Within the context of expanding the diversity of ministry, and seeking to be flexible and responsive to the needs of church and world, the Lutheran Deaconess Association found itself confronted with a new opportunity, the establishment of a ministry to which certain men felt called.
The Lutheran Deaconess Association (LDA) and Lutheran Deaconess Conference (LDC) had been discussing the inclusion of men for many years. Inquiries were often made by potential students, donors, and other constituents about the LDA’s position of training women only.
In the late 1990s, the LDA encouraged the LDC to lay out a process by which the deaconess community could look at larger gender issues and specific questions to determine whether or not the inclusion of men could be decided.
In 1999, a Gender Task Force was formed as part of a long-range planning process. On the Task Force: Gwen Sayler, Bill Nebel, Carolyn Becker, Carleen Miller, Cherlynne Beck, Robie Hillhouse, and Fred Niedner. By 2001, they reported to the LDA Board that most LDC area conferences participated in a study process, but no single position was evident, and no consensus was reached. The LDA Board did not make further plans, pending a clearer direction from the LDC.
In 2004, the LDC held convocation in Wisconsin, including deaconesses from every area conference as listening leaders. Through prayer and facilitated conversation, this group prepared a statement: “We believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to include men, and we want to consider how and when.”
In 2005, the LDC considered the statement but decided to continue discussions about the inclusion of men for 5 more years. The community intended to make a definitive statement, but in 2010, the LDC did not reach consensus; the community was not yet united about including men.
At the Fall 2010 LDA Board meeting, with the understanding that the LDA is able to make a decision about the inclusion of men in the education/formation process independently from the LDC, the LDA Board appointed an initial Men’s Pilot Task Force. This group included: Gwen Saylor, Diane Marten, Steve Arnold, Linda Davis, Valerie Webdell, Laura Lincoln, Dave Schroeder, and Robie Hillhouse.
The group met several times via conference call to explore what options for Word and Service ministry are available for Lutheran men, whether the LDA’s process of education and formation might be a meaningful option, and what practical issues would need attention.
The LDA’s current design for education and formation (begun in 2004) made the program accessible for women of many ages from around the country. The process is based on the acquisition of ministry competencies, relationships with deaconesses in the community, and supervised ministry experiences. With minimal adjustment, the process could be offered to men, including a parallel but separate community.
The task force encouraged two new initiatives. The first was to incorporate those men who have discerned a call to diaconal ministry.
The second aspect of this undertaking was to build a supportive diaconal community for men who are engaged in diaconal ministry. A number of men have been attracted to the LDA because of the value they observe in the deaconess community. Pastors have local conferences, as do other ministry-specific groups such as church musicians, DCE’s, youth directors, etc. However, men who are engaged in Word and Service ministry have no obvious structured support. The LDA could respond to the desire and request by men for a supportive diaconal community.
After careful and prayerful consideration, the task force drafted a recommendation for the April 2011,
meeting of the LDA Board of Directors. The following (amended) motion was passed: “We resolve that the LDA initiate an all-male community with a pilot program beginning no later than August 2012, separate but parallel to the LDC, recognizing the possibility of intersections between the two communities.” LDA Board of Directors, Minutes, April 8-9, 2011. The motion passed unanimously.
In the fall of 2011, the LDA made a public announcement to the effect that: “The vision of the LDA is to build one diaconate with two communities. The LDA’s diaconate currently includes a female community of deaconesses and will include a male community of deacons. The LDA will offer its education and formation process for both women and men, and will encourage multiple points of intersection between the two communities while each maintains its own identity.”
Brochures and the website were updated, and information for the Education and Formation process was adjusted for inclusive language.
The first three deacon students were Ben Ema (VU student nursing major), Elliott Stephenson (VU grad,
Director of Family and Youth Ministries); and Dr. Steve Arnold (DCE, past Director of DCE program at Concordia, St. Paul; part-time hospital chaplain)
The deacon students named themselves the “Community of Lutheran Deacons (students),” or “CLD.” They reviewed the main theological and practical documents that were jointly prepared by LDA/LDC. These include Touchstones and Hallmarks, Standards and Expectations, A Guideline for Responding to Sexual Misconduct, and The Deaconess (diaconal) Litany. The first deacon students helped address inclusive language in these documents.
As of November 2019, five deacons have been consecrated by the LDA. There are currently four deacon students in formation. The CLD meets via Skype as an area conference and some deacon students and deacons attend LDC area conference meetings.