served the patrons of Faith Mission, a homeless shelter in the inner city. The cooking part was fun, but I especially loved interacting with the patrons and seeing “the hungry” as real people.

During my Junior year of high school that same Lutheran congregation gave me the opportunity to teach a 3rd & 4th grade Sunday school class. I loved opening up God’s Word with them and talking together about it in ways that made it come alive. I particularly remember teaching about Noah and the big flood shortly after our suburb had some major flooding.

I cherished these experiences in my church growing up and as early as middle school, I knew I wanted to be in ministry somehow. I knew I was dearly loved by God and my church family and I wanted to spread that love to others. I wanted to be always a part of what God was doing in and through the church.

I felt called by the Holy Spirit into a life of ministry.

There was only one problem, the only ministry role I knew of was that of pastor. I didn’t want to be a pastor and I didn’t feel that was my calling exactly.

My vision was to study Lutheran theology and church-work on an undergraduate level. Then I would go serve in a congregation.

I wanted to partner with people to reach out beyond the church walls (like I had done at Faith Mission). I wanted to share God’s word with people in Bible classes and informal conversations, encouraging them in their faith.

When it came time to choose a college I looked for something like a theology major or a non-pastor, church-worker study program. The Lutheran colleges I looked at during that time had nothing of the sort.

I drifted for a while, starting college with no clear plan for a major or career path. After my first year of college in Kentucky, I married a pastor and moved to Indiana where he was pastoring his first church.

It was early in our marriage that I found out about the Deaconess program at Valparaiso University, a Lutheran university in Indiana.

In a pamphlet from the Lutheran Deaconess Association I learned that through:

  • theological study,
  • hands-on ministry experiences,
  • and being in community with other Deaconesses and Deaconess students,

I could become a trained church-worker!

The pamphlet also talked about a variety of settings (churches, social service agencies, hospitals, etc) in which a Deaconess could serve. I read that regardless of the setting, the common bond among Deaconesses is a “servant’s heart,” the willingness to love and serve others as Jesus loves and serves us.

The more I read about the Deaconess program, the more I knew this was a fit for me.

Becoming a Deaconess was the perfect blending of everything I felt called to do:

  • Serving God in and through the church,
  • Making a difference even beyond the local congregation,
  • Studying and teaching theology and God’s Word,
  • Not being required to be a pastor to do the above!

There were some logistics involved with being able to enter the Deaconess program, but eventually I got in! Then I got my Lutheran theology major, did my required practical ministry experiences, and lived into the “sisterhood” of Deaconesses and Deaconess students around me.

Finally, on August 19, 2001, at our second church in Indiana, I was officially consecrated as a Lutheran Deaconess. Between the beautiful worship service, the hog roast, and the family and friends who came from out of state, it was a grand celebration. It was both the end of a long-awaited goal and the beginning of a whole new journey.

What about you? Have you ever had a vision for something you wanted to do but you didn’t see a way to do it? What obstacles have you overcome to do or be what you felt was meant for you?