Frequently Asked Questions

As we live into the changes brought by the Word and Service roster of the 2016 Churchwide Assembly and a new formation process for future Deaconess Community candidates, some aspects of this section may not be applicable. Check back in a few weeks for updates.

What is a Deaconess?
A Deaconess (known as a Sister) is a member of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA and rostered in the ELCA as a minister of Word and Service. The Deaconess Community is a community of women who are compelled by the love of Christ and called by God to service with and through the Church. A Deaconess is trained vocationally, theologically and professionally for work in her specific field. Accompanied by the Deaconess Community and the larger church, she is approved for public ministry to engage the church and the world together – often through a context in the church or the community focused in areas of prophetic servant leadership. A Deaconess seeks to equip all people to live into their baptismal identity as God’s beloved, bringing the needs of the world into the church’s awareness, and equipping the church to serve God’s creation.
Why “Community”?
A Deaconess strongly values intentional community in prophetic servant ministry. Her work calls her to engage in her natural community daily. Her investment with the Deaconess Community sustains her, accompanies her, and provides her with encouragement, guidance, and deep prayer.
What is Word and Service Ministry?
The ELCA has two designations for public ministry: ‘Word and Service ministry’ and ‘Word and Sacrament ministry’. Individuals feeling called to be public leaders in the ELCA go through discernment, training and formation for a specific expression of public ministry.

Individuals called to Word and Service ministry proclaim the Gospel through their words (sometimes preaching) and their service to their community and world. Word and Service ministry brings the needs and gifts of the world to the Church and the gifts and needs of the Church to the world through specialized professional ministry.

Word and Service ministry has Biblical roots in the stories of Mary and Martha, Stephen, and Phoebe, were called to care for the poor, the lonely, and the hungry. Word and Service ministers serve in specialized areas of ministry such as social work, pastoral care, education, congregational ministry, pastoral support, community organizing, outreach redevelopment, youth ministry, healthcare agencies, community non-profits and advocacy, and so many more!

In addition to their specialized calls of service, Deaconesses and other Word and Service ministers are called and accountable as public leaders to work alongside pastors in equipping the church to meet the needs of the world.

What is Word and Sacrament Ministry?
The ELCA has two designations for public ministry: ‘Word and Service ministry’ and ‘Word and Sacrament ministry’. Individuals feeling called to be public leaders in the ELCA go through discernment, training and formation for a specific expression of public ministry.

Individuals called to Word and Sacrament ministry are Pastors, are also called to preach the gospel and specifically called to administer the sacraments. The ELCA/ELCIC believes Word and Sacrament ministry is a call to gather the people of God around Scripture (Word), the Communion table, and Baptismal font (our two Lutheran Sacraments) as a primary way to nourish us for the work we are all called to do through our baptismal callings. While pastoral ministry takes place mostly in congregational settings, pastors are called to serve alongside Word and Service ministers in equipping the church to meet the needs of the world.

What is the difference between a Deaconess, a Diaconal Minister, and an Associate in Ministry?
The ELCA currently has three Word and Service rosters which are titles for leaders called and trained for ministry in the church and the world. Associates in Ministry (AIMs) are called to serve the church in specific public areas, often as parish administrators, Children, Youth, and Family workers, church musicians, or therapists. Both Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses are called to be the bridge between the church and God’s creation in areas of service, advocacy, justice, and community. Though Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses have similar callings and serve in similar occupations, the distinction between the two communities currently is in their formation, their internal structure, and their relationship to the ELCA. Currently, Diaconal Ministers included men and women and Deaconesses are only women. Diaconal Ministers have a strong community with each other and are accountable to ELCA through their synod. The Deaconess Community has a more defined structured community (with its own Board of Directors, staff, etc). Deaconesses are accountable both to the Deaconess Community and to the ELCA through their synod. Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses have slightly different training and formation processes.

Leaders on all three rosters work in similar roles in the church and community—roles of service, outreach, community engagement, advocacy, spiritual care, health and education. The distinction between the three has to do with the individual’s understanding of their call, the roster’s organization, and the different training/formation requirements.

The ELCA is currently in discernment about the possibility of creating a unified “Word and Service” roster that would have consistent training and formation requirements.

If I am already in a service ministry/occupation, why should I become a Deaconess?
If you are already serving in an area of ministry, but are feeling called to be more connected to the church as a public voice and leader from within that servant ministry, or are wondering how you can equip others to serve God’s creation in similarly meaningful ways, this is great news! You should explore becoming a Deaconess!

Becoming a Deaconess allows you and the church to explore, celebrate, and affirm your call to ministry in a public way. It will give you an identity that continues to form your spiritual and vocational practices, and a community that encourages you to learn and grow throughout your whole life. Additionally, the call to become a deaconess includes a call to be part of an engaged and deeply intentional community of persons who affirm, challenge, pray for, and accompany one another daily and in regular community gatherings.

Why should I become rostered? Why should I become a Deaconess?
Through our Baptism, we are all called to the priesthood of all believers and to live out our vocation through our personal and professional life. Those who are called to rostered leadership in the Church are called to live out their vocation and to be public leaders, equipping others to answer their own baptismal calls. Through the candidacy process, Deaconesses and other rostered leaders are equipped with theological educational and spiritual formation, leading to an affirmation of call to public ministry.
What is candidacy?
Candidacy is the thorough and thoughtful process of mutual discernment and preparation that leads individuals toward public ministry in the church. This process involves the individual, their synod, their seminary, and the Deaconess Community.

The candidacy process takes place while individuals prepare for their call to a specific ministry (before and during seminary and after fieldwork/internship). This process reminds all candidates that they are part of the larger Church. The Deaconess Community continuously seeks women who live and serve as courageous, committed witnesses to the gospel. Our Director of Vocation and Education can give you more information and answer any questions you might have (krista.anderson@elca.org).

What education and formation do you require?
Like all the rosters in the ELCA, there are standards Deaconesses must meet prior to rite of entry: professional preparation, seminary education, contextual experiences, a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, and an internship. Formation activities presently include a course on diaconal ministry, community events and retreats, and spiritual formation.
Do Deaconesses take vows of celibacy and poverty?
In accordance with our mission and vision, Sisters are not required to take vows of celibacy and poverty. In the past, part of the Community’s vibrant history, Sisters remained unmarried.

Today, Sisters are able to marry and have families. As a part of the promises Sisters make in the Rite of Consecration, we uphold the value of being good stewards with all the gifts in our lives, including relational, monetary and spiritual gifts.

In the Rite of Consecration , we promise to….
• Accept the ministry and service to which God has called us
• Confess that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and the norm of the church
and the Community’s faith and life and study them as such.
• Accept, teach and confess the Apostles’, Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds.
• Acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witness and faithful expositions of
the Holy Scriptures
• Be faithful with our use of grace and prayer
• Witness in word and action as an example of faithful service and holy living

What do Deaconesses do?
Grounded in community, Deaconesses are called to serve as leaders on behalf of and within the Church. Deaconesses are trained in a specific field of service, based on our gifts and call, and are equipped with the theological education and spiritual preparation to connect the church to that area of service. Deaconesses seek to empower and equip the service of others, both in the church and the world.

 

Sisters are called by congregations or other expressions of the Church (Synod or the Churchwide offices) to a wide range of ministries such as social work, pastoral care, education, congregational ministry, pastoral support, community organizing, outreach redevelopment, youth ministry, healthcare agencies, community non-profits and advocacy, and so many more!

Why would a congregation or ministry consider calling a Deaconess?
If a congregation is seeking to move their vision and practices more externally, a deaconess would be an ideal leader, as they are especially called to ministry involving the church and the world. Deaconesses are intentional about being the bridge between the church and the world. Their special call to this interface gives them a specific perspective on how to spread God’s grace and love through ministry. Deaconesses work to push the church to think beyond its boundaries–out into the world. Deaconesses are also grounded and sustained in the Deaconess Community, giving a strong sense of belonging to multiple communities. This brings a fresh perspective to how they do ministry.
What gifts/qualities should I look for in someone (myself or others) who might be called to be a deaconess?
A deaconess has a unique sensitivity toward the marginalized and a strong call to justice and advocacy. She is concerned with the suffering of the world, including those who are distressed, denied justice, and whose needs are not being met. She is compassionate and has a desire for community, which helps guide and strengthen her commitment to grow in a deep spiritual life. She aims to facilitate and create change while bringing a prophetic voice to the world.

There are many qualities befitting a deaconess. Primarily, a deaconess is a woman who has love for Christ and God’s children and who feels compelled by that love to engage community and work on behalf of the church.