What is the LDA?

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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?

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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.

Understanding Our Ministry through Stories

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Semicircles:  Deaconess Bettye Green

Raised on a ranch in Texas, both of Deaconess Bettye Green’s  parents had 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.  

Our History

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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

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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

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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.