Here is the church and here is the steeple
Open the doors and see all the people
Close the doors and hear them pray
Open the doors and they all walk away.
Kids have fun making the motions to this well-known nursery rhyme, but what does it say about faith? It seems that it is shut up inside our tightly woven fingers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, following the teaching of Martin Luther on vocation, asserts that we all have a calling – a vocation – to follow Christ’s example, living a life of meaning and purpose. We are not to be a people of faith stuck inside a building. Christian vocation is not restricted to pastors who preach from a pulpit each Sunday. It includes pastors serving in other contexts, lay people serving in their daily lives (doctors, janitors, parents, salespeople, committee members, children, and so much more), and rostered lay people. The ELCA’s lay rosters include Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses, and Diaconal Ministers. These leaders are theologically trained, professionally prepared, and commissioned or consecrated for ministry in word and service.
On June 3, 2012, the Southeastern Minnesota Synod consecrated its first Diaconal Minister. This comes nearly 10 years after the start of the roster, which began in 1993. Barb Peterson has served the church in various capacities since her teenage years. She is eager to share more about this new calling.
Diaconal Ministers have a strong calling to serve the church in their professional life. They have a masters degree from a seminary, go through the candidacy process to help discern their call to ministry, and are consecrated by the church when they receive a letter of call to a ministry setting. About 28 percent of Diaconal Ministers serve in congregations. The majority serve in chaplaincy positions, faith-based and secular organizations, synods and the churchwide organization, and educational institutions. Whatever the context, they serve where there is need, equipping others to live out the Gospel and alerting the church to the needs of the world.
Barb has a Master of the Arts in Ministry in Daily Life from Luther Seminary. Her position as Congregational Life Minister at Zumbro Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn., is evolving. Her role, for now, includes coordinating and training volunteers and assisting with small group ministry.
Over the years, Barb has continually felt God calling her to serve in a variety of capacities. The call to diaconal ministry, she recounts, came from “a deeper sense of wanting to be connected to the church in a more intense and more intentional way.” People called to this type of ministry, according to Barb, “Recognize the importance of the larger church, of families, synods, agencies, churchwide, etc. They give voice to the needs of the world and are in mission to meet those needs.”
Diaconal Ministers have a vocational focus, theological training, a community context, the consecration of the church, and God’s calling. But they recognize that theirs is just one type of calling to serve Christ. Diaconal Ministers help create a bridge between Sunday morning and people’s daily lives in order that we might all find our calling. As Barb explains, “Whether at home, in community, work place, or congregation, Christ calls us to be his hands and feet, his voice and heart in our world.” Diaconal Ministers, along with all faithful servants of the church, step in where the nursery rhyme leaves off, bringing the church with the people as “they all walk away.”
More information at www.ELCA.org/diaconalministry