January 15- 20, fifteen students gathered along with the Rev. Dr. Dirk Lange, and Dr. Susan McArver and our Sisters in Residence at Spirit in the Desert in Carefree, Arizona. The J-term Course was Diaconal Ministry: History, Formation, and Spirituality. Here is how Jan, one of the student, described her experience.

I took this class in order to explore the path of Diaconal ministry within the ELCA in general and Deaconess ministry in particular.  As a social worker and chaplain resident, I feel called to serve Christ’s Church as a hospital chaplain. After completing a supervised practice of ministry course in seminary, and receiving my Master’s of Divinity, I did not feel called to Word and Sacrament ministry. Now that there is an opportunity to be rostered as a Word and Service minister in the ELCA, I wanted to explore this diaconal ministry.

The course retreat was an amazing experience. My fellow classmates were a joy to meet, as their interests, abilities, and calls are similar to mine. I felt like I found my tribe! Looking back on this experience of learning about the history of Diaconal Ministry and the Deaconess Community, I realize that through Word and Service ministry my skills and talents are aligned with my call to work outside the church in hospitals.

Three years prior to becoming a hospital chaplain, I had realized I did not feel called to serve a congregation. I realized that my skills were unique and applicable to a non-congregational setting. At J-Term, I was supported in my call. I felt at home with my fellow students. Participating in this J-term class was like speaking a different language and all of a sudden finding people who could understand me, speak my language, and even my particular dialect.

I realize now, after taking this course, that I had been trying to climb the “mountain” of ELCA candidacy through my own efforts without a community with which I could identify. Now, I’ve found a community of people who are exploring another path, an alternate path of ministry and calling. They are with me on the journey up the mountain. I don’t need to try and go it alone.

This week at J-Term was full of rest, learning, camaraderie, and spiritual practice. The daily worship services were uplifting and inspiring.  I’ve not felt so close to a group of people or built trust so quickly before. I’m blessed to have been able to participate in such a lovely context, the mountains of Arizona, with true believers, supporters, and professors in this course. It has truly been a “mountaintop” experience for me in every way: spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and socially.  Thanks to each of you who made this happen!