What is a Deaconess?
“Deaconess”, from the Greek word diaknonos, means “servant.” A deaconess of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) is a woman trained, called and commissioned by the church to provide diaconal care with special emphasis in works of mercy, spiritual care, and teaching the faith. In this way deaconesses serve Christ and His church, guiding toward Word and Sacraments ministry provided by pastors. A Lutheran deaconess uses her theological knowledge, skills and training to express the Gospel through acts of human care in whatever capacity she fills. (Deaconesses in the LCMS. The Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod. World Relief and Human Care, 2009)
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Using Luke 6:36 as the basis for diakonal service, one can quickly see that mercy is at the heart of the office of deaconess. Deaconesses bring Christ’s mercy to those broken by sin, sickness, grief and pain.
The Office of Deaconess is not so much about a person, but it is an identity rooted in Jesus Christ. It is a vocation of service to our Lord and His Church. This diakonal service began with Jesus as we read in Matthew 20:28, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Deaconesses are part of a long tradition of women who have served Christ by serving our neighbor though very specific acts of kindness and mercy. As Dr. Arthur Just, Jr., former head of deaconess studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne said, “The office of deaconess is a well worn mantle and a continuance of history that many have taken before you.”
As mentioned, the Office of Deaconess has been in the Lutheran church since the 1830’s. However, many theologians believe that one of the first deaconesses may have been Phoebe, named by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans in chapter 16. And for many years, deaconesses were also nurses who tended to the poor and sick. While there have been changes with the work of the deaconesses, the heart or identity of this office has not changed. Again, it is our baptismal identity in Christ which gives rise to our living out this vocation of mercy. I was commissioned and installed as deaconess at Holy Cross Lutheran Church on June 3, 2011. I was consecrated as deaconess at the cathedral in Kisumu, Kenya on June 22, 2011, in the midst of my deaconess sisters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya.
In addition to being a deaconess, I am a Registered Nurse, and a Parish Nurse. As a nurse, I bring with me a certain body of knowledge and skills which help me as I minister to people in body and soul. As a parish nurse, I have tried to see people as God has made them: body, mind and spirit. My visits have included devotion and prayer. As a deaconess, I continue to carry this out with a deeper theological understanding of the Word and Sacraments, enabling me to better articulate the hope that lies inside all believers and me. I point people to the cross of Christ— the source of life, forgiveness, salvation, peace and joy in the midst of sorrows and trials.
You may find my writings and other works, especially in connection with Kenya, at Always Mercy.