12 August 2010

I love a parade

I respectfully disagree with the decision to invite deaconesses to process at the service for the installation of Synodical officers for the following reasons:

1. The purpose of a processional is to facilitate the Divine Service; more circumstantial than pompous. Those who process do so for the purpose of carrying an object necessary to the service or because they will be performing some function in the service. Surely we do not have so many thuribles as to require a throng of deaconesses to bear them (particularly when every pastor of Synod has also been invited to process via the official invitation appropos of an installation, and no gentleman would ask a lady to carry something when his hands are free). As to performing a function, the function of a deaconess in a public worship service is the same as any other lay person: to receive the gifts of God offered by His called and ordained servants.

2. To single out deaconesses is arbitrary. It suggests some heirarchy among Commissioned Ministers. Why were teachers, DCEs, DCOs, and other CMs excluded? Whereas deaconesses are a subset not only of CMs but also laity, why not bricklayers, bean counters, bus drivers, or (as a caller to my house recently suggested) pregnant ladies? Or perhaps the deaconesses were selected to represent -esses, in which case waitresses, actresses, stewardesses, or blogresses could have been just as appropriately invited. Anyway, it's confusing and invites animosity.

In puzzling over this strange matter, I was informed that there are certain quarters which think President Elect Harrison does not value women highly enough and this move was intended to disprove that. Again, respectfully, I believe there is a better way to refute this absurd accusation. While the invitation is clearly intended as an honor, it is in the end tokenistic since the deaconesses do not have an official role in the service and therefore no proper place in the processional. Tokenism always brings the credibility of the token into doubt. But the Church can do better, for no one knows better than we the true value of every child of God and therefore has less need for cosmetic posturing.

The deaconesses would do well to say, "Thank you, Pastor Harrison. We know what you mean, and we appreciate it, and we know this is the kind of thing the world eats up. But you know us; we're much more comfortable in the highways, hedges, hospitals, and homes. What is our want, anyway? We want to serve. Whom do we want to serve? Well, the Lord's wretched and poor will probably be thirsty after that long service, so why don't we have some drinks ready outside afterwards? We'll be able to save our financially floundering Synod the cost of the wait staff and demonstrate the humble service for which Loehe saw a need in the church and world and fostered the development of the deaconess as we know her today. That's so Dorcas!" Or something like that. I'm sure any deaconess, as a licensed servologist, could come up with an even better idea.

And President Elect Harrison, if he is truly interested in serving the women of our church and world (which I believe he is) could inaugurate this task by doing something the LCMS (and the C there is for Chicken) has failed to do. He could apply his skills of scholarship and writing to a clear, unequivocal, Scriptural statement (not to say encyclical) of what women are given to do at home, church, and world; in celibacy, marriage (addressing both maternity and infertility), and widowhood*. He could reframe our discussion of women's service into an explicit confession of what women are positively given to do instead of a negative campaign against women's ordination.

Such a statement could render the benefit of cutting into the "how far is too far" games currently being played in our church body which are effectively turning the LCMS into a technical virgin. Such a statement could help make the LCMS the place where women are valued for what they do naturally, rather than narrowly frowned at about what they cannot (which merely provokes more mischief) or transmogrified into imitation dudes. And such a place as that could make a woman happy to say, "Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord. Let's rock the cradle roll!"

*For all the feminist readers of this blog, of whom I'm sure there are scads: why are women being considered only according to their marital/reproductive status? Because when God tells Adam and Eve "Be fruitful and multiply," He's giving Eve instructions very different from those He's giving Adam. That's just how Christians roll; thanks for asking! :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this.

Sarah Osbun said...

Thank you, you are spot on with this post.

Deaconess Sarah Osbun
(currently retired so that I can rock the cradle as soon as the little one arrives in March)

Rebekah said...

Anything for you, Anon. ;)

Congrats, Sarah!

Melrose said...

I had to jump out of my chair and pump the air with my fist while reading this!! Amen sister, Amen!!!

Cheryl said...

Mulling this over. First, I am not one of your feminist readers. Let's just get that out of the way right off the bat, shall we? :-)But it doesn't bother me that the deaconesses were invited to process. I'm wondering, rather than a nod to the ladies, could it be a symbolic gesture representing Pastor Harrison's commitment to mercy? I realize there are other sorts of called workers that were not asked, but my understanding is that deaconesses have a special calling to the performing of human care and acts of mercy. Or am I wrong on that?

Just thinking out loud. I also don't mind a little pomp to go along with the circumstance. In my opinion, the occasion calls for it. At my former congregation on Easter Sunday the choir would process during the singing of "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" on Easter. It made it seem even more celebratory than usual. But there really wasn't a liturgical reason for them to do so. On Palm Sunday at our current congregation, the children process waving palms. That, too, is more pomp than circumstance. They aren't facilitating DS in any way. But it effectively highlights the Palm Sunday reading.

I get your point. I totally do. And I would understand and support any deaconess that says, "No, thanks." But I can also see why someone might say, "Thank you. I would be honored."

P.S. What do CM and DCO stand for?

Rebekah said...

Hey, we know you're on the level, Cheryl. :) And I don't mind me a little pomp, either--but then, I also think that choirs should serve a liturgical function (rather than being a performance or hobbyist group), and the processional is an orderly and dignified way of getting these liturgical assistants to the transcepts, no?

But I don't know that there's a strong precedent or argument for an honor guard or whatever we might call it in a liturgical procession. It's hard for it not to appear to be cut from the same cloth as any imposition of personality or preference on the church's liturgy. In general, I think it's a good idea not to use corporate worship to draw attention to any person or cause (this is how weddings and funerals have deteriorated into circuses). There are lots of ways the deacs could be honored; my worthless opinion is that some other way would be more beneficial.

Rebekah said...

Oh--Commissioned Minister and Director of Christian Outreach (pick up one of these at Concordia St. Paul).

Untamed Shrew said...

"C" is for Chicken, that's good enough for me!

From a purely non-theological standpoint, I'm much more likely to approach a deac if she's got a baby in a sling and is serving punch than if she had processed in uniform. This would lead to discussion (maybe even friendship!) and removal of much of the stigma that deac-ignorant folk like me put on them. Once the stigma is out of my mind, I'm much more likely to say, "Hey, Pastor-spouse, she was so nice and really loves old people and babies. Don't you think we could use one of those in our congregation?"

Cheryl said...

Rebekah, your opinion on any number of matters could be described in any number of ways, but one adjective I doubt any of your readers would find useful to the cause would be "worthless."

Speaking of the installation service, maybe I'll see you there? (I'll be the one who's not processing.) :-)

Lauren said...

I think I must have missed the obvious. Where did you read that deaconesses were invited to process? The invitation you linked to didn't state that.

Rebekah said...

Cheryl, I'm not planning to attend, but my house is right on your way if you want to come by for lunch. For real!

Lauren, that also struck me as odd. I read about it here:


and have been unable to find other public documentation. I called a deac friend and she told me the invitation had been extended via email; I think the original message was sent to the CDC president.

e&k said...

the deaconesses could wave the streamers?

Rebekah said...

I knew someone was going to suggest that, and I should have known it would be you.

Anonymous said...

What will be the function of the clergy who have been invited?

Rebekah said...

Clergy are usually invited to vest and process at installations so that they can speak a blessing over the pastor-elect during the installation proper. I don't know if at a service of this size all the vested clergy will actually come forward and speak over Pastor Harrison (much like large services where it is decided that communicants have to "take and eat and get out of the way" without being welcomed or dismissed due to pragmatic considerations).