August 16, 2009 - Dolores Jean Hackwelder

The following "guest blog" was written by Rev. Dr. David Stechholz, President of the English District LCMS.

EPITAPH TO AN UNDER-UTILIZED DEACONESS:
Dolores Jean Hackwelder 

Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann of Oakmont, Pennsylvania, is a newly-elected member of the English District-LCMS Board of Directors (BOD).  At the August BOD meeting, Cheryl served ably on a quickly-appointed task force of three in re-writing our District’s core values.  The next day, the BOD and I were thrilled to receive, modify slightly, and approve a new set of core values.  Cheryl also graciously gave me a copy of her 616-page tome, In the Footsteps of Phoebe: A Complete History of the Deaconess Movement in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (CPH: 2009).  I was delighted to receive this work.

This book was not going to be read for a few months, since I am behind on some deadlines and I’ve got a stack of other books on the nightstand to read, especially on airplanes.  But curiosity got to me.  Cheryl is a BOD member; her husband, the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Naumann, is one of my successors at the Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Oakmont, near Pittsburgh, where I served for ten years in the parish ministry. 

In the book, Cheryl notes a woman named Dolores Jean Hackwelder.  This article is dedicated to her memory.  Dolores was a quiet but active member of Redeemer Church, a fellow Valparaiso University graduate, and a retired Deaconess.  She lived as a single woman in a modest house with her frail mother, widowed sister, and two nephews, all members of the congregation.  I had a positive view of deaconesses at Valpo (1966-1970), knowing a number of them, especially since they occasionally would come over to my music fraternity house, Phi Mu Alpha, to discuss music, theology, and philosophy.  I knew that Valpo Professor Ken Korby, later a Pastor in the English District at Chatham Fields, Chicago, was supportive of the deaconess program, and I loved it when Dr. Korby catechized and preached at the Chapel.  So my view of deaconesses was a positive one.

Dolores Hackwelder and I did discuss her being a Deaconess, and she served in the Church as a Sunday School and VBS Teacher, Choir member, Bible Class participant, and later as a pre-school teacher’s aide to my wife, Janet, and Gail Holzer (now School Principal), when it was a small but growing pre-school.  Beyond that, I don’t remember much more than Dolores being a good, faithful Christian woman.

My regret, perhaps due to my pastoral ignorance and inexperience, my personal new or young pastor arrogance, and to a weak understand of other “offices” in the Church, is that I did not encourage and utilize Dolores to the full of her training, ability, and consecration.  Perhaps my successors at Redeemer Church, Pastors Mark Schafer and Jonathan Naumann, did a better job.  Thankfully, Pastor Naumann’s wife, Cheryl, serves in the Church and Circuit as a Deaconess, leading women’s ministry activities and more.  I regret that I did not take Dolores with me on more calls and visits and coax her into more ministries of human care, visitation, etc.  Yet, she had a servant’s heart, the hallmark of deaconesses, and she did serve.  How I wish I would have encouraged her to wear her deaconess uniform.  Dolores died in the Lord a couple years ago.

I would like to affirm the huge value of deaconess ministry in the LCMS.  Brother pastors, I encourage you to spend time talking to the deaconesses in your midst, whether in congregation, circuit, region, or district.  Learn about the LCMS deaconess training sites at Concordia University-Chicago, and both seminaries, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.  Consider having a deaconess on your staff instead of other additions or replacements, or at least explore the possibility of a deaconess in human care/mercy ministry and other numerous areas of shared diaconal ministry in your circuit or region. 

I believe that deaconesses are a blessing to our Synod.  We have a good eight of them active or part-time in the E.D.  I also think we have not done right in having these programs of deaconess training, urging our daughters (and I did with both of mine) to consider the deaconess ministry, and then not having places to place them in service.  I grieve, and I believe the Lord must grieve this state of affairs, when we have willing servants – whether pastors, deaconesses, teachers, DCEs, etc. – and yet for reasons of money cannot call them.  Yes, there are other reasons why some do not get calls.  But my humble plea, even as I wish our own District could financially afford to bring a deaconess on staff, is that each of us learns more about deaconess ministry and looks at the possibilities of such a servant of the Lord, even part-time or in a bi-vocational setting, in your midst.  To that end, may Dolores’ memory be a blessing, and to God be the glory in His vast Kingdom.

The Rev. Dr. David P. Stechholz,
Bishop & President, English District-LCMS