August 16, 2009 - Dolores Jean Hackwelder

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

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