“Citing ‘serious doctrinal problems’ found over the course of a four-year study of the umbrella-group representing the majority of the US' communities of nuns, the Holy See has announced a thoroughgoing shake-up of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), naming Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle as its delegate to conduct an overhaul of the group.”
In other words, the Roman Catholic Church has awakened to the fact that it was not just the habit and community that some of her women religious ditched after Vatican II. Nuns have undoubtedly been a boon and blessing to the Roman Church for so many years but they have, of late, been prominent among those challenging the doctrine, practice, and authority of Rome. Who can forget the specter of a nun lecturing the Pope?
While Rome has its own problem with the vocal dissent among many of the female religious, especially those who have assumed rather public and significant roles in health care positions, we Lutherans have our own problems. We have for many years expanded the number of auxiliary offices to the Office of Pastor. Teachers, DCEs, DCOs, and other offices have been added under the nomenclature of Ministers of Religion - Commissioned. That is the official side of it all. On the somewhat unofficial side, meaning without Synod wide acceptance or definition, we have a plethora of District Deacons who receive various levels and depths of training in order to serve in assisting roles to Pastors, or, in too many cases, as Pastors without ordination for parishes they do not believe can support a full-time Pastor or are isolated from the ministry of a regular Pastor.
Rome found out that dissent does not have to be vocal in order to be destructive. We Lutherans are only now realizing that the official confusion is not without its own consequences. Unofficially, we don't have a clue what some of these are actually teaching but, at least we know that some of these teachings are definitely not Lutheran. Rome has decided to stir the pot and face whatever unintended consequences they may find when the spotlight focuses on these women religious. Lutherans are not sure we want to stir the pot (you know my favorite advice: when you find a kettle of crazy, it is best not to stir it up). Maybe it is time we did so... before it is too late.
This means considering what the Lutherans in Canada have done in assigning all non-Pastoral offices to the category of "deacon." It has antiquity on its side and has Lutheran history behind it (recall Lohe). I propose dropping the rather recently configured category of Ministers of Religion - Commissioned and replacing it with Diaconal Ministers. This would include all the current categories but is not merely a name change. In doing so, we should also prepare a core curriculum to make sure that these are fully prepared and equipped to be Lutheran deacons -- in addition to training and proficiency in the particular responsibilities of their various positions.
I would also propose that we ditch the District deacon programs to make a consistent Synod wide Deacon program, with consistent and realistic curriculum and training and evaluation. This would also be accompanied by a uniform job description of what deacons may and should do and what they may not and should never do. With this should come a realistic understanding of adequate pastoral supervision of diaconal ministers. This would include appropriate liturgical roles and responsibilities as well as the traditional diaconal roles and responsibilities of teaching, mercy work, and service.
I actually have more hope that Rome will deal with its problems before we as Missouri Synod Lutherans put our house in order. And that is not a little troubling to me. Who will join me in calling upon our church body to clean up its act?