By Roger Drinnon
“It’s like they say on the airliner: first, put on your own oxygen mask and then take care of those who depend on you – that’s good advice.”
This advice for LCMS deaconesses came from the Rev. Dr. Darrell Zimmerman, Grace Place Wellness Ministries vice president and program director. He said historically, the office of deaconess has been a ministry of healing and wellness, and he hopes those who attend his retreats return to their congregations better-equipped to care for the people they serve.
Eighteen deaconesses from across the Synod, along with a few other church workers, attended a Grace Place retreat Oct. 6-10 at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center in St. Louis. Grace Place retreats provide “care to the caregiver,” underscoring the LCMS Office of National Mission’s (ONM) commitment to caring for church workers.
As they provide care for members of their congregations, LCMS deaconesses often struggle with work-life balance among other wellness issues which can lead to “compassion fatigue.” Grace Place retreats are designed to revitalize and reaffirm deaconesses and other church workers in their compassionate work.
“We know that deaconess ministry can be tremendously joyful and rewarding, but that it can also be very stressful. These faithful women are in the front lines of mercy ministry, offering comfort, care and loving service to people enduring the whole spectrum of the trials of life,” said Zimmerman. “It’s not uncommon for a deaconess to experience compassion fatigue. The Lord’s servants need to remember that if we ourselves are not nurtured and fed in Word, Sacrament and the encouragement of others in the Body of Christ, how will we be able to offer the Lord’s comfort and care to others?”
“If our cup is empty, we can’t help others,” said Lorraine Roach, a deaconess for Trinity Lutheran Church in Grangeville, Idaho, who attended the St. Louis retreat. “We’re providing a lot of emotional and spiritual support to people, and if we get to the point where we’re dealing with compassion fatigue, then we can’t continue to give, if we’re not being restored.”
Zimmerman said Grace Place retreats help those who serve congregations to develop healthy patterns of spiritual, emotional, intellectual, vocational, financial and physical well-being. He emphasized the importance of maintaining wellness in these areas to enable deaconesses to continue a sustained ministry for the people they care for.
“It was wonderful to learn how to set boundaries to take better care of myself and to better take care of my family and congregation,” said Erica Stephenson, a part-time deaconess for Concordia Lutheran Church, Greenwood, Ind., who also serves as a U.S. Army logistics officer in the Indiana National Guard. “This means not allowing myself to always say ‘yes’ because the need is so great and realizing that I cannot do everything. So having the strength and the ability and the permission to say ‘no’ while allowing others to bless and serve [the congregation] is important in the long run.”
During the retreat, the deaconesses also participated in practical lessons to help them respond to the needs of their congregations.
“I am deeply impressed by the devotion of our LCMS deaconesses to the support of their Savior’s Gospel ministry, the lifting of the arms and hearts of their congregations’ pastors and the servant hearts for all the people the Lord has placed in their care,” said Dr. John Eckrich, physician and founder of Grace Place Wellness Ministries.
Eckrich said with support from the Synod’s ONM, Grace Place Wellness Ministries has taken more than 8,000 LCMS church workers through its programs over the past 15 years. More information on these programs is available at graceplacewellness.org.
Roger Drinnon is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted Nov. 4, 2014