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1. Female servants in the ch., formerly unmarried or widowed (some contemporary diaconates permit married women to serve as deaconesses); a special ministry in the ch.; “Phoebe, a deaconess.” (Ro 16:1 RSV)

2. Custom and usage of the ancient world forbade intimate assoc. of the sexes in pub. assemblies. Functions of deaconesses in the early ch. were to instruct female catechumens, assist at the baptism of women, care for sick or impoverished women, minister to women martyrs and confessors in prison, and act as ushers for women in chs.

3. The 4th c. was the Golden Age of the female diaconate. Forty deaconesses served in the cong. of J. Chrysostom* in Constantinople. Among the deaconesses of that time was Olympias.

4. When the diaconate came to be regarded as a meritorious work, its deterioration began. Escape sought from a corrupt world resulted in monastic life. By the 12th c. deaconesses had nearly disappeared.

5. The modern career woman in ch. work looks back to 1833 for the beginnings of her work. T. Fliedner,* planning ways to meet the needs of people in distress, opened a door for women who wanted to use their talents for the ch. He est. the first motherhouse 1836 at Kaiserswerth, Ger., where he trained ca. 425 deaconesses. J. K. W. Löhe* est. a motherhouse at Neuendettelsau 1854. Among others in Eur. were those at Bielefeld, Basel, Paris, and St. Petersburg. The diaconate was introd. also in Eng. and Scand.

6. Among chs. that have deaconesses are the Ch. of Eng., the Ch. of Scot., the Episc., Presb., Ref., Meth., Mennonite, and Bap. chs. Many deaconesses are active throughout the world.

7. W. A. Passavant* introd. the diaconate in Am. He est. a Luth. hosp. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1849, and on his request Fliedner brought 4 deaconesses from Ger. to be nurses in this “Pittsburgh Infirmary,” later called Passavant Hosp. One of the 4 deaconesses was Maria Elizabeth Hess, later wife of Philipp Wambsganss, Sr. (December 19, 1823–October 1, 1901).

8. Motherhouses were est. at Philadelphia 1884 and Baltimore 1895. In Omaha, E. A. Fogelström organized the Ev. Immanuel Assoc. for Works of Mercy 1889; a hospital opened 1890; home for deaconesses built 1891; Immanuel Deaconess Assoc. formed 1892. The Milwaukee motherhouse, later connected with the ALC, was est. ca. 1893. Other deaconess homes include those est. in Chicago, Minneapolis, Brooklyn, Brush (Colorado), and Axtell Nebraska). See also Wenner, George Unangst.

9. F. W. Herzberger* helped est. the deaconess movement in the Syn. Conf. He was ably supported by P. Wambsganss, Jr., pres. of the Ev.-Luth. Wohltütigkeitskonferenz.

10. The Luth. ;Deaconess Assoc. of the Ev. Luth. Syn. Conf. of N. Am. (LDA) was organized in August 1919 at Fort Wayne, Indiana Deaconess training was given in connection with the Luth. Hosp., Fort Wayne. First grad.: Ina Kempff 1922. First deaconess sent to a for. field: Louise Rathke, to India 1926.

11. LDA Pres.: P. Wambsganss, Jr., 1919–33; Walter Klausing 1933–55; Edgar H. Albers 1955– Supts. (called Ex. Dir. beginning in 1957): Bruno Poch 1923–32; Herman B. Kohlmeier 1932–41; Arnold F. Krentz 1941–61; Walter C. Gerken 1961–67; Arne P. Kristo 1968–71;. Lucille Wassman 1971–. Dir. of Training: Arne P. Kristo 1961–71. Dir. of Deaconess Educ.: Lucille Wassman 1971–. Over 300 deaconesses have been trained since 1920.

12. Deaconess schools: Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1920 to 1943; Beaver Dam Hosp., Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, 1922 to 1935; Luth. Hosp., Hot Springs, S. D., 1924–27; Bethesda Luth. Home, Watertown, Wisconsin, 1925–35. In 1935 the Fort Wayne school separated its program from the Luth. Hospital and the 3 schools were combined into one at Fort Wayne. The courses at that time emphasized intensive 1-yr. religious educ. for those who had specialized in nursing, educ., or social work.

13. In 1941 training was lengthened to 2 yrs.; courses in sociology and psychol. at Indiana U. Extension, Fort Wayne, and 6 mo. practical work were required.

14. In 1943 the LDA sold its Fort Wayne home, on hosp. grounds, to the Luth. Hosp Assoc. Deaconess educ. was transferred to Valparaiso (Indiana) U. In 1946 training was extended to a 4-yr. coll. course leading to a BA degree with a major in theol. Since 1961 deaconess students have been required to spend 1 yr. internship bet. the jr. and sr. yrs. Since 1959 LCMS jr. colleges have been opened to students interested in deaconess training; the first 2 yrs. training are available there, as at Valparaiso U.; the last 2 yrs. are available only at Valparaiso U.

15. A petition to the LCMS Board for Higher Education by concerned deaconesses in 1976 led to the ratification of several memorials at the 1977 and 1979 LCMS conventions and to the subsequent formation of a new deaconess program at Concordia* University, River Forest, IL that opened in 1980. The first director was Deaconess Nancy Nicol; the program is currently directed by Deaconess Kristin Wassilak. The program remains somewhat similar to the older Valparaiso U. program, including four years of study plus one year of internship. The degree major is theology with a minor in either psychology, sociology, social service or church music.

With the new program, the only one sponsored by the LCMS and the normal path to deaconess service in the LCMS, arose the Concordia Deacones Conference in 1980. Membership is contingent on being a member in good standing of an LCMS congregation or of a congregation adhering to a Lutheran church in church fellowship (see Altar Fellowship) with the LCMS, on unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord (see Lutheran Confessions) and on not being a member of any other deaconess conference or association.Certification and rostering of deaconesses in the LCMS is typically mediated through the CDC.

During the 1980's, several actions of the LCMS in convention led to the establishment and definition of the current LCMS deaconess nomenclature, culminating in the ratification of a constitutional change that made deaconesses eligible for professional membership in the LCMS for the first time in 1990.

E. Beyreuther, Geschichte der Diakonie und inneren Mission in der Neuzeit, 2d ed. (Berlin, 1962); K. Bliss, The Service and Status of Women in the Churches (London, 1952); Constitution of the CDC and other documents related thereto; C. Dentzer, Deaconess Work (Milwaukee, n. d.); F. U. Gift, The Ministry of Love (Philadelphia, 1928); C. Herzel, On Call (New York, 1961); H. B. Kohlmeier, History of the Lutheran Deaconess Association (mimeographed; Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1944); P. E. Kretzmann, A Handbook of Outlines for the Training of Lutheran Deaconesses (St. Louis, n. d.); J. Mergner, The Deaconness and Her Work, tr. Mrs. A. Spaeth (Philadelphia, 1911); F. Meyer, Von den Diakonissen und ihrem Beruf (Munich, 1892); J. F. Ohl, The Inner Mission (Philadelphia, 1911); W. A. Passavant, Jr., “The Beginnings and Some Principles of the Deaconess Motherhouse,” The First General Conference of Lutherans in America, ed. H. E. Jacobs (Philadelphia, 1899), pp. 216–227; N. N. Rönning and W. H. Lien, The Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital, Fiftieth Anniversary (Minneapolis, 1939); F. S. Weiser, Love's Response (Philadelphia, 1962); A. R. Wentz, Fliedner the Faithful (Philadelphia, 1936).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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