The following was written by Deaconess Jean Wildegrube.
“Becoming a Deaconess”
I was baptized at True Light Lutheran Church in Chinatown, NY when I was 10 years old. Miss Mary E. Banta was our parish worker whom I admired greatly. She lovingly watched over us kids helping us get to camp and outings. I went into Deaconess ministry wanting to be in parish work like Miss Banta.
It was a privilege to attend Valparaiso University and be in the first group of students to live in Deaconess Hall. The love and camaraderie of being in Pi Delta Chi were amazing. I was consecrated at True Light in June 1963.
I was assigned to The Lutheran Church of the Prince of Peace in Vancouver, British Columbia, for my one-year internship. The church was in the Chinese community in downtown Vancouver. I helped with Sunday school, the youth group, VBS, canvassing in the neighborhood, teaching English and Citizenship classes. I helped Chinese immigrants who were trying to apply for social services and pensions. At the end of the internship, I got engaged to Pastor Paul Wildgrube, my supervising pastor. Returning to campus with an engagement ring, sister deaconesses claimed that I had more than a successful internship!
After graduation from Valpo, Paul and I were married at Prince of Peace, by Paul’s dad, Pastor Erich H. Wildgrube. Pastor Wildgrube had a long pastorate at St. Paul Lutheran Church in the African American community in New Orleans. Our interracial marriage was not a detriment to our careers.
In 1964, The mission department of Synod funded me for 2 years of work at Prince of Peace so we could further establish work in the Chinese community. In 1967, Paul accepted a call to The Lutheran Church of St. Ambrose in Pennsville, NJ. Our three children, Michelle, Gregory, and Nathan were born in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. While at St. Ambrose, I helped with the Sunday school and VBS. With the help of Gretchen Buzby and illustrator, Anna Eng, we produced a booklet called “Working With Worship.” The book and illustrations explained parts of the liturgy to children.
In 1976, Paul accepted a call to be the senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Schenectady, NY. I created and marketed a cloth book for Toddlers called “Church Time.” The book explained parts of the liturgy as well as helped children learn developing skills. For 2 years I served as Deaconess to the elementary age children of the parish and then I also taught in the Nursery school. After receiving an MS in Elementary education I taught Pre- Kindergarten for 10 years for The Schenectady City Schools. Working in a low income, diverse community gave me many opportunities to share the love of Jesus.
From 1998 to 2003, my husband, Paul, was pleased to be part of the LDA Board of Directors. He served on the Services and Renewal Committee, interviewing candidates for consecration, as well as the LCMS Relations Committee.
In March 2013, Paul and I moved to Coburg Village, an independent community for seniors, operated by The Lutheran Care Network. At Coburg, I’ve had the opportunity as president and on many other committees to share faith and service in Christ. In August 2015, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years, Paul passed away.
Last year, I joined a short term mission team traveling to “God’s Garden,” an orphanage and community started by Mission Experience: Haiti.
Reflecting on 56 years of Diaconal ministry, I am grateful that I became a Deaconess because of Miss Banta’s loving Christian example.