Honoring 120 Years of Deaconess Service
Deaconess Becky Louter who works with the Office of Deaconess, Home Missioner and Home Missionary at Global Ministries, addresses Global Ministries directors during the deaconess celebration. Photo by Cassandra Heller
by BARBARA WHEELER*
Stamford, Conn., March 10 – The heritage of deaconess service in the United Methodist Church was recognized at the semi-annual Global Ministries Board of Directors Meeting March 10-13, in Stamford, Conn.
This year, 2008, marks 120 years of deaconess service in the denomination. Ongoing support for deaconesses and their transforming lay women ministry comes from United Methodist Women. Predecessor organizations to United Methodist Women sent deaconesses and women missionaries to serve the church when they were not officially recognized or ordained to serve by the denomination.
“Our hope for the future is greater than our record of the past,” said Deaconess Becky Louter, Global Ministries executive who relates directly to all deaconesses – retired and active. “We are in mission service, living out the goals of the General Board of Global Ministries daily.”
Ms. Louter followed her mother, Deaconess Sybil Dodson into service.
Women’s Division Deputy General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson, Women’s Division President, Deaconess Kyung Za Yim, Women’s Division Director Mary Baldridge, the Rev. Edith Gleaves, Global Ministries executive, and several active and soon-to-be commissioned deaconesses and a home missioner participated in the service of celebration.
Ms. Louter explained the Deaconess Movement is traced to Phoebe, the biblical character described as a “helper of many” by Paul in Romans 16:1.
Despite the challenge of not being an official part of church polity, deaconesses pushed the Methodist Episcopal Church to restore the office of deaconess to the church in 1888. One major hurdle to overcome was the fear of women in church leadership. An original protest to the office of deaconess was that its existence would one day lead to the ordination of women in the church.
The first generation of Methodist Deaconesses served the church in what were considered gender-appropriate roles, including as pastors’ assistants, nurses, traveler’s aides, social workers and educators, Ms. Louter said.
“To understand the stories, you have to know where we’ve come from,” Ms. Louter said.
Included in the great service contributions of the Deaconess Movement to the church is the US-2 Young Adult Missionary Program.
In the past four years, The United Methodist Church commissioned 49 deaconesses and five home missioners, a new service capacity in the church for lay men. The resurgence of the Deaconess Movement continues to answer a call for lay women and men to serve in our church and in surrounding communities. The United Methodist General Conference mandates the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner and calls deaconesses and home missioners to:
• Alleviate suffering;
• Eradicate the causes of injustice that robs all of dignity and worth;
• Facilitate the development of full human potential; and
• Share in building global community through the church universal.
Deaconesses today serve in cutting-edge ministries. The serve in prison ministry and national mission institutions, and work on issues related to education, homelessness, economic justice, environmental justice, health care and leadership development.
Kathy Kraiza, a deaconess candidate to be commissioned March 11, recognized her call to service after a career in the military. She has been serving at United Methodist Committee On Relief’s Depot located at United Methodist Women’s Mission Giving-supported Sager Brown campus in Baldwin, La., recognizing each day the importance her work with disaster relief to communities recovering from disaster. “In hindsight I see where God has been calling me all of my life to this call,” Ms. Kraiza said. “What a blessing it is to say ‘yes’ to God’s call.”
“I serve as a spiritual director at Turtle Rock Farm Retreat in Red Rock, Okla.,” said deaconess candidate Pat Hoerth who will be commissioned with Ms. Kraiza March 11. “I witness what happens when others reconnect with God’s universe. They connect within themselves the vastness of God within them. Their own lives come into perspective. Micah 6:8 has been a beacon for me. God wants us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.”
“I asked, ‘God, what are you doing to me?’” said Joanne Finley, a deaconess candidate to be commissioned March 11. “Justice is much-needed for our children. I think that’s what God has called on me to do in my ministry.”
Ms. Finley serves at United Methodist Women Mission Giving-supported North Rampart Community Center in New Orleans, La. She works closely with children and families in the French Quarter of New Orleans, still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005.
“We can’t discuss where we’re going unless we know where we come from,” said Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck who serves in the Offices of Deaconess, Home Missioner and Home Missionary at Global Ministries.
She reviewed the current work being done to raise awareness about the deaconess and home missioner relationship with the church, including discernment events where participants explore their call to service. In addition, the office’s Living Justice Seminar Program for young adult United Methodists provides an introduction to a social issue with a focus on faith and justice.
Joanne Finley, a deaconess candidate commissioned March 11, addresses Global Ministries Directors. Photos by Cassandra Heller.
Ms. DiDomineck said the office will also host an upcoming discernment event with the Young Adult Program Office of Global Ministries in October 2008, and an event with the United Methodist Deacon Program in 2009.
“Our future lies in our community and our commitment to our call,” Ms. DiDomineck said.
Currently, there are 154 deaconesses, home missionaries and home missioners in active relationship with the church and 196 deaconesses and home missionaries in retired relationship. Traditions of love, justice and service among United Methodist Women and all United Methodists continue in the Deaconess Movement and the new Home Missioner Movement.
*Barbara Wheeler is an executive secretary for communications with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Mar. 11, 2008