A Church of Word and Sacrament and Service – Deacon Margy Schmitt Ajer
by Kathye Hamm
So what’s a deacon anyway? Glad you asked!
I was certified as a Lay Professional Leader in the Lutheran Church in America in 1986. In 1987, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was birthed, I was grandfathered onto the roster of commissioned Associates in Ministry. In 1996, I was consecrated as the first Diaconal Minister in the ELCA. Five years ago, in 2016, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to establish a new roster of Ministers of Word and Service, to be called Deacons. And at the Churchwide Assembly in 2019, it was decided that the entry rite for deacons would be ordination, which means that I now serve on the roster of ordained deacons, Ministers of Word and Service. Four rosters, four titles, a long journey of following a call to public ministry in and on behalf of the church. But my call has always been the same, to focus on the intersect of church and world, to bring the needs of the world into the attention of the church, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the weary world. And with the church’s decision to ordain deacons to carry out this Ministry of Word and Service, as we have always ordained pastors to carry out a Ministry of Word and Sacrament, I feel like I have finally come home.
But having said all that, it’s not about me! Yes, this decision around ordination does address some issues of justice and affirmation for deacons, but that is not the really important thing. What is important is what the ordination of deacons says about who we are as church. In establishing two rosters of public ministry, Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Ministers of Word and Service, which happened in 2016, the church also defined itself as being a church of Word and Sacrament and Service. A Church where the Word is proclaimed both within it’s walls, and throughout our communities. A Church where God’s people are gathered around water and bread and wine to be nourished, strengthened, and encouraged as they are given gifts of grace and forgiveness and community to share. A Church where God’s people are scattered out into the world to be a sign of God’s love and grace and mercy, and to live out the Gospel. The Church needs all of this, Word, Sacrament, Service, to be the Church we are called to be.
Ordination of deacons is one way to demonstrate the interrelatedness and the essential nature of all three of these elements. By ordaining deacons as well as pastors, we are giving public witness of the importance of setting apart those called both to Word and Sacrament AND those called to Word and Service. By ordaining deacons as well as pastors, we are clearly claiming ourselves as a Church of Word and Sacrament and Service.
This move to ordination of deacons in no way diminishes the call of pastors. While the entry rite for both deacons and pastors is now ordination, that ordination will be into either Ministry of Word and Sacrament, or Ministry of Word and Service. The two rosters, as well as the two ministries, will continue to be distinct, and complimentary, as we live into being a Church of Word and Sacrament and Service.
So yes, personally this change to deacon’s ordination feels like an end of a long journey for me. I rejoice that what I have always known as my call is being recognized by the church in a way that affirms what I have always known.
But even more, I rejoice to be serving in a church that recognizes God’s call to proclaim the gospel, to gather God’s people in community and sacrament, and to send God’s people out into the world in service. We are indeed a Church of Word and Sacrament and Service! Thanks be to God!
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