Sep 06, 2023 Print This Article

Abby’s Journey to Deaconess Ministry

Abby Ward, fourth from left, shares a moment of joy with her fellow 2023 Deaconess Studies graduates during Commencement May 19. From left: Erin Schulte, Jenny “Zoë” Huelsman, Grace Bergt, Ward, Sarah Rusche and Alicia Benning. Photo: Jill Gray

Ever since kindergarten, Abby Ward attended Lutheran schools. “Going into my undergraduate was my first experience at a public school — the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo. That was a culture shock,” she said.

Feeling the absence of fellowship and worship in her life, she jumped into campus ministry and got involved with CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade.

Ward decided to lead a Bible study in the group for her fellow college students. The Bible study was an intentional way for Ward to grow in her faith and to serve others. She was constantly in God’s Word to prepare for the Bible studies, and she enjoyed discussing the Scripture and theology with others, some from different Christian traditions. The theological differences underscored and strengthened her commitment to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) doctrine and the Lutheran Confessions. “That was a really spiritually enriching time for me,” Ward said. 

As her college graduation approached, she began to consider vocational ministry with the LCMS. She asked herself, “What can a woman do in Lutheran ministry?”

She Googled it, and “deaconess” rose to the top of her search. Ward says this seems to be a common experience for women who enroll at Concordia Seminary.

Intrigued, she decided to learn more about the Seminary’s residential Deaconess Studies Program, and in the fall of 2020, she began the program — right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One course she particularly appreciated was “Spiritual Care of Women.” Geared toward teaching how to spiritually care for women, the class provides basic training that emphasizes visitation, ministry to the elderly, ministry to people with mental health issues, addiction, ministry to women who have suffered miscarriage or infertility, and many other issues. The course also covers developing Bible studies and devotions specific to women’s concerns.

“We read a lot of good books and had constructive conversations about spiritual care, wellness and practical ways to care for people and share the Gospel with them,” Ward said. 

It was the fellowship with classmates that most influenced her ministerial formation. “The bonds that I made with the other deaconess students were so essential to everything,” she said. “Community is especially essential to ministry; having people with whom you can lament.”

Sharing Seminary life together included having deep discussions about the theological concepts they were learning. Understanding the theology of the cross and being a theologian of the cross was especially impactful for her. “I use the imagery that there is a throne of your life and whatever sits on that throne is what is ruling your life,” she said. “It’s what you value most, and all of your thoughts and all of your actions really flow from the source on that throne. Being a theologian of the cross puts Christ on the throne and that means Christ is going to impact everything you think, say and do.”

On Call Day 2023, Ward graduated with a Master of Arts (M.A.), Spiritual Care Major with Deaconess Certification. This program forms and equips students with the knowledge, attitudes and skills required for service within congregations and other institutions of the LCMS.

“Being a theologian of the cross puts Christ on the throne and that means Christ … impact[s] everything you think, say and do.”

— Abby Ward

She was elated to receive a call to teach at Calvary Lutheran High School in Jefferson City, Mo., where she had served her internship the previous year. Calvary also was where she went to high school, and some of her new work colleagues taught her when she was a high school student.

At Calvary, she teaches classes in English, Old and New Testament and creative writing. In addition, she soon will begin teaching a journalism class and directing school plays. “That’s all me,” she said.

Her greatest teaching moment so far? During a lesson with students on the theology of the cross, in the context of an English class, the high schoolers debated a story they were reading. They had to decide whether the characters and themes in that story represented a theology of glory (striving to become righteous from one’s works) or a theology of the cross (righteous because of Christ’s work on the cross).

“I was just so happy,” she said.

Sarah Maney is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.