Last month, shortly after the COVID-19 shutdown, we received the following message from Rev. Derek Wolter, Chaplain at the Lutheran Home & Harwood Place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He wrote to boast of his deaconess intern, Anna Miels, who is in our Master of Arts (Leading to Deaconess Certification) Program. She began her internship at Lutheran Home & Harwood Place in January 2020.
“Anna has been a true gift to us during this current situation,” Chaplain Wolter explained in an email to Deaconess Amy Rast, Associate Director of Deaconess Formation Programs here at CTSFW. “There is no way that the spiritual needs of our residents could ever hope to be met if we did not have her with us. This young woman truly embodies the vocation of service to the Lord’s people, and we are blessed that she is among us.”
He went on:
So what, exactly, does a deaconess do? Anna Miels, Deaconess Intern at Lutheran Home and Harwood Place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could provide a ready answer to that question, if she would take a minute from her work during the current COVID-19 situation. So I, her supervisor, will speak on her behalf.
A deaconess in a mercy-based ministry, such as a health care center, spends hours each day visiting our residents on a one-to-one basis. She often is the only visitor that a resident will have who is there simply to provide comfort and companionship. Families are currently restricted from all visits, and staff members are overwhelmed due to absence of fellow workers. The deaconess is that one-on-one assurance that person in his/her humanity is important, valued, and cherished, not only by our Lord but by fellow members of the Church of Christ.
The deaconess answers requests to be with a resident who is actively dying, whose family is not able to be present, whether because of virus restrictions or distance from each other. She prays with and for the resident, reads the words of Scripture and offers prayers for peace and comfort during the transition from this world to our Lord’s presence. She may be the last person to speak a work of hope, to hold a hand in comfort, to ease the loneliness that often accompanies death.
The deaconess answers the call to bring a word of comfort to someone suffering through depression and hopelessness. She is there when a person is isolated by a new routine when they arrive here, or when a resident loses a child or grandchild to death. She is with the individual in their loss and hurt, bearing the burden of pain and fear with them as she speaks of Christ, His love and presence, and the hope that He brings of restoration.
The deaconess provides for the needs of the staff by taking upon herself extra duties so that staff members can rest and find some refreshment for their spirit. She may serve meals in resident dining rooms, help with resident hygiene, or make deliveries of clean clothing and supplies from families who cannot go past the front desk. She calls the families of residents she has visited, giving them the assurance that their loved one is cared for, that the resident has an advocate in the facility even though family cannot be there. She goes above and beyond to meet the needs of God’s people as they develop in real time.
The deaconess expands her offering of Bible classes and devotions to comply with orders restricting the number of people who can gather. Her number of events may go from two to six in a week, and she is there with kindness and compassion as she delivers the Word of God and the hope of the Gospel to those in her care. She may be asked, at a moment’s notice, to develop a series of devotions to include in a weekly devotion booklet, so that people can have a spiritual resource that speaks to their current fears and situation. She may arrive early and stay late so that she can enter her care notes in residents’ individual records, having spent her regular eight hour schedule in direct personal care of the residents, her duties and events having expanded due to the current crisis.
In short, the deaconess is an extension of the chapel, the visible reminder of the presence and love of God in Christ. Her hands, her voice, her skills all seek to serve the Lord by bringing comfort, meaning, and peace to his people as they experience the cares and fears of a fallen world. She is the servant of her Lord, seeking only to bring comfort to His people. She is a great resource to the Church, and a blessing to any ministry to which she is attached.