"My Reward Is that I May Serve"
New Deaconesses and a Home Missioner Commissioned
“My reward is that I may serve,” a dozen women and one man said in chorus after being commissioned to respond to the needs of the world as deaconesses or home missioners of the United Methodist Church.
The forms and locations of the service of these lay persons range from rural communities to inner-city schools; from city-based low-income housing construction to general nursing. They serve in the name of Jesus Christ across the United States.
A solemn yet joyful service of commissioning took place at Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown St. Louis April 29, on the eve of the 2010 Assembly of United Methodist Women, a gathering that takes place every four years. The Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner is linked to the Women’s Division, the national policy-making body of United Methodist Women, and a division of the General Board of Global Ministries, the denomination’s mission agency.
“The office of deaconess and home missioner traces its roots to New Testament times, to the recognition of the outstanding Christian service of Phoebe in Romans 16:1,” said Becky Louter, who heads the program within Women’s Division. “Deaconesses were formally recognized within American Methodism in 1888 and home missioners in 2004.”
Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, president of Global Ministries, was scheduled to preside at the commissioning, with the assistance of other officers and mission agency staff.
“Do you sincerely believe that you have been led by the Spirit of God to engage in this work and to assume its responsibilities?” the bishop asked each candidate. “I do so believe,” the 13 persons answered. To other questions about diligence in prayer and ministry, candidates answered, “I will, God being my helper.”
Harriett Jane Olson, who heads the Women’s Division, delivered the sermon. “I am deeply honored to be asked to participate in this service in such a significant way,” she said in an interview. “Both as a part of our history as well as our current emphases, the Women’s Division accompanies lay persons as they explore their calling to mission. Deaconesses and home missioners are an important part of this work.”
Each candidate was escorted by a leader from United Methodist Women in their home annual (regional) conference. Those commissioned, their conferences and their ministries are in alphabetical order:
- Lisa S. Bachman, North Carolina, wellness and evangelism ministries;
- Amanda L. Caruso, Missouri, Habitat for Humanity, Kansas City;
- Mary C. Gehrke, Minnesota, food bank and mental health;
- Nancy K. Gordon, Florida, hospital arts;
- Enock N. Gustave (home missioner), Haitian prison ministry;
- Rachel Harvey , Northern Illinois, Reconciling Ministries Network;
- Mary Ellen Kilmer, Nebraska, public school teacher;
- Mary Melvin, Florida; school guidance counselor;
- Amanda Mountain, New York, staff of the Advance, Global Ministries;
- M. Elaine Parrent, Oklahoma, church administrator;
- Cheryl Robinson, New York, children’s services;
- Mary K. Webster, Kansas, nurse;
- Sandra Wilson Wickberg, North Texas, librarian/church assistance coordinator.
The faith journeys of the new deaconesses and the home missioner vary dramatically. They share a desire to serve God by serving those in need, by alleviating suffering, eradicating the cause of injustice, assisting in developing human potentials, and sharing in building global community through the church.
Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Area presided at the service of Holy Communion following the commissioning. Both the commissioning and the communion worship were filled with hymns and prayers of trust in God and commitment in service.
There are currently 165 deaconesses and home missioners and they form the only office in the church for laity called to full-time servant ministries. They seek their own employment, which is approved by the bishop of their annual conferences, and deaconesses and home missionaries are lay members of annual conferences.
Centenary Church was a fitting place for the commissioning. One of the oldest Methodist Churches in the Midwest, the congregation has devoted itself to the welfare of downtown St. Louis since the 1820s. It has frequently resisted suggestions that it move to suburban or more affluent neighborhoods. On New Year’s Eve 2000, Centenary recommitted itself to downtown St. Louis.
Others with leadership roles in the evening of worship and celebration included Thomas Kemper, general secretary of Global Ministries; Inelda Z. González, president of Women’s Division; Judy Poole, chair of the National Association of Deaconesses and Missioners; Chita Framo, executive secretary of DIAKONIA Philippines; Lisa Archer, chair of the Committee on Deaconess Service of Women’s Division; Ms. Louter of the Deaconess Office staff, and Andris Y. Salter, assistant general secretary of Women’s Division. Jorge Lockward of the Global Praise program of Global Ministries coordinated the music.
Elliot Wright is a freelance religion news reporter and former communications officer for United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.