Eva Creydt Schulte, a diaconal minister, shares her story on being called to ministry and commentary on an upcoming vote at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly to unify the three existing lay rosters.
In our lives we are presented with many bridges. We choose how we approach them. Do we cross the path, gaze at the beauty or challenge, or simply peer to the other side?
Our church, the ELCA, has been ready for some time to cross a bridge that was presented to us by Martin Luther—the bridge into the practice of the priesthood of all believers. Each day through our actions we have the opportunity to always be made new in creating communities of inclusion in our church and world and even our denominational roster. This August, our ELCA Churchwide Assembly will vote on a recommendation to unite the present three lay rosters of associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses into one unified roster of Word and Service called deacons.
As the proud daughter of a Lutheran minister, the churches we served in the ELCA felt like home. As a white child growing up in a white household and attending mostly white congregations, I saw through the initiative and ministry of my parents how the church can and should engage deeply in our communities. The churches we built and served did not always embrace this witness because the role of pastor was often too narrowly perceived. As I grew up, I sought a faith expression that was representative of the world I encountered each day outside our church walls.
I found the intersection I had longed for through attending a Global Mission event and my eyes were opened to how our church builds and supports leaders for public life. I saw the powerful expression of what it meant to be church in the world and its possibility in any community. This vision of our church being rooted in community and engaged in justice and ministries of inclusion motivated my entrance into the candidacy process in 1998 for diaconal ministry.
My hunger to engage concretely in the world through the church was awakened. I was not called to sacramental ministry. I discovered diaconal ministry through the guidance of the southeastern Iowa synod. The call of diakonia is to build bridges between church and world and communicate the needs of the world to the church. Those called to diaconal ministry in the ELCA live out this call as they encounter the pain, hunger, hope and aspiration of the communities they serve each day. There are many manifestations of diaconal ministry; they are very often in places our church has yet to engage. It is essential ministry for the good of the church and the sake of the world.
My synodical call as a diaconal minister is to the work and mission of congregation-based community organizing at Communities Creating Opportunity in Kansas City.
In my call context within the Central States Synod we are bringing together some of the most diverse and largest gatherings of people in the heartland. We impact life-changing and family-stabilizing solutions to our connected and systemic challenges.
The unification of the present three lay rosters is happening at a critical moment in our country. Faith institutions that are talking about race and structural inclusion are building bridges and preparing the way for a new racial majority that compels our church to act and be different to be relevant.
The church will be made new as we see the opportunity before us to welcome and include all. The unified roster of Word and Service can help our ELCA understand that the role of service and equity can guide our church into the next century where white people and congregations will be the minority. We have the potential to find ourselves as the ELCA within a beautiful quilt of interconnectedness. We are called to become church together. Our unified roster of Word and Service is not a sideline call to pastoral ministry but a path forward led by pastors and deacons to connect more deeply with one another. It is an opportunity to embrace a way of being made new as a church that parallels the sacramental and diaconate call.
We will attend the assembly with our full selves, ready to encounter our God and Spirit that calls us to a different kind of ministry for today, where all embody discipleship. A united roster joining diaconal minsters, deaconesses and associates in ministry in our church is as a yin and yang Word and Service companion to Word and Sacrament ministry. Now is the time to be made new for the sake of the world.
For nearly 20 years I have lived out the ministry of faith-based organizing as an expression of the ELCA. Our integrated work together as pastor and deacon will embolden our church to see the chasms that need bridges, build them on like footing, and create a new path through the ministries of Word and Sacrament and Word and Service. I am honored to serve as a diaconal minister and to continue to serve as a deacon. The union of the present three lay rosters will move us forward in our church for the sake of our rapidly changing and growing world.