Order alive, yet functioning under the radar PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL RYAN Sentinel Religion Editor   
Friday, 10 May 2013 09:24
UMD-logo"We're not all dead," said Becky Warnock, a Deaconess in the United Methodist Church.
In fact, she adds, "We are very alive and a force to be reckoned with."
Warnock will be the guest speaker this Sunday at both Bradner United Methodist Church and Trinity United Methodist in Bloomdale.
The United Methodist Deaconess ministry is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and is now called the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner, to include the men who have recently been allowed to join the religious group.
The male members are called home missioners. The ministry is separate from the liturgical deacons of the church.
The religious order was founded in 1888 as a way for the women to become actively involved and serve the church. This was at a time before women could be ordained. The mission of the deaconesses was then, and remains to be of service. They are considered part of the laity of the church, yet they are appointed by the respective bishops and answer to the bishop in their work. They are not female deacons which can use the same title.
"It is an important position in the church," she said.
They serve on all continents except Antarctica and have a role of service.
Warnock relates a story of being invited to speak to a group of church leaders when someone who she expected to know better made the statement, "I thought you were all dead."
She also read in a book where "it said we are all dead."
Though obviously she is alive as is the organization, it is also apparent their ministry is not as widely known as it once was.
Warnock, a Maumee resident, is the only active deaconess in Northwest Ohio with her nearest "sister" being located in Columbus. Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati was founded by the religious group.
Though she first was called to become a deaconess at the age of 11, she did not fulfill that lifelong dream until some 40 years later when she was consecrated in 2004. Her class was the largest for the deaconesses since the 1960s.
Those who attend either worship service on Sunday will get to hear Warnock speak of the history of the group as well as some interesting stories of the formation when men had to speak to allow the group to be formed within the church structure. Interestingly, most of the first members of the group in the 1800s were parolees. A minister served as the chaplain to a women's prison and a neighboring hospital. He found that the parolees from prison were finding it difficult to obtain employment while at the same time, the hospital was in desperate need for people to serve as nurses and caregivers for the hospital.
The first deaconess home was used to provide a home and train the parolees to be nurses for the hospital.
She may also share of the uniforms which previously were required for its members.
Though the uniforms would never have been a candidate for a fashion magazine cover, she explained they served a very useful purpose for safety for the members. Crime was often high in the areas where they served and the uniform helped identify them as a person of the church who would not have any money on them. Dually, the uniform linked them to the church at the same time letting those who might be intent on robbery know they would not have anything worth the effort of stealing.
Warnock also shared how it was only since 1958 when members could be married. Though they did not have to take a vow of celibacy, but they would have to relinquish their position if they should marry. Warnock met the couple that was the impetus for changing that policy as an ordained pastor and deaconess got married. In such circumstances, she would have to give up her order, but the man would not.
The base of the organization is in New York, and Warnock is proud to note that once someone is approved for the discernment to become a member, the order pays all expenses for tuition, The discernment events are now open to both women and men.
When women were first allowed to be ordained, Warnock said many church officials thought "we would all just go away."
However, she says many, including her, want to serve without becoming an ordained minister.
It was shortly thereafter the women fought to admit men to serve in a similar capacity
"People need to know this is an option for those who want to serve without being ordained," she said.
The group takes a very active role in social justice issues, including human trafficking, immigration, safe reproduction, and many other issues addressed by other groups within the church body.
She likes to call her group "a thorn in the foot of the church."
Over the history, the deaconesses have created homes of service for the elderly and sick, formed hospitals, and served as educators.
The home website says the order is for those "who feel called by God to a full-time vocation in service with those who are marginalized and in need in the world today."
She said that the thorn is there to remind the body of the work that needs to be done.
Warnock's ministry has been primarily with senior adults, chronically ill, the dying and those in grief. She says her work as a deaconess "has blessed her with daily reminders of the presence of God in our time of great trial."
Warnock called both Detroit and Lodges Corners, Arkansas home as a child. Lodges Corners had a general store with a gas station, a church, about four houses and a place to dip cattle. Her father was an agricultural engineer for Massey Ferguson.
Pastor Jeff Ridenour who serves both churches where Warnock is to speak Sunday, explained how he decided to invite Warnock.
I wanted to highlight the anniversary of the deaconesses. It's an important part of who we are as a church, as well as who we can be," Ridenour says. This part of our ministry has been forgotten. We lose so much when we forget our history and who we are."
He is also passionate about many of the same social justice issues as the order.
He cites Micah 6:8, which reads, in part as God explains what is required of us, "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Ridenour expands, "When we can't embrace doing what Jesus would do, we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing."
Ridenour added the deaconesses exemplify what we are supposed to do as a church.
Warnock says the members who consider themselves "brothers and sisters of mercy" have sometimes been called crazy and her reply is "We are - Crazy for God."
The service at Trinity United Methodist will be at 9 a.m. Sunday; while the Bradner service is set for 10:30 a.m.

A bit about the order of U. M. Deaconess
According to the United Methodist Church: Diverse in scope and focus, all deaconess ministries are shaped to fulfill the mandate of Jesus Christ.
The purpose of the office of deaconess and home missioner shall be to express representatively the love and concern of the believing community for the needs in the world and to enable, through education and involvement, the full ministry and mission of the people of God. Deaconesses and home missioners function through diverse forms of service directed toward the world to make Jesus Christ known in the fullness of his ministry and mission, which mandate that his followers:
a) Alleviate suffering;
b) Eradicate causes of injustice and all that robs life of dignity and worth;
c) Facilitate the development of full human potential; and
d) Share in building global community through the church universal.
Those seeking more information about the role of deaconess, including someone interested in the discernment process to become a deaconess should check the website at new.gbgm-umc.org or call Warnock at Maumee United Methodist Church, (419) 865-3943.
Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2013 11:29

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