By Jeni Miller
Deaconess Kristin Wassilak, director of the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, well describes the situations of LCMS deaconesses, for whom the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) has funded and supported two “wellness” events.
“Deaconesses often serve far from the next deaconess,” Wassilak said. “As well, our diaconal vocations may look very dissimilar. One is a congregation’s youth director; another is in the chaplaincy department of a retirement village. One is in missions and another visits prisons. One is in deaf ministry and another is a church musician. The vocations seem disparate, but they are all bringing God’s mercy, care and Word. Because our roles vary, it can be very difficult to find appropriate continuing education.”
The ONM-supported events — part of an effort to emphasize and enhance church-worker wellness — were:
- the DOXOLOGY for Deaconesses conference, Oct. 29-31 in Racine, Wis., and
- a Grace Place Wellness retreat for deaconesses last year, October 6-10, 2014, at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center in St. Louis.
DOXOLOGY — The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel, and Grace Place Wellness Ministries are LCMS Recognized Service Organizations.
Opportunities for renewal
“As ONM has worked to increase worker wellness through various partnerships across the Synod, it was clear that attention needed to be given to our deaconesses who faithfully serve so many human-care needs of our brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the ONM. “An opportunity for them to step back, relax, study, and be renewed was key. We pray these retreats have been a small ‘thank you’ to them for their loving service to the church and a chance for them to be reinvigorated for future service.”
The DOXOLOGY for Deaconesses event aimed to renew, strengthen and equip deaconesses to find joy in the work given them in the multiple vocations; challenge them to acquire additional strategies regarding problem-solving, care-giving and interpersonal conflict resolution; engage in appraisal, reflection and enhancement of their spiritual and psychological well-being and, be spiritually fed and uplifted, psychologically encouraged, and reaffirmed as women called to serve in this unique vocation.
Participating in that three-day event were 37 deaconesses, according to Dr. Beverly Yahnke, executive director for Christian counsel for DOXOLOGY.
“Deaconesses enjoyed worship, spiritual care, consultations and the opportunity to work through some case studies to apply the concepts discussed in the presentations, concluding the retreat with personal and professional goal setting,” Yahnke said.
“The DOXOLOGY for Deaconesses event was extremely helpful in the specific, practical information that was taught, as well as the time given to process and apply the material,” said Deaconess Jennifer Thorson, one of its participants. “Familiarity with issues such as compassion fatigue, depression, suffering and the cultural views shaping the lives of those we serve are invaluable, and DOXOLOGY provided excellent information on these topics.”
In addition to those topics, presenters focused on Diaconal Service and the Care of Souls, Christians after Christendom, Spiritual Responses to Discouragement, and Putting the Best Construction on Everything.
“Deaconesses are often the silent servants in the church who work tirelessly for the people for whom they provide care and support,” explained Yahnke. “DOXOLOGY was delighted to offer a retreat designed to support and equip the deaconesses for the important service that they offer in churches and agencies throughout the LCMS. The deaconesses reported that the weekend was precisely what they had hoped for.”
Last year’s Grace Place Wellness retreat for deaconesses was similarly well-received, with 18 deaconesses from around the country participating in the event. Retreat facilitators included Dr. John Eckrich and the Rev. Dr. Darrell Zimmerman of Grace Place, along with guest speakers Ruth Koch, Mildred Gerner, Rev. Bart Day, Rev. Kevin Golden and LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison.
‘On the front lines of Christianity’
“Deaconesses are often on the front lines of Christianity,” said Randy Fauser, president and CEO of Grace Place Wellness Ministries. “Through their human-care work, Christ is evident. Our intention … is to nurture vitality and joy in ministry, by inspiring and equipping church workers to lead healthy lives. The LCMS Office of National Mission is an important supporter, both financially of our retreats, but also in its intention to care for all church workers.”
While the Grace Place Wellness retreats also offer learning and enrichment opportunities, participants indicated they were most thankful for the chance to simply retreat, focusing on renewal and strengthening, especially through God’s Word.
“The retreat provided … plenty of time for private, unrushed study and meditation on God’s Word — for me, not just preparing for the next meeting or class I need to lead,” recalled Deaconess Jeri Morrison. “Another benefit of Grace Place Wellness retreats is that there is an M.D., pastor and a counselor available for private discussion.”
Participant Deaconess Tiffany Manor also found refreshment in the retreat’s worship opportunities and was thankful for the support of both the LCMS and the district in which she serves.
“Deaconesses and other caregivers spend so much time and energy pouring themselves out for others and at times it is possible to become quite depleted and weary,” Manor said. “It is vital that we have opportunities to retreat and be restored in Christ Jesus, His Word and the sacraments to be strengthened in order to continue serving our neighbors in love. I am so thankful that the Office of National Mission and Grace Place Wellness recognized this and held a retreat for deaconesses. Our district president, Rev. Tim Yeadon, is very concerned with church-worker wellness … he was supportive and encouraging of my attendance at [the retreat].”
The Rev. Kevin Golden, pastor of Village Lutheran Church in St. Louis, served as chaplain for the Grace Place Wellness event.
Serving ‘those who serve’
“Those who serve need to be served,” said Golden. “Daily strengthening through Christ’s Word and regular reception of the Supper are critical for the health of deaconesses so they can continue their calling to serve. The Grace Place Wellness retreat builds on that very reality. An intentional time for servants to be served does incredible good for those who give and give in the name of Christ.”
Deaconess Jeni Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.
Posted Nov. 17, 2015