The ‘Constant Job’ of Caring
From South Carolina to Alaska, deaconesses support their churches or organizations by caring for the physical and spiritual needs of others.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10–11).
Deaconesses care for the physical and spiritual needs of others. This seemingly simple job description encompasses a huge number of tasks. Many deaconesses work in parishes, while others serve in nursing homes, institutions or Recognized Service Organizations. Their day-to-day tasks involve working with women, youth, older adults, those with disabilities or addictions, and many other groups.
“You have to choose because there are so many things you can do. It’s a constant job,” says Deaconess Ellee Mietzner, who serves as a parish deaconess at Zion Lutheran Church, Anchorage, Alaska. “It’s always changing with the people, with the needs of the community, with the needs of the church, and I get to be there for it all.”
In South Carolina
Some 3,500 miles away in Summerville, S.C., Deaconess Karen Suter also serves as a parish deaconess. One of her favorite parts of the job is visiting shut-ins and other members of Grace Lutheran Church, Summerville, who aren’t able to attend worship.
“When I walk through the door and I can share with them that Jesus is still thinking about them and we’re still thinking about them and we’re still praying for them, it’s a service to that person, but it’s also one of my greatest joys,” she says. “I love to be able to point them to where Christ is in their different situations.”
Longtime member Earlene Stier, who now lives in an assisted living facility, loves Suter’s visits. “We have really good conversations that sometimes last almost two hours. We just talk about the church and about the Bible, and it’s just wonderful,” Stier says. One time when Stier needed help, she called Suter: “I knew that she would come, and that was a good feeling.”
Suter always knew she wanted to serve in the church, but she didn’t discover deaconess service until her freshman year in college. After doing research for a couple of weeks, she filled out the paperwork to transfer to Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., and enrolled in its undergraduate deaconess program. “I knew right away that I had found a way to serve,” she recalls.
Suter has been serving at Grace Lutheran Church since 2017, and her duties are varied. In addition to visitation, she leads a women’s Bible study, organizes events for older adults, creates a weekly YouTube video about each Sunday’s Hymn of the Day, serves on many of the church’s committees, and cares for people’s physical and spiritual needs as opportunities arise.
There’s “a mountain of work” that pastors often do that’s not specific to the Office of the Holy Ministry, says the Rev. Richard Willsea, pastor of the church. “So, having a deaconess on staff is super helpful because then she can help carry a lot of that load, which allows you to focus a little bit more on your Word and Sacrament ministry. She can help with calls, she can help with teaching, she helps with confirmation, she helps with just having an extra set of hands around. And she ends up getting drafted into a million little things.”
For instance, during the pandemic Suter became the church’s de facto technology department, since she was the youngest person on the staff. Willsea is grateful that she’s willing to take on the tasks like this that are needed to help the church run smoothly.
“Despite his best efforts, Pastor doesn’t have time to wear all of the hats,” Suter says. Instead, she loves her role in supporting both church members and church staff and filling the unmet needs she encounters.
Ellee Mietzner’s work in Alaska might seem worlds away from what Suter does in South Carolina, yet their service has a lot in common. Just like Suter, Mietzner loves the endless ways she can serve her congregation and her community through her work as a deaconess.
Life in the church is “exciting for the unpredictability of the people and the different jobs and the emergencies that come up or the celebrations. We’re always here for that,” Ellee says of herself and her husband, the Rev. Kyle Mietzner.
The two of them serve together at Zion Lutheran Church, Anchorage — something they agreed never to do when they met and were married during their graduate studies at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. But working together “is not as scary as you would think,” Ellee now admits.
“The wonderful thing about having Ellee as the deaconess here is that there is a whole other dimension to the work of the ministry that she brings. It’s not that I’m incapable of being the pastor to women, but … it’s just another dimension,” says Kyle. “It does not take away from anything I do. Instead, it sort of multiplies the work here at Zion.”
While Kyle focuses on Word and Sacrament ministry, Ellee looks for ways to help people in other areas, whether that’s teaching Sunday school, helping to prepare meals for the homeless, assisting with Christian fellowship events the church holds at a local nursing home, collaborating with the local pregnancy resource center, or managing the church’s outreach to families with small children. Sometimes she also serves as a substitute teacher at nearby Anchor Lutheran School. As the mother of three children, ages 6, 9 and 11, Ellee knows that vocation comes first, which is why she currently works part time. But it also gives her a special love for working with children and families.
Ellee recently befriended Shine, a mother from the neighborhood who had just moved to Alaska from the Philippines. Shine visited the church over the summer with her young daughter and has regularly attended worship and Bible study ever since. She was grateful when Ellee invited her to take some of the baby items that church members have been collecting to donate — especially as she adjusts to life in the United States and prepares to welcome her second child into the world in a few months.
Church member Jahna Pollock notes that Ellee has helped the congregation engage in meaningful opportunities to share Christ’s mercy with their neighbors, while also enriching the church’s Christian education programs for members of all ages. “I knew very little about deaconesses before the Mietzners were called to serve at Zion,” she says. “Now I can’t imagine NOT having a deaconess.”
To women who are considering deaconess service, Ellee says, “People need you. The church needs you. A lot of people don’t know what a deaconess is or what they do, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t valuable. … You’ll always find some way to help and some way to gather everyone around the Word.”
• Learn more about LCMS Deaconess Ministry
Pray with Us
Lord of grace and mercy, You desire all to know You as a God who is gracious and compassionate, abounding in steadfast love through Your Son, Jesus Christ. You call Your church to love with Your love, that all might praise and trust in You. Bless the work of deaconesses and all who work in Your church to care for people through Your Word and acts of mercy. May all be done to draw people to the cross of Jesus and to rejoice in the hope of His resurrection for all. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.