From a Deacon’s Desk

A series of aticles from Deacons opinions.


What’s in a Name

Apr 26, 2018

By Deacon Margy Schmitt Ajer

Assistant to the Bishop for Congregations


Most of us appreciate it when others make an effort to learn our name and to learn how to pronounce it correctly. For me at least, it demonstrates an interest in learning more about me, and also shows respect and understanding.

It is the same thing for titles given by the church. There have been significant changes in the last few years in the way we order ministry in the ELCA and in our synod.

Synod Deacons are those who are set apart by this synod, for service in this synod, and are primarily connected to the local congregation and pastor. They go through a synodical preparation and candidacy process.  They are mostly non-stipendiary and serve primarily in congregations.  When the ELCA instituted a new roster of Ministers of Word and Service, with the title of Deacon, the local deacons here in the synod became known as Synod Deacon, and that is the appropriate title for them. It is important that we all use the title of Synod Deacon in referring to these folks, and that Synod Deacons use this title when referring to themselves.

The ELCA has two rosters of public  ministry Ministers of Word and Sacrament (pastors) and Ministers of Word and Service (deacons). Both of these are churchwide rosters, with churchwide standards for preparation and service. Both have theological degrees, and complete internships and Clinical Pastoral Education, among other requirements. Both are approved through the ELCA candidacy process, which is administrated by the synods. Both pastors and deacons are accountable to the local setting, the synodical bishop, and the ELCA. Both Pastors and Deacons are available for call and can serve anywhere in the ELCA.

While most (but not all) pastors serve in congregations, deacons serve in a variety of settings, such as hospital and hospice settings, prisons, schools and higher education institutions, churchwide and synodical ministries, social agencies both within and beyond the church, as well as congregations and other setting. While we may use the term ELCA Deacon in conversation for identification purposes, the name given to Ministers of Word and Service by the church is simply "deacon". That is the title we should use when addressing individual deacons, and the title we should use throughout the synod, when referring to them. (Members of the ELCA deaconess community are now also deacons of the ELCA, but may still go by the title of Sr.)

Pastors are still pastors, but are now also referred to as Ministers of Word and Sacrament. This language was changed in the ELCA constitution from "ordained ministers". Of course pastors are still ordained, but should be identified by their call (Word and Sacrament), not by their entry to the roster (Ordination).

What’s in a name? A lot! And we honor and respect one another when we work to acknowledge the names that identify our calls.