Monday, August 6, 2012

Women preachers/deacons in the LCMS

In a way, my heart is strangely warmed by the fact that the Atlantic District now officially has women preachers (deacons). For a long time those of us who have complained about the MO Synod tossing out AC XIV have pointed out that if you are going to let lay men act like pastors, what is to stop you from letting lay women act like pastors? Either no one who is uncalled to the Office may preach and administer the Sacraments, or everybody can. Well, now it's QED, as you can see below.

HT: Fr. Josh Osbun and the Stand Firm blog.

A few highlights of the program from the Atlantic District’s Diaconate Guidelines document:
4.1 At the heart of the ministry of deacons are works of mercy, witness, and worship, in solidarity with the poor and needy. The actual tasks undertaken by members of the diaconate will vary according to the gifts and skills of the deacon and the needs of the church and its surrounding community. Deacons so gifted will engage in various ministries of teaching within the congregation/agency, including baptismal and communion preparation, catechesis of youth and adults, and small group Bible study leadership or supervision. All aspects of diaconal ministry are under the supervision of the supervising pastor.

4.2 Members of the diaconate assume a leadership role in worship, but this is never to be their primary task. Rather, the serving function of deacons in the Church’s liturgy is to be a reflection of their tangible, actual servant hood in the world.

4.3 Members of the district diaconate shall neither preside at the Holy Eucharist nor exercise the Office of the Keys. In the absence of an ordained pastor and with approval of the pastor and congregation, the deacon may serve at the divine service including the communion liturgy using reserved sacrament. This practice should be used sparingly so as to not confuse the “Office of Deacon” and the “Office of Pastor.” The deacon may officiate at funerals under the direction of a supervising pastor. The deacon may proclaim the Gospel in formal and informal settings after he/she has received training in homiletics and while remaining under the supervision of an ordained pastor.

5.5 It is expected that most members of the district diaconate will continue to hold regular employment and therefore would be involved in diaconal service on a part-time, non-stipendiary basis. There may be instances however, when a deacon serves a ministry for a stipend….


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I looked at the Atlantic District document linked in the Stand Firm blog, and it appears as though that document was finalized in February of 2010. Has this been going on for more than two years now without anyone noticing?

    (I apologize for the initial deleted comment. I had to eradicate an embarrassing typo.)

  3. I like your first paragraph. Very true.

  4. Are the District Diaconate programs totally inappropriate? Is there any sort of District Deacon program that would be acceptable? I'm curious.

    1. Right, a Synodwide return to the historic form of ordained ministry (deacon, presbyter, bishop) would be fine by me. But making up own our thing to do with the word deacon serves neither our Synod nor the church catholic.


  5. Gropper,

    The problems with such programs are many, here are the two biggest, in my opinion.

    1) Since they are district programs, we end up with vastly different and confusing practice across the Synod.

    2) The program with the term "deacon" among Lutherans is that we have no clear definition of what a deacon is and what a deacon does.

    Here in this Atlantic district program we see these two points come crashing together.


  6. From Scott Diekmann at Stand Firm:
    Pasted below is the response of District President Benke on the ALPB Forum to this post, available here:

    Note the differences between their practice and their “Diaconate Guidelines” document, available here:

    All the more reason to read Pastor Wilken's article “From Exception to Rule: How Error Replaces Truth in the Church,” available here:

    "I don't know what the LCMS District Task Force will be doing, but the author of the blog is off base. There is no performance of the distinctive marks of the pastoral office by female deacons either preaching or consecrating Holy Communion in the AD; there is no performance of the distinctive marks of the pastoral office by male deacons by consecrating Holy Communion, and preaching only occasionally under supervision or reading the sermons of others by male deacons in several circumstances that are both tiny and far from another parish. There are no unsupervised free-range deacons. There is an established, ten course preparation for the diaconate plus 200 hours of pre-interview service required, plus a theological interview, plus ongoing continuing education necessity for every-three-year district re-certification.

    There is nothing being done by Atlantic District deacons that is outside the covenants of love of the LC-MS or the boundaries of the Lutheran Confessions and Holy Scriptures. And the parishes and pastors and workers of the Atlantic District are happy and blessed with these trained non-ordained auxiliary servants. Our diaconate provides a helpful model for theologically trained volunteer parish servants that indeed I wish more districts would tackle. The teachers are LC--MS pastors, trusted catechists (my formational view is that the diaconate is confessionally subscribed at the level of the Large Catechism and the Augsburg Confession), so that they might train catechists for parishes - my own parish is catechized through the diaconate except for adult catechesis, which is my responsibility. That's it and that's all.

    Dave Benke"

  7. Maybe the language ("he/she") needs to be made more precise, and maybe the sexual distinctions that President Benke made should be made clear by the district.

    It would also be very helpful not to have women referred to as "deacons" (which is a masculine form of ministerial address) and vesting in stoles.

    How do having women vest in abls and stoles jibe with our confessional assertion that he have admitted no novelties that were not received from Scripture and the Church Catholic?

    What if a female deacon wanted to wear a clerical collar? Would that just be one more adiaphoron?

  8. I have known David Benke since 1978 and served my vicarage and first placement (1980-1992) in the Atlantic District. I take him as his word that NO women are preaching or presiding in the AD. I believe that there are no deacons in the AD serving in place of a Pastor. I have publicly asked him to correct the confusing (best) or scandalous (worst) language of the diaconal document. However, I live within the confines of a Synodical district in which deacons (male but does that really make a difference) regularly preach and preside at the Table or the Lord in absence of a Pastor. I know of other districts in which this is the case. I know of congregations where youth preach on youth Sunday and LWML women speak from the pulpit or lectern on LWML Sunday. I know of many congregations in which the head elder has led worship, preached, and even presided at the Table of the Lord in absence of the Pastor. We must not lose sight of the larger picture. Women in albs is a distraction from the greater scandal of the unfocused doctrine of the ministry and the manifold abuses of our confession which regularly take place in our Synod.

    BTW I personally resent the use of the deacon stole for deacons not ordained and not having status beyond a parish or a district. It confuses our own deaconess history and the ancient and laudable office of the deacon in evangelical and catholic history (even though Lutherans have tended to call an ordained Pastor serving in a multi-pastor congregation deacon instead of the classical definition).

    I am not saying the the AD Deacon issue is not worth attention but only suggesting that it is but one small instance of an aberration that is far more pervasive than one practice.

    1. Pastor Peters,

      Do you know of any districts (other than the Atlantic District) that have issued explicit permission in their official Diaconal Guidelines for women "deacons" to preach and administer the sacrament?


    2. The Michigan District includes in their "Theology of Lay Ministry" (link @ bottom - pg 21) for their deacon program the Northwest District policy from 2005 that states:

      "Lay Assistant Ministers (male and female) as members of a local congregation are part of the Church as the people of God called to mission and ministry. They function by vocation locally and globally; in private(personal) and in public spheres. Lay Assistant Ministers take the Gospel where the people are."

      I agree with HRC that Lutherans - dare I say all denominations - are confused on "deacons". Etymologically, deaconia is not liturgia; they are a different service. Why don't we maintain consistency for deacons with deaconesses? Dare I say, the AD is being the most consistent in this practice - though heretical. The distinctions, roles, and training programs are already in place if we allow men to be deacons in deaconia! They can even wear a handsome blue uniform with a gold cross to confess this service! It matters not if a diaconate of male and/or females is made, but introducing a new "office" that is "called" and "sent" to do "Word and Sacrament ministry" that is NOT the - only - office sent by the authority of Christ by human authority is foolish, confusing, not in good/right/proper/regular order.

      Toward the goal of sending regularly called pastors to congregations, does a pastor need a masters degree? I contend this is nice, but not necessary. Can we make an associate degree or vocational program that can lower education costs? Can we dispel the lie that education costs equal higher church salaries? (Student loans do not determine salary. After the student loans are paid, the church does not pay less.) Can the many CUS schools be used to accomplish this task? Better yet, can the Seminaries create one distance program to this end? With an eye to SMP or the future of it, can local supervisors be close enough to supervise, oversee, teach, guide, coach, assist, and lead by example - not 60+ miles away with 4-6 other pastors closer as per an example in my circuit? Can local supervisors be voted in at District conventions - not by politically motivated DPs, prior to a student entering the program? Can alternate supervisors be arranged (for deaths, retirements, calls to another congregation, etc) so a student is not in a lurch? Can we unitedly confess that the diaconate and vicars are NOT in the Office of Holy Ministry and shall NOT consecrate "ex opera operato" and reading of sermon manuscripts be done only be males Sorry for the digression, though the discussion will need to be had as it fosters unwanted innovation from "the spirit of Wichita!"

      Link -


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