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Servant Spotlight: Dr. Gillian Bond’s Journey to Ministry

Growing up in England, Gillian Bond didn’t realize a willingness to follow her calling would take her from the United Kingdom to Illinois, New Mexico, back to Illinois, and finally to a Lutheran seminary to serve as a deaconess and as the director of deaconess studies. But that’s exactly what God did, and Gillian
couldn’t be happier.

Dr. Gillian Bond’s desire to live out her vocation has taken her on a unique journey to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, to help others find theirs.

Raised in the Church of England by parents who attended church sporadically, Gillian herself took the initiative to go through confirmation with a friend. Although she enjoyed learning about her faith, it wasn’t until later that
she fully understood it. Her college years were spent in London and Bath where she earned M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in materials science and engineering. Postdoctoral research brought her to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which ultimately led to a faculty position at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico.

Dr. Gillian Bond and her son at his commencement ceremony.

This may not seem like the typical path of a deaconess, and Gillian would agree. “It was the furthest thing from my mind,” she said. “I thought, ‘are you sure you mean me?’ But God always has a way of getting through to us. He decided this and set me on this path.”

With no Anglican churches in Socorro, Gillian landed at a Lutheran church, which seemed like a good alternative. As she began attending weekly services, she developed a real thirst for God’s Word and a profound appreciation for the confessions and the clarity they brought to her faith. After completing her adult confirmation class, she found herself wanting to know even more. By then her career at New Mexico Tech was going well. She became a full professor and department chair, but she struggled with how to share her faith within the secular academic environment.

“At a state university you have to walk a careful line,” she said. “I was known as a good listener but I couldn’t always tell students what they needed to hear, that Jesus is our Savior. As a faculty member I was limited in my Christian influence and I started to feel the Lord pointing me in the direction of full-time ministry.” When her pastor suggested going to seminary to become a deaconess, Gillian realized she had found the right path. Because St. Louis then required a greater percentage of time fully in residence, Gillian ended up studying through Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. With support from her pastor, she was able to study using videotaped lessons (including Greek by our own Dr. Voelz). For many summers, as well as in January of some years, she commuted to Ft. Wayne for intensive classes. God’s timing, as usual, was perfect. After 20 years at New Mexico Tech, Gillian took early retirement, working part-time and consulting for Sandia National Laboratories. This enabled her to support herself financially and devote more time to completing her studies, and she earned a Master of Arts in Religion and Deaconess Certification nine and a half years later.

Being a deaconess is distinctly different from being a pastor, although there is some common ground. In The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, deaconesses are women who are full-time professional church workers, trained to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a ministry of works of mercy, spiritual care, and teaching the Christian faith. Gillian believes there is a huge unmet need for theologically-trained women. “There are women who have questions that have nibbled at their faith for years that they won’t ask a pastor,” she said. “In terms of working with women, there are just some things a pastor can’t do.” Therefore, deaconesses play an important role in the Church.

From left to right: (back row) Christine Ouko, Tiffany Johnson, Elizabeth Wagner, Marissa Arndt, Emily Ringelberg, Kate Hokana, Stephanie Suttmoeller, Shea Pruhs, Dr. Gillian Bond; (front row) Greta Bernhardt, Holly Lustila, Erin Matheny. Photo by Holly Lustila.

After receiving her certification, Gillian decided to leave the academic world and moved to Illinois to serve as a deaconess at Mt. Calvary Church and Lutheran Hillside Village. This arrangement allowed her to gain experience in both congregational and institutional contexts. Because there are so many contexts in which a deaconess can serve, she believes a broad generalist background and holistic approach to ministry is essential.

“I firmly believe God is calling women. He knows what He is doing.” – Gillian Bond

Although she loved her work in Illinois and formed many strong relationships there, three years later Gillian felt a nudge. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was looking for someone to direct and build up their deaconess program. With experience in higher education, working with students, and outcome-based design and assessment of academic programs, as well as serving in ministry as a deaconess, her background was a strong match for the position. After prayerful consideration, she applied and interviewed for the job, and started halfway through the 2013-2014 academic year as the director of Deaconess Studies. Because the program currently has a limited number of students, Gillian also serves as the administrative assistant to the EIIT and SMP programs.

The deaconess program may be small now, but she thinks it has a big future. “I firmly believe God is calling women,” she said. “He knows what He is doing.” Her vision for the program is threefold: To equip women to fulfill the vocation to which God has called them; to provide a clearer picture of what a deaconess is all about; and to raise awareness of the program within the LCMS.

Already working toward that vision, Gillian has some exciting things planned for the deaconess program at Concordia Seminary, including a revised curriculum and a distance program with a substantial online component. Her goal for the program is for each deaconess to possess a strong theological foundation and the ability to provide leadership and guidance to laypeople in appropriate ways, as well as the desire to embody the love of Christ to a hurting world.

Gillian has a son and daughter-in-law (and a grand-puppy) back in New Mexico who, along with the faculty at the Seminary, have supported and encouraged her in her new role. She is also thankful for the students. “God worked through all kinds of things to bring me to where I am now,” she said. “I love our students. They are amazing. I can see the Lord will use them in wonderful ways.”

For Gillian, the pieces have all come together. “A deaconess can serve people who are already in the church and share the Gospel with those who don’t know Jesus yet,” she said. “I’ve seen what it looks like not to know Him. It’s not a good place. We have to share Him with others.”

What better vocation could there be?

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