Anne Keffer elected as Directing Deaconess in the ELCA

 — May 21, 200421 mai 2004

WARRENVILLE, Ill. (ELCA) — The Ninth Biennial Assembly was a significant moment in the 120-year history of the Deaconess Community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). After more than a year without a motherhouse or a directing deaconess, the community met May 14-17 here at the Cenacle Retreat House and elected Sister E. Anne Keffer to a four-year term as its directing deaconess.

The Deaconess Community is a community of lay women consecrated by the church to a ministry of Word and service. Sisters in the community work in a variety of settings such as health care, Christian education and social services.

Deaconesses are theologically trained and professionally prepared for their careers. They are called to ministry by congregations and synods of the ELCA and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

“I can only believe that our deaconess community continues because it is God’s direction,” said Keffer, director, Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and a member of the ELCIC. She plans to move to Chicago as directing deaconess.

In an interview Keffer spoke of internal and external challenges facing the community.

“We have left a big part of our history,” Keffer said, describing the internal challenge. “We have sold our building, which has been in the family for many years. There has always been a ‘sacred space’ connected to that house. So, it’s going to take us a while to see what that means for us.”

In 1884 deaconesses arrived from Germany to run the German hospital in Philadelphia. They established the first U.S. motherhouse. The first U.S.-trained deaconess was consecrated three years later. The motherhouse served the community as its central office, meeting place and retirement center until November 2002, when the motherhouse was closed and the office was relocated to the Lutheran Center in Chicago — the churchwide office of the ELCA.

In February 2003 Sister Nora Frost resigned after 12 years as directing deaconess to care for her father. The community’s board of directors and many individuals provided essential leadership in the interim, Keffer said, but more than a year later the community still felt the loss of the directing deaconess.

Holding the biennial assembly in a retreat facility — “somebody else’s space” — instead of the motherhouse was a unique experience for many of the deaconesses, said Sister Elizabeth A. Steele, chair of the community’s board of directors, Huron, Ohio. She said the assembly handled several related questions: “How do you move into a new future? How does that relate to place? Is that one ‘place’ or could it be ‘places’ — places where sisters are in ministry and mission together?”

“This is a time of continuing transition in the life of the community — leaving our longtime home in Philadelphia and coming to Chicago and looking at positioning ourselves to move into mission and ministry in the 21st century. It’s a different time,” Steele said. “How can we be most effective in that ministry?”

Keffer said, “The external challenge at this time is to connect with the church and the world in a way that is meaningful for diaconal ministry.” The deaconess community has some work to do with how it is perceived by those outside it, she said.

“The ‘who we are’ is connected to the kinds of calls we will be asked to take within the church,” Keffer said. She said she will work toward the day when the directing deaconess does not have to find calls for deaconesses but has Lutheran congregations and agencies waiting in line.

“I am committed to a way of life in which all we can do is take the next step,” Keffer said. The doors of the motherhouse may close, but the community will “continue on into this century with strength and fervor,” she said. “It is just the next step that we take.”

Keffer received a majority of the 43 votes cast on the assembly’s fifth ballot. Sister Phyllis J. Enck, director of Christian education and youth ministry, Christ Lutheran Church, York, Pa., was the other candidate on that ballot. Sister Carolyn R. Hellerich, Lincoln, Neb., was a candidate on the fourth ballot.

The assembly elected Sister Carol A. Burk, publicist and communication director, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Charleston, S.C.; Sister Melinda Ann Lando, pediatric nurse, Bronx Lebanon Hospital, Bronx, N.Y.; and Sister Carol A. Wright, parish assistant, Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, Rochester Hills, Mich., to four-year terms on the community’s board of directors.

Dr. Susan W. McArver, associate professor of educational ministry and church history, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C., presented the assembly with a history of the diaconate and posed a series of questions:

+ What can the ELCA Deaconess Community learn from its history as it faces a time of transition and change?

+ Are past issues that deaconesses and the deaconess community faced still personal issues and issues for the community?

+ What should the community avoid in the 21st century? What should it be sure to bring from its past?

McArver is also director of the seminary’s Center on Religion in the South.

Steele said McArver helped the assembly deal with the proper role of tradition in the community. “She really was so right on target with what we needed to be thinking about,” Steele said. “It was very helpful.”

“In the planning over the past few years, as we thought about where we go into the future, we wanted to be more focused on mission than on running a motherhouse. Running a motherhouse was a very expensive thing to do,” Steele said. “How do we focus now in the future on taking those resources and translating them into mission?”

A mission development working group reported to the assembly on proposals to seek, evaluate and select mission opportunities for the community. The assembly set aside money to help deaconesses develop their ideas into new ministries, Steele said.

The Deaconess Community of the ELCA is a member association of the Diakonia World Federation — World Federation of Diaconal Associations and Diaconal Communities — based in the Netherlands.

Lay ministers of the ELCA are associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers. There are about 70 women on the roster of ELCA deaconesses.

Posted: May 21, 2004 • Permanent link:
Categories: ELCA NewsIn this article: Prairie Centre for Ecumenism
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Catégorie : ELCA NewsDans cet article : Prairie Centre for Ecumenism

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