Deaconess Community of the Lutheran Church in America
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The Deaconess Community of the Lutheran Church in America incorporated on August 5, 1966, although its three predecessors date back to the end of the 19th century. The three predecessor motherhouses were the Mary J. Drexel Home and Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses (PMD), the Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouse and Training School, Baltimore Maryland (BMD) and the Immanuel Deaconess Institute, Omaha, Nebraska (IDI).
As of 1963, the new community, the Lutheran Deaconess House and School, Inc., (LDHS), related to the Lutheran Church in America through its Board of College Education and Church Vocation (BCECV) and consisted of the merged Philadelphia and Baltimore motherhouses. The deaconess community of the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church originally had no formal relationship with the BCECV. In 1965, unification of Immanuel Association of Lutheran Deaconesses of Omaha, Inc and LDHS took place. The merger took effect on January 1, 1966 and the new community was referred to as Deaconess Community of the Lutheran Church in America (LDC)
In the early years, the BCECV was ultimately responsible for deaconess work, but it assigned the day-to-day responsibility to the Deaconess Community Board (DCB). The LDC was responsible for maintaining and operating the deaconess center and any vacation homes owned by the community. It was in charge of programming and staffing at the center and had the responsibility for educating the sisters, caring for retired sisters, and promoting the welfare of active sisters. The deaconess community met triennially and later biennially. In the LDC’s first decade, the role of these meetings was primarily that of advising and consulting. Later the Deaconess Assembly would be established as the community’s highest governing authority.
What made the history of the LDC different from that of its predecessors were changes it underwent from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. As the entire LCA went through restructuring in 1972, boards were eliminated and replaced with four administrative divisions. The Division for Professional Leadership (DPL) management committee would oversee the work of the deaconess community. In 1976 a study resulted in a paper titled “The Crisis in the Diaconate,” followed by hearings on the study in 1977 and in 1978, with DPL presenting resolutions on the study to the LCA’s 1978 convention. The LDC was granted greater self-determination and became designated as an “officially recognized community.” Funding of operations would be through deaconess community funds rather than from the church.
The Deaconess Community underwent other changes, including discontinuing the requirement that deaconesses had to remain unmarried to serve. Another change that affected the community was the approval of ordination for women in 1970. Policies of the LDC did not allow for a deaconess who became an ordained pastor to remain on both rosters, so that a deaconess who became ordained was required to resign from the deaconess roster. The LDC continued in 1987 as the Deaconess Community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Adapted in 2008 from an Administrative History compiled by Catherine Lundeen, Chief Archivist for Collections Management, May 2006.