Who We Are
by Carol L. Schickel (November / December 2000 • Volume 16 • Number 6)
Editor: We are presenting a special section on our ELCA rostered lay ministries. These include associate in ministry, deaconess, and diaconal minister. ELCA Director for Candidacy, Carol L. Schickel, in the following article, presents an overview of rostered lay ministry, followed by articles from one representative of each roster. Each of these rostered persons responded to similar questions about their role in the life of the ELCA.
Significant ministries are being carried out on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through the service of almost 900 active leaders who are called to serve as associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers (there are approximately 300 retired workers).
The men and women who serve on these three lay rosters of the ELCA are commissioned or consecrated for a public ministry. They are called by a congregation, a synod, or the churchwide expression for an intentional ministry on behalf of the church to proclaim the gospel and exemplify a servant life for all the baptized people of God. These officially recognized forms of ministry, along with ordained ministry, give support and specific leadership through the ELCA.
From the time of the early Christian church, people have been set apart for varieties of service. The ELCA Deaconess Community has its roots in 19th century Germany and prepares and supports women who are committed to a life of service to church and society. (The Lutheran Deaconess Association, of Valparaiso, Indiana, includes deaconesses from both the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod and the ELCA. The ELCA-related deaconesses, both active and retired, number 160.)1
The associate in ministry roster represents a range of specializations and occupations, including those who served in lay ministry in predecessor church bodies as deacons, teachers, professional lay leaders, church staff, and deaconesses.
The diaconal ministry roster, a recent addition yet rooted in biblical and church heritage, was established in 1993, recommended as an expanded understanding of ministry by the Division for Ministry.
What Do We Do?
We serve as leaders in a church that seeks to be relevant to the needs of the world and effective in its witness of Christ. We represent the church in settings and positions other than the traditional pastor's role. We proclaim the gospel and serve faithfully as educators, chaplains, ministry coordinators, and administrators. We are spiritual directors, youth and family ministers, and musicians. We serve as synod and churchwide staff, as well as faculty and staff at colleges and seminaries.
Seventy-four percent serve in congregational calls (77% of associates in ministry and 43% of deaconesses and diaconal ministers). Thirty-two individuals serve in synod positions and 29 serve as ELCA churchwide staff.
|Significant ministries are being carried out on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through the service of almost 900 active leaders who are called to serve as associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers. |
Rostered lay leaders in the ELCA serve in called positions in each of the nine regions in similar proportion to clergy. There are currently 867 people serving on these rosters — 77 percent female, 99 percent Caucasian. Almost half of those currently rostered (373) have joined one of the lay rosters since the beginning of the ELCA in 1988, with an average of 31 newly consecrated or commissioned each year.
As of late summer 2000, the diaconal ministry roster has 33 men and women serving in congregational and specialized ministry settings. The deaconess community has 49 women, and there are 783 associates in ministry serving in all synods of the church
What are the needs of the church and the world?
The church needs leaders who understand the significance of serving as partners in ministry. Many people on our lay rosters serve in a team ministry — on a congregational staff, a synod staff, a seminary or university faculty, or a hospital or social service agency staff. We understand the benefits and dynamics of shared ministry, the concepts of teamwork, partnership, and cooperation.
The church needs theologically trained servants to carry its mission into the world, both through equipping congregation members as well as by serving in various locations where ministry is needed outside the church.
Lutherans extend a gospel message to the world through the ministry of these leaders. We are called to exemplify the servant life and to attend to the needs of those who live in our world. We prepare, nurture, and equip the people of God for their ministry in daily life, and we provide leadership to deepen the church's commitment to the ministry which is the responsibility of all the baptized people of God.
We partner with pastors to connect the faith community with our culture's needs for healing and care. We are lay people but are set apart by the church, acknowledged as theologically prepared. We are lay people who bring a perspective to ministry not provided by others (we are sometimes seen as more accessible than our clergy sisters and brothers), valued by those who fear religious authority, or who feel alienated by the church of their past. The church needs us to be the bridge for those people.
What rationale leads people to discern a call to rostered lay ministry?
All leaders in the church bring their own unique gifts to ministry. This route to public ministry is the uncommon path — yet it is one that makes sense for many as we discern where God is calling us. We discern that we are called to be something other than pastors. We are called to serve faithfully in a "different" way that seems to fit for us.
Some people emerge as lay leaders in a congregation or synod and come to discern a call to intentional public ministry as they respond to a desire for theological insight and spiritual formation.
Some know God is calling and welcome the choices provided by the ELCA for different rosters, with a variety of functions and areas of focus.
The ELCA has established three lay rosters since its formation in 1988 and recognizes the diversity of gifts and variety of personalities and gifts that people bring to service on behalf of the church. The complexity of needs in the church and world provide many opportunities for service, and those who are called as deaconesses, diaconal ministers, and associates in ministry exemplify the ways in which church and world can be connected.
While a wide range of positions and responsibilities is held on the three rosters, each seems to attract a particular kind of person and invites mutual support rather than competition.
Associates in ministry frequently focus on shared ministry, often with a team focus. Deaconesses are focused on service and community. The diaconal ministers are emerging as more varied yet are rooted in the diaconate, with a desire to lead the church in renewal and to seek wholeness in the world and a focus on the connection of church and world.
Rather than provide one particular definition or function for each roster, the church describes common characteristics of those who serve and provides these rosters for leaders who are evaluated and approved (through a candidacy process) as suitable for service in the ELCA.
All who are rostered in the ELCA are accountable to the church and are expected to live a lifestyle in keeping with the vision and expectations of the church. A roster acknowledges an individual as one who speaks on behalf of the church and represents the ELCA.
That means that rostered lay ministers must be informed about the issues and priorities of the church, be involved in ministry through the wider church, and seek to discern and encourage those who might be called by God for future public ministry.
We are all expected, along with those on the roster of clergy, to attend conference and synod meetings, to report yearly to our synod bishop, to honor the call that is extended to us, and to serve where needed.
What concerns are there for rostered lay leaders?
The people who serve on the lay rosters of the ELCA bring vision and leadership as diaconal ministers, associates in ministry, and deaconesses. According to a 1999 survey of lay rostered leaders, those who serve on these rosters consider their rostered status to be an important expression of their calling as a Christian. This survey was distributed to 770 active rostered lay leaders by the Division for Ministry, in cooperation with the Department for Research and Evaluation. Seventy-six percent of those who received the survey responded.
One message that came through clearly is the desire for the entire church to be educated about rostered lay ministries, especially lay members and parish clergy. The following priorities were also identified by rostered lay leaders:
1. To educate all members of the church about who rostered lay leaders are, what they do, and how they can serve the church. Increased awareness can be achieved through intentionally providing information and stories through congregational settings, seminaries, and synod events.
We desire to be acknowledged appropriately for our ministry and valued and supported as partners in ministry, with full utilization of our gifts.
2. To provide increased communication and opportunities for rostered lay leaders to gather and meet. While the deaconess community is grounded in regular gathering of community, and diaconal ministers have established an e-mail listserve to stay connected with others, many rostered lay leaders frequently feel isolated. Communication and networking among those on these rosters can address needs for support, connection, growth, and identity to combat marginalization and an underclass status.
3. To standardize appropriate aspects of all rostered ministries. Recognition of this important relationship of church and called servant through signs and symbols of the office, equal benefits for all rostered leaders, lifelong learning opportunities, and attention to mobility, compensation, and status issues are essential. Clear expectations and common understanding across the church of responsibilities will assist those serving, as well as those who might consider a church vocation.
4. To develop effective partnerships and encourage shared ministry. The church will benefit from attention to how rostered lay leaders work with each other and in relation to each other as well as to the ordained ministry roster and all the baptized people of God.
5. To give ongoing attention to questions raised by The Study of Ministry about how we order and define our ministry, as well as a commitment to empower and prepare strong and competent leaders of all ethnic backgrounds for public ministry.
Finally, we continue to pray that our ministries will be blessed and that as leaders, we can support and equip other leaders, moving strongly together for the glory of God.
There are many reasons to celebrate and be thankful for these gifted people of God who serve as diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and associates in ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Carol L. Schickel is the ELCA Director for Candidacy, Chicago, Illinois. She is a rostered associate in ministry.
1. In the Lutheran Deaconess Association, members may be rostered as associates in ministry, pastors, or diaconal ministers. Of the 160 deaconesses who are members of the ELCA, 36 are rostered as associates in ministry, 17 as pastors, and 1 as a diaconal minister. There are 18 deaconesses who are members of the LDA but are not rostered in the ELCA. The remainder are not working for pay or are retired.