Spring 2012: My 2nd Semester at Wartburg Seminary

Now that I am two weeks into the Spring Semester I want to share a bit about my classes and schedule in general this semester. It is going to be a very busy semester, and yet I am so excited about the possibilities.

My classes include:

  • From Text to Sermon
  • Pauline Letters & Mission (Lecture and Small Group)
  • Systematic Theology
  • MA Colloquium II (primarily on research — prep for writing our MA research paper; great discussions are a bonus)
  • Diaconal Ministry: Formation for Ministry
  • Reformation History
  • Gender, Power, & Leadership (4 week module course on Monday afternoons)

I knew going into the semester, that I would almost certainly love my Diaconal Ministry and Gender, Power, & Leadership courses (and I do); however, I have to admit I am a bit surprised at how much I love the rest of the classes too. I was a bit intimidated by the thought of Systematic Theology (at 7:30 a.m. no less!), but I am LOVING the reading and finding the class discussions very interesting. Next week is the first time we meet in small groups (in part, to evaluate our first papers, gulp!), so we’ll see how that goes as well. Now if there were enough hours in the days to really read and dig into all the books recommended (not just the required ones) for these classes, that would be awesome! 🙂

Unless you happen to be a classmate (or Wartburg grad?), you may not think that this is a light load, but it is (10 graduate school credits), and I did it on purpose. In part, as someone living with auto-immune disease, I needed to give myself the time and flexibility to respond to the cues my body gives me (like chronic muscle pain, exhaustion and more recently chronic headaches) to slow down or do (time-consuming but effective) alternative therapies. In a way the fact that I live with chronic illness gives me a valid reason for simply balancing my life. The times I go into a “flare” condition are likely the times any individual should slow down and do some good self care. I just have the blessing of having no doubts about it, and generally no choice in the matter! So, in order to still put everything I can into my academic work (which I LOVE), and take care of myself and my family, I decided cut back on classes just a bit this semester.

The decision to cut back a few credit hours was affirmed when I needed to start working the five Work Study hours I am allowed. I am still grateful I did not work them last semester as settling in as a family along with our first semester of seminary classes was challenging enough; however, this semester it simply was not an economic option not to work them. I am trying to keep an open mind and heart as I am working at the St. Mark’s Community Center in downtown Dubuque with the before and after school programs at one of the “downtown” schools. This morning I had several bright smiling elementary students teaching me how to play new games, and quite enjoyed it. I am sure, as usual, I will be blessed beyond my expectations.

It may not happen consistently until I finish my module class, and can devote a bit of time on Monday afternoons, but I do hope to engage this blog more with what I am reading and learning. I imagine that there will be many things to share from my Diaconal Ministry class, and I have already started keeping track of what I call “Diaconal Ministry” sightings in my other classes (servant ministry and the theology behind it is practically everywhere when I start looking!).

If there is anything you would like to hear about, especially those of you following along from “back home,” please let me know!

Love and belief ~

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DMFE Response 5: Spiritual Disciplines

What are some (at least three) spiritual disciplines, which seem particularly well suited to support you in your ministry and life of faith?

The time we spent focussing on spiritual practices while at the DMFE did not introduce me to any new specific spiritual practices or disciplines; however, it did give me a greater understanding of their importance and history within Christianity. The metaphor of being a reservoir that needs to be full at all times because we cannot give what we do not have helped to underline this importance to me at a time when I had been struggling to maintain my commitment to practicing spiritual disciplines. I also appreciated using another “spiritual type” test to assist in recognizing disciplines that may feel more or less comfortable.

At this point I see a commitment to a few core practices being essential while also leaving time each week to try additional spiritual disciplines. The practice that I start and end my day with is a combination of centering prayer and Ignatius’ Examen prayer as I begin with thanksgiving and intercessory prayer as well as looking back over the last several hours or day and praying through that memory, and then I simply take myself to a sacred space and continue in centered prayer. I also enjoy doing a similar contemplative prayer while moving (generally a “prayer walk”) in the middle of the day. As a result of the appreciation I have gained both for monastic ritual and for setting a rule for one’s life, I will be implementing a personal rule that includes these contemplative prayer times as well as other practices and attitudes that I am still discerning.

In addition to the specific prayer disciplines, I see the disciplines of spiritual journaling and of slowing down and listening to be useful to me in both my ministry and my faith. I have journaled inconsistently in the past, and look forward to creating a disciplined way of incorporating journaling into my faith life. And while the practice of slowing down to notice and listen isn’t entirely new to me, I have not practiced it regularly in the past. In addition to practicing listening as a part of ministry, I plan to implement it simply as a regular practice both in solitary and within my family. I also plan to continue lectio divina or dwelling in the word on a regular, although not daily, basis. I also now realize how important spiritual discipline mentors are, and I will be seeking them out.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

DMFE Response: Personal Formation Journey

Formation Journey Continues

I cannot consider a reflective paper on the Diaconal Ministry Formation event compleat without including something on personal formation, and my reflection on this journey, past, present, and future. While the theology and historical background are an essential part of my formation, they are only a part. The DMFE as a whole (worship experiences, small group discussions, spiritual practices, lectures, time in community, and developing relationships) also helped me to uncover the layers of weights that I need to either leave behind or transform along this formation journey.

I am just beginning to be able to articulate that my call to ministry is inseparable from my life experiences. I have resisted connecting my daughter’s death to my call to ministry and yet if I had not called out in agony asking why I was here when she is not, if I had not felt totally abandoned and forsaken, and if I had not felt truly dark and broken and utterly “of this world” I would never found the sacred silence that beckoned me out of the shadows and into the love of Christ as demonstrated in God’s clear love for this world in all its brokenness. I may never have been able to recognize that sometimes we do the things we do not because we really want to, but because, through the strength of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can.

Additionally I realize that to truly live out this call I need to get myself out of the way (as we were reminded during the DMFE, it is not about us). In part this means that rather than holding on tightly to my remaining griefs, I must embrace them and that, as needed, let them go. This has been most challenging as I realize that some of the deepest grief I still hold on to are exactly where loss and theology meet. I am not sure I can even articulate this fully yet, but not only did my “Sunday School” faith not sustain me through my losses, the church body I belonged to at the time was not able to minister to me appropriately though that time. Every response I received was framed in terms of black and white with concern only to the next life with no ministry offered for our life on earth. I do not believe God abandons us in the present with merely a promise of future reconciliation. Rather, what Christ did on the Cross is for all eternity (our time and the next life). I continue to take this to God in prayer daily as to fully partner in reconciling ministry I must let go of my personal “chip on my shoulder” that has seemed to accompany my background of former identity with a earthly church with this understanding and seeming lack of diaconal ministry.

Another very important part of my formation throughout the event is my understanding of the mutual accountability relationship created by being a rostered and called leader within the ELCA. Prior to attending DMFE I knew that the ministry I was called to was diaconal ministry and was thankful to have a degree and approval process to be sure that I was trained well for the ministry I would do. However, I was not entirely sure it was necessary to be a rostered and called leader in order to do that ministry. I even said to others that if I could do the ministry without being rostered, I would be OK with that (thinking I was emphasizing the importance of the ministry over the importance of a church designated position). I no longer feel that way. I value the importance of mutual accountability implied by consecration, and I feel that the Diaconal Ministry roster in the ELCA is a very important roster that is vital for the ELCA to fulfill its mission. I am also grateful for those that forged this path creating a very specific and well-defined roster, including the Six Marks of a Diaconal Minister.

And finally attending the DMFE brings me an appreciation for the candidacy process. It was sobering to be reminded that the minute we were granted entrance we became a part of caring for the baptized of the church. I now have a better understanding of the importance of the approval process, and what it means to be a rostered leader in the ELCA.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

Additional links some may be interested in (I try not to assume readers know my background and yet cannot address this myself in my posts):

ELCA Candidacy Process

History of Diaconal Ministry Community (and from here a link to Together for Ministry (PDF file)

Rostered Leadership (ELCA)

DMFE Paper Response 4: Diaconal Ministry and Theology of the Cross, Vocation, and the Two Realms

How does diaconal ministry relate to two of the following important confessional concepts: the theology of the cross; vocation; or the two realms?

The theology of the cross is the foundation of justification by grace through faith, and if we want to understand God we have to start where God is most fully revealed–the cross. Since diaconal ministry is a ministry that embodies the cross of Christ it is crucial that we are able to relate it to and articulate the theology of the cross, including contrasting it to what we refer to as the theology of glory. Ephesians chapter two reminds us that we do not DO anything to make this relationship come into being: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2.8-10 NRSV). Faiths origins are worked into us. God decided this on the cross and what has been termed ‘decision theology’ is not a theology of the cross, but rather part of what we call a theology of glory.

We embrace the cross and its paradox of being the center of God’s power, wisdom and glory, and yet at the same time being the height of human weakness, foolishness and shame. It is on the cross that God embraces powerlessness and those on the absolute margins of society. Our call as diaconal ministers is totally entwined with the theology of the cross in part because we are called to minister to the marginalized.

The cross is the epitome of of the enactment of divine live as God seeks to deconstruct human wisdom and all ideas of what God is and isn’t about are tipped upside down via the cross. Theology of the cross informs our ministry in three particular ways: first it gives us the proper evaluative point of view and work out pattern for ministry, second we minister as servants of Christ and to God’s agenda for others and not others’ agenda for others (we are called to do more than just help people), and third we are called to a ministry of love as we cannot embody the cross without love. To love is to make the cross real to another and embody God’s love as shown in Christ on the cross (Romans 5.6-8; Galatians 2.20; 1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13) . We are reminded that God so loved the world and God is sending the people God loves to us!

As explained when discussing the Biblical background for diaconal ministry Jesus came to serve (diakonia), and as a ministry that embodies the cross of Christ we also come to serve. Our call is to serve from Word and Sacrament (as well as to Word and Service). Every time we celebrate the eucharist we are celebrating diakonia, and as we carry out our call to diaconal service we are enacting eucharist. Our call to enact Jesus’ service is embodied in the Eucharist and now embodied in our service.

When thinking specifically about vocation I turn to the story of separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25.31-46) and am reminded that we find Christ in the hungry person (not in the sheep), and that the “sheep” do not feed the hungry and perform other service ministries in order to find Christ, but rather they just do it. The sheep in the story as equally as surprised as the goats are. The people we serve in our ministries cannot become simply vehicles for doing our “religious thing” but must be an end in itself. In order to keep this perspective I return again to finding Christ in surprising places on the margins of our world, and look through the lens of Christ’s love for each person as demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross. When I look at an individual as someone Christ died for I am able to let the Spirit guide me in that love and in my ministry.

Concerning the two realms or kingdoms I relate diaconal ministry to this concept because it teaches us that God’s work is not confined to church. God is at work in the world. The two realms are not defined as church and world, but rather two modes of governance: gospel or unconditional love and promise) and compulsion or force (conditional). While force and compulsion have no place in the Gospel, God is also at work in places where governance needs to be exercised in other ways.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

Additional links some may be interested in (I try not to assume readers know my background and yet cannot address this myself in my posts):

Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (Realms)

What do Lutherans Believe?

DMFE Paper Response 3: Diaconal Ministry in Relation to Theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation

How does diaconal ministry relate to such important theological concepts as the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Trinity as we express confessionally as God the Father, the Son incarnate in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are the very foundation of any ministry, and I think especially of diaconal ministry. We are called to the boundaries of church and the world, and to minister with our perspective always on that boundary and those living on the edges or marginalized in our world. This call means that we minister neither fully within the church nor fully outside of the church. These are the same places we continually find God.

We don’t create the communities within we minister, rather God creates the community, and our call is to nurture and give expression to that community, and to extend community into the world. Yet, the world’s needs, those needs we find throughout our community of context, are not our prime motivation for ministry. Rather diaconal ministry addresses the hurts and needs of a broken world through the divine love manifested on the cross. As Diaconal Ministers we must discern, integrate and articulate how, within a particular context, our call embodies the cross of Christ. Diaconal ministry as an embodied reality of the cross of Christ must also remember that the Cross of Christ is about Christ’s whole life brought to the cross, and not only what happened on the cross. The particular life that Jesus lived is important and it can be dangerous to assume that others are remembering this life of Jesus that brought him to the cross. We need to tell the stories of Jesus, and not only the abstract theology. These stories of Jesus include Jesus going out into the community, and can be of particular use within our diaconal ministry contexts.

I also think it is very important to remember that Diaconal Ministry is a call to ministry of word and service (not just to service). A ministry of the word includes a ministry of Jesus Christ incarnate; John 1. 14 says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (NRSV) As ministers we must be prepared to share the Word of God as we find it expressed in and by Jesus Christ incarnate, the Word of God as proclamation of God’s message to us (the living word), and the written Word of God as found in holy scripture.

Looking at the Pauline Epistles the foundation for Diaconal Ministry are found not in Paul’s linguistics, but in Paul’s Pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is at work in all Christians, and is at work in each person, including diaconal ministers, the same way the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostle Paul (and other scripture writers). This also means that there is no hierarchy in who is doing the work of the Spirit. Having no hierarchy between rosters holds us accountable for our ministry.

The pattern for ministry is found in Paul’s Christology. Looking at what Jesus had done forms and shapes our ministry. As we intentionally engage in cruciform leadership we remember that above all Christ acted in faithful obedience to accomplish righteousness (right relationships), redemption (liberation), and reconciliation (end of enmity). We are ministers of God’s reconciliation. This cruciform leadership must always be formed by the cross and in the form of the cross.

The Holy Spirit gives us gifts, grace gifts, for ministry in order to empower us to bring the reality of the Body of Christ into the world. Romans 12.6 tells us “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith.” While the Holy Spirit, in helping us discern our gifts, can harness our human talents as gifts these are not synonymous. Rather our gifts for ministry are given to us (we do not create them) to build the body of Christ and take Christ out into the dark and messy world. As diaconal ministers we embrace that role and acknowledge that our call to word and service is going to be more intentionally messy.

I am reminded that these gifts of grace are not given for our sake, but to help the body of Christ function. Also that justification by grace includes the gifts of the spirit for ministry, and that faith is that which the Holy Spirit produces through Christ crucified. It is through the cross of Christ that we are transferred from sin’s dominion to Christ’s dominion, and that my cruciform leadership began at my baptism. Through this message of Christ crucified the Spirit forms faith in us. I am reconciled to God and others in order to be given a ministry of reconciliation. I am no longer in charge of my life; Christ is in charge.

In addition to being gifted by the spirit we are fruited by the spirit:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5.22-26 (NRSV)

While the gifts of the spirit are intended for this age only in order to build up the body of Christ and its mission, the fruit of the spirit is eternal and meant for both this age and the next. Every Christian receives this fruit of the spirit as it is holistic and inclusively worked by the spirit in each Christian.

Remembering that I am ministering as part of the larger body of Christ and being led by the Spirit makes me bold as I minister on the edges of community and church and address the needs of the broken and hurting world. It especially makes me bold when I think of my ministry to those carrying grief and broken with the weight of loss in this world. There is not a cure in this world, and yet there is healing.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

DMFE Paper Response 2: Diaconal Ministry throughout history

How has the church ordered its diaconal ministry in different ways at different times and places?

As the church began to form in new testament times the work of diaconal ministry was done by many within the church, and there was not a specific set of ministers set aside to do this work within church hierarchy (there was very little hierarchy). There were however specific communities that did set aside specific individuals to do specific ministries that were diaconal in nature. This community-based example did give some history to the orders of deacons that developed in the early church. There seemed to be no distinction regarding men and women serving as deacons in the church during the time of the apostles.

The three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon developed as early as the 100s, and although the office continued to evolve there is evidence that deacons duties included: liturgical responsibilities, assistance to the Bishop, service to the poor, and administrative oversight. In regards to this three-fold ministry Ignatius wrote that the Bishops are like the God the Father, the Deacons function as Jesus himself, and the priests function like the apostles. The order of the deaconess also began to emerge in the early church as separate from that of the deacon because the role of women within the culture of the early Christian church dictated a different role for women. Deaconesses evolved from the orders of widows and virgins and were responsible for ministry to women.

At the time of the early church the Deacons had many important roles that varied over time and within communities. Deacons were the eucharistic ministers, including taking communion to shut-ins, and some preached and administered communion within worship services in church as well. Additionally most direct pastoral care was left to the Deacons, and they had so many responsibilities that they required sub-deacons. Their service to the poor included ministering to those that were about to be martyred.

Between 312 and 325 C.E. the role of deacons changes as Christianity moves from being a religion that is persecuted to one that is of political value. The diaconate becomes primarily traditional as a stepping stone to becoming a priest, and the order of deaconess disappears. However, the work of diaconal ministry is still being done, but it is done by those in monastic orders.

At the time of the reformation additional changes regarding the diaconate occur as many monasteries empty, and others must do this important work. Luther’s theology of the “priesthood of all believers” removes a strict hierarchical pattern and no higher or lower order of Christians exists. The implications of removing the hierarchy include developing a new understanding of religious vocation, emptying the monasteries and nunneries, and disrupting the organized form of charity. Luther did express a preference for deacons who provided service to the poor. For women at the time of the Reformation the only way to serve in a public role was to become a “Pastor’s wife” because there were no other option for public ministry. And while Luther raised up the role of family, this still left a gap of no place to serve for many women. The role of who did diaconal ministry varied throughout the various traditions that came out of the reformation, including many protestant roles for deacons. At this time in history the Roman Catholic tradition continued to view deacons as a stepping stone to the office of the priest. Because there was much service needed at this time organizations outside of the church also formed and started doing such ministry to the poor and marginalized.

The rebirth of the modern diaconate occurred in the 19th century in response to the growing needs of the changing European society. A modern deaconess movement evolved with an emphasis on teaching and nursing as those were great needs at the time, and the deaconesses underwent rigorous training, including an emphasis on spiritual formation, in order to do the work. Deacons as service ministers also came from answering the great need at the time including the “Bruderhause” movement started by Johannes Wichern (1833) as the brothers in the house that sheltered, educated and cared for boys in need, were eventually called Deacons.

Meanwhile in the United States there were different needs due to the unsettled circumstance in the 18th century, and two main types of deacons emerged. There were deacons that had primarily administrative duties and there were deacons that were part of a graded ministry and were ordained as clerical deacons. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the modern diaconate slowly emerged in America as well as each ethnic group formed their own diaconal ministries beginning, in most cases, with mother houses and deaconess communities.

There are many legacies of these early communities in America including the creation of institutions of service, such as hospital, and of service agencies. Specifically the ELCA Deaconess community is a direct descendant of the historical diaconate in America, and the ELCA Diaconal Ministry roster is an indirect result of this history. Historically the modern rosters are united with their predecessors by their ministries of Word and Service.

Note — a few quick links on the History of the Diaconate:

The Deaconness: A History

From Word and Sacrament

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **