Sister Roxane Giesecke was consecrated last Sunday as a new deaconess in the Lutheran Church of America. After the special eucharist and consecration service at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter, Alabama and Branch avenues SE., she celebrated with her family and friends at a small reception in the church hall.
But by mid-afternoon the next day, she was back at work as a deaconess at St. Jacobus Church, an inner-city parish in north Philadelphia.
She described the service as a "good experience and very nice," but added that "the work just comes right back at you."
Sister Roxane, 25, is in the process of converting an abandoned church building into a new parochial school. The first four grades are scheduled to open in the fall. It is a task described by those who know as "overwhelming."
Sister Roxane is typical, her superiors say, of a new generation of young women entering the diaconate.
The daughter of a former foreign service officer, Sister Roxane was in Australia and grew up in Europe and Northern Virginia, moving back and forth with her family several times. The family settled in Fairfax when Sister Roxane was in junior high school.
She is a 1970 graduate of W. T. Woodson High School. In discussing her motivation to become a deaconess, she said the appeal lay mainly in the aspect of community. "We live in a world that cries out for community," she said.
The consecration service marked Sister Roxane's formal acceptance as a deaconess in the Lutheran Church of America and is the culmination of more than four years of study and hard work.
She was invested a year ago, receiving the title of sister and her black garb in a ceremony at the Deaconess Center in Gladwin, Pa., the headquarters for the 180-deaconess population of the Lutheran Church of America.
The time between investiture and consecration, similar to that provided a postulant in the Roman Catholic Church, is designed to provide an opportunity for a prospective deaconess to scrutinize her choice of the religious life. But for Sister Roxane, that decision had been made long ago and the interval has been spent organizing and developing the new school at St. Jacobus, plus her duties as director of religious education, as a Sunday School teacher and parish visitor.
Although she has chosen to be addressed as sister (an option which most young deaconess choose, she says) and to wear the traditional black garb (another option), her choices were not made solely for the sake of convention although she describes herself as "sort of old-fashioned, I guess."
"The garb is also a personal reminder that I am a baptized child of God and I represent something," she said.
She contributes 3 percent of her salary to the Lutheran Church (as all deaconess do) and says she tries to participate as fully as she can in the community life at the Deaconess Center. The center is in the suburbs, a considerable distance from St. Jacobus.
In the recent past, the future of the diaconate looked uncertain but appears now to be improving. "We were not gaining new women to keep pace with older deaconess who were dying," explained Sister Marjorie Axleton, coordinator of the Deaconess Community of the Lutheran Church of America.
"There is an upsurge of interest now," said Sister Marjorie. "Young people these days seem to be not quite so self-centered. They are not looking for a new home in the suburbs with two cars. The appeal of the communal living experience that was popular in the '60s seems to have given them a new appreciation for the religious style of life."
Lutheran deaconesses are trained theologically and professionally for service within the context of the church. They may work in a parish as director of religious education or parish visitor, in hospitals where deaconesses serve from nurses to top administrators, in social work or in geriatries, a popular field.
Sister Roxane was a student at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., when she first explored the avenue of the diaconate for the channeling of her religious feeling and interest in serving others.
"There seems to be a trend for new deaconesses to go back to inner city and settlement work which was the work done by deaconesses arriving in the United States in the mid-1880s," said Sister Marjorie. "The total years of training for a deaconess is just one year short of that for a pastor."
Ministers are called pastors in the Lutheran Church and the position has been open to women since 1970.
Asked why she didn't become a minister herself, Sister Roxane said that the position of deaconess "offers the community and service aspects that the ministry doesn't."
"It is really a personal choice," Sister Marjorie explained. "They are two different types of service. If a girl likes teaching and preaching she would then choose the ministry.If she is interested in the areas of service and human needs, she would choose the diaconate."
"There have been many changes in our community in the last 20 years," said Sister Marjorie. "We are still in the process of thinking through the whole role of deaconess. Changes are still occurring.
"We are very grateful to have Roxane. She is a very unselfish person. She has chosen to work in an area where there is not a great deal of money and she is very willing to make do with what she has."