What is the LDA?

Icon Heading

The LDA is a Lutheran organization forming and preparing people to become Deaconesses or Deacons through a process of Education and Formation. LDA students study theology, practice hands-on ministry, grow in their own spirituality, and become members of a lifelong community of other Deaconesses or Deacons.

What is a Deaconess/Deacon?

Icon Heading

Lutheran Deaconess Conference Annual Meeting, 2018

A Deaconess or Deacon is someone one who serves. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and instructed them to do the same for others. Sometimes Deaconesses and Deacons do actual foot-washing like Jesus did; but more widely, they serve Christ by walking with those the world easily forgets; the marginalized, the poor, the powerless, the sick.

People who reach out to others in this way—with care and compassion in a hurting world—are practicing diaconal service. Some of them desire to do this as a professional in ministry, and enter a more formal training and formation process to become Deaconesses and Deacons.

Traditionally, LDA Deaconesses were nurses or teachers, but as the organization has evolved, deaconess/deacon ministry has come to mean many things: it means serving others on bended knee, and from positions of leadership. It means entering the hurt parts of society and carrying the light and love of Christ in service to others. It means telling the story of God’s love, and helping others to hear God in their own story. It means welcoming the stranger in our midst.

ELCA Bishop Bill Gohl describes a recent experience with the LDA Deaconesses below.

“Live to Serve,” by Bishop Bill Gohl

 The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve… –Matthew 20:28

On Sunday evening, I pulled into the parking lot of the Maritime Institute in Linthicum for the Lutheran Diaconal Association’s  Deaconess Conference Anniversary Recognition Banquet. My invitation was to “bring a brief word of welcome.” My internal sense of purpose after a long Sunday of crisscrossing our synod was to “get out of here as quick as possible.”

Three and a half hours later, I was on my way home from one of the most refreshing evenings I’ve spent in quite some time!

The LDA is a pan-Lutheran community of deaconesses who serve in a broad and diverse variety of ministries that bridge the gap between the church and world. Some are serving in very “traditional” diaconal ministries that are congregation-based or church agency related, but many others serve Christ through their work in secular agencies. While some are on the rosters of their respective church bodies, the LDA is its own community for formation, accountability, and encouragement. That sense of community was genuine and encouraging. In was seated with nine members of the LDA Valparaiso class of ’71, all of whom began in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Two of those folks are still LCMS and have served happily and productively in LCMS-related ministries; the rest are now affiliated with the ELCA, three are ordained, two are former synodical Assistants to the Bishop, one is a seminary professor. Just the privilege of their company was well worth the sacrifice of an evening.

Add to that the testimonies of those celebrating anniversaries – from five years to 60 years of consecrated ministry, every last of which lauded the richness and importance of the LDA community, I was totally hooked. These sisters have something that the larger church desperately needs: relationships that allow them to have respectful discourse where they sometimes agree to disagree, and a koinonia where they hold one another in love, community, and accountability. Whether they are in formation, in service, on leave from call, or retired, they live in community and expect one another to participate in cultivating that community. A member of the class of 1958 was present to celebrate her 60th Anniversary of Consecrated Service – and she has not ever, in 60+ years including formation, ever missed an LDA community gathering!

There is something quite special about the LDA, and I invite you to know more about their important work and their noble commitment to building Christian community.

 “It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” –Matthew 20:26-28

Understanding Our Ministry through Stories

Icon Heading

Semicircles:  

Raised on a ranch in Texas, both of Deaconess Bettye’s  parents died before she was nine. Luckily, her grandparents welcomed her into their care, guiding the young girl into adulthood and eventually deaconess ministry.

She vividly remembers her grandfather taking her to feed the horses one morning. Carrying a bale of hay, as they approached he set it down and said, “Watch, Bettye. Look how the horses  treat the blind mare.”

Bettye waited patiently.  As she watched, the horses did something unexpected. Moving into formation, they eventually surrounded the blind mare in a semicircle.  They gently guided her directly to the hay, where she was able to eat. Bettye’s grandparents were like the horses to Bettye–guiding her through each day when she was too young to care for herself.  

Perhaps this memory somehow shaped Bettye’s ministry.  Living out her call to serve God as a hospice chaplain, Bettye became the guide, gathering and guiding the dying and their families through the unknown landscape of death towards the promise of eternal life.  

Just ‘showing up’

When Virginia opened the door, Deaconess Grace knew something was wrong.  It wasn’t like Virginia and her husband, Walter, to be late–especially on the day Walter was to move to an assisted living facility.  Grace had waited for them for an hour at the new facility. She couldn’t call them; Virginia and Walter were both deaf, and her Teletypewriter was at the office.  

Grace’s ministry call was to Hope Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Portland, Oregon.  One of her responsibilities included caring for homebound parishioners. Walter and Virginia fit this category, and were struggling to care for themselves as they aged.  Grace had ministered to them over a period of weeks-listening, praying, and helping them to decide what their next best steps were. Ultimately, they decided on assisted living for Walter. The facility they chose was located close to the bus stop, so Virginia could visit when she wanted.  

But then–they hadn’t shown up on move-in day.  So Grace went to find them.  She just showed up.   Now, Virginia’s face looked weary and worn.  Grace glanced around the room and quickly realized that Walter had passed away in his favorite chair.  “What do we do?” signed Virginia.

Grace explained that they needed to call the proper authorities, but that she would stay with Virginia throughout the day, and longer if necessary.  And she did. As the hours passed they leaned on each other–praying or crying or even laughing when it felt right. Grace served Virginia with her presence, and together with the work of the Holy Spirit, the day ended peacefully.  Grace learned a lot that day and she was aware that through the Spirit, everyone got what they needed–including Walter.

Our History

Icon Heading

The LDA – highlights through the years

Year 1919

1920 - Deaconess Home is located at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne

1921 – LDA establishes Lutheran Hospital in Beaver Dam, Wisc
1924 – LDA sends deaconesses to Hot Springs, SD Hospital and Sanitarium
1925 – LDA opens training school at Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown, Wisc
Year 1934
Year 1940

1940 - Deaconess training becomes 1½ years including 6 mo. practical training

1941 – Deaconess training lengthened to two years, including academic work at IU
1942 – LDA sells motherhouse to Fort Wayne Lutheran Hospital
1943 – The training school moves to Valparaiso University, LDA pays ½ regular tuition
1946 – Deaconess course of study becomes a four-year BA degree
Year 1955

1957 - LCMS College of Presidents places graduates in first assignments

1958 – Deaconess Hall is dedicated in Valparaiso, year-long internship is added to education
1959 – LCMS establishes pre-deaconess programs at its colleges
Year 1969

1970 - LDA welcomes the first married students

1971 – Lucille Wassman becomes the first woman Executive Director of LDA
1973 – LDA board elects first deaconess president, Norma Cook Everist
1974 – Deaconess Louise Williams joins the LDA staff
Year 1979

1984 - Diakonia en Christo lay ministry award begins

1986 – VU purchases Deaconess Hall, LDA acquires Center for Diaconal Ministry
1988 – LDA adopts education option for non-traditional, non-resident students
1989 – The LDA develops The M is for Me video discussion program for mothers
Year 1991

1998 - The LDA begins work on education/formation redesign

Year 2004

2007 – Louise Williams retires as LDA Executive Director after 33 years

2008 – Deaconess Lisa Polito becomes Executive Director of the LDA
2012 – The LDA begins training men
Year 2014

Lisa Polito

Deaconess Lisa Polito is a 1990 graduate of Valparaiso University and assumed the role of Executive Director of the LDA in 2008...

Executive Director

Deb Lennox

Deaconess Deb Lennox was consecrated in June 2008 and joined the LDA in June 2018.  She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Hearing...

Co-Director of Education and Formation

Valerie Webdell

Deaconess Valerie Webdell has been on staff at the LDA since August 2014, and was also consecrated as a deaconess the same year.

Co-Director of Education & Formation

Andi Jones

Andi received her master’s degree in educational counseling from Northern Arizona University and bachelor’s degree from...

Director of Development & Recruitment

Gloria Hanks

Gloria joined the LDA staff in 2008 and “retired” in 2014. She rejoined the staff in January of 2016 as a part-time member...

Assistant to Database & Secretarial Services

Mary Honhke

Mary joined the LDA in 2003 and brought with her nearly 20 years of administrative experience. Originally from Wisconsin, Mary...

Administrative Assistant

Our Mission & Vision

Icon Heading

Our Mission: Preparing and supporting the whole people of God in Christ’s call to serve.

As the LDA:

  1. We form, send, and nurture communities of deaconesses and deacons in a Lutheran context to serve in all walks of life.
  2. We value ecumenism in our Christian call to serve.
  3. We energize people to serve among and advocate for all affected by brokenness; and seek to restore wholeness for all creation.

Our Vision:

Following Christ, people of God serve those across the street and around the world.

Board of Directors

Icon Heading

Our current board members

  • Sister Krista Anderson, Hawley, Minn.
  • Deaconess Carmen Colón-Brown, West Chester, Ohio
  • Chuck Denninger, Maple Grove, Minn.
  • Mark Elgert, Williamsburg, Va.
  • Deaconess Diane Kaufmann, Chippewa Falls, Wisc.
  • Marcus Miller, Huntersville, N.C.
  • Deaconess Beth Olejniczak, Rogers, Ark.
  • Leslie Paul, San Diego, Calif.
  • Gene Phillips, President, Anthem, Ariz.
  • Deaconess Ann Marie Rehbein, Stockton, Calif.
  • Phyllis Schroeder, Valparaiso, Ind.
  • Rev. Timothy Sims, New Haven, Ind.
  • Deacon Elliott Stephenson, Columbia, Mo.
  • Tom Stoebig, Plymouth, Minn.
  • Anita Unrath, Melbourne, Fla.