My Experience Becoming a Deaconess

On December 11, 2022, I received a text message from a church elder. The nominating committee had met that evening and nominated me to become a deaconess. I have been a member of my church for over a decade. Though I didn't know exactly what the church office entailed, I had been exposed to some deaconess work at my childhood church, and this one too. In the Spanish-speaking church I grew up in, deaconesses mainly assisted with children’s stories, cleaning up after lunch, folding the communion tablecloth, and washing communion dishes. At my current church, I knew there were deaconesses, but my only direct knowledge of their responsibilities was in regard to the communion tablecloth. Despite my years-long critique of the distinction between deacon and deaconess roles, I decided to accept, partly to see how it would all unfold.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I am aware of one SDA Church that appears to have found a solution to “the distinction between deacon and deaconess roles.”

There are no “deaconesses” at all. The church is blessed with a multitude of “deacons,” male and female, whose roles are not divided by gender.

R. Wresch, M.D.


What do they call “elder” in Spanish? Do they distinguish between a male “elder” and female “elderess”?

You are justified in feeling upset, Julia. Such gender-based discrimination is so unnecessary, and so out of keeping with the gospel. Female deacons in the New Testament ran their churches!
Many of us maintain our support for this church despite its many flaws. It helps remind us of our own imperfections. We need to keep pushing towards the vision of a church that includes and affirms all.


Which, unfortunately, is a good part of why the church gets away with such misogynistic behavior.

Which is partially a result of misogynistic behavior, such as what you describe.

I’d quit, and I’d try to get all the other deaconesses to quit with you, including your grandmother - who is probably quite upset as well based on they way you’ve been treated.

Maybe if you all quit together, your misogynistic pastor would realize his hopes for his behavior not causing division are in vain. Maybe, he’d even ask you to all come back and have an ordination service for you. If you doubt that would happen, then all the more reason to quit!

Honestly, I don’t know why women put up with the Adventist church at all. Who wants to belong to a club where you’re a second class member and always will be? Given the church’s obsession with membership numbers, sometimes I think the most constructive thing for women to do is to ask for their names to be removed from the books. This would drive the misogynistic numbers-focused leaders crazy.


I’m so impressed by you speaking up. And so appreciate your family’s handling of the matter. I was a female elder for over ten years before I was ordained. My mother was very bothered about it. She even went and reminded our pastor that I’d never been ordained. So I know what a difference family support can be. Your family is right and approached it so well. The church and pastoral response is disappointing. Why should following church policy split a church?

I was finally ordained because a new male elder coming in asked that I be included. I wish I’d done the right thing for myself, and reminded the church and urged it be done sooner, both for the sake of other female elders, and for my daughters who saw it all unfold. I encourage you to continue to prompt the church to honor its own principles.

We also no longer use the word actress, authoress, and have never used elderess. It’s high time we ditched deaconess as well.


I am not competent to answer your question about the Spanish language, which assigns gender to just about everything. For example, day is masculine; night is feminine. But Spanish-speakers can identify a male pastor (el pastor) or a female pastor (la pastora).

I am also not conversant with New Testament Greek. But if I correctly understand Paul, Phoebe, whom he refers to as “adelphe=sister,” was a diakonos of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1).

This term has been translated into the English language in many ways:


But whatever a diakonos was (Strong’s #1247), Phoebe was in good company.

Paul thus referred to Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22), to Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-18), and to himself (Romans 15:25).

For your consideration, I would suggest an article by Kim Allan Johnson:

Thanks for your query,

R. Wresch, M.D.

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When I (male) was ordained an SDA elder, kneeling right beside me was Peg Hemp (female). We were both thereafter called “elder.” She was never “elderess.” I have never since questioned my ordination, nor hers.

R. Wresch, M.D.


Always keep in mind that you are a missionary. Conduct yourself as if you were ministering to a tribe in one of the jungles of Africa or the Amazon. You should realize as a pre-law senior at an institution of higher learning that when you do get your law degree you will be far more advanced in every metric imaginable than 99 percent of SDAs in the NAD. So please be patient and long-suffering. A good essay for you to read is “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” by Clifford Geertz.

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In French we had “ancien” for the men and “ancienne” for the women. Like Spanish and all Romance languages, all nouns are gendered. And unlike English which is de-gendering nouns, in Quebec we’ve moved to gender everything resulting in such grammatical and orthographical monstrosities such as “docteure”, “auteure”, “professeure”, “madame la première ministre”, etc.

I still remember addressing our pastors as Elder… Interestingly enough, here’s what I found regarding our NAD’s most progressive constituencies:

  1. SECC Asia/Pacific pastors, 2013
  2. NAD Filipino American pastors, 2017
  3. PUC Asia/Pacific pastors, 2019

I’m a member of an SECC ethnic congregation that still has to elect our first female elder, and to call our first female pastor/elder. What do I think? Our local conference officials can do better in promoting equality among our local Filipino American congregations. Like this:

Down Under, ministers are called Pastor. An Elder is an assistant to the minister. Usually they will be responsible for one aspect of church life. At my church (actually a church company) we have both male and female elders. All are ordained. I am not aware of there being deacons of either gender. Usually the children will collect the offering (but most of that is done online).

@ Phillip Brantley— I have to wonder if yours is tongue-in-cheek “advice,” since I didn’t read anything in this young woman’s account other than patience, endurance and forbearance. It’s neither impatient or disrespectful to ask for our church to honor its own policies and principles. And nothing in her account indicates this congregation or their pastor are unable to reason and grow as they consider this issue. When we appease people, we can actually stand in the way of their growth and what God would like us to learn in uncomfortable circumstances.

Since church leaders have been telling women “be patient,” and since women have been doing exactly that throughout the last century, it’s clearly not a lack of patience or forbearance that’s blocking the church from growth on this issue.


Roman Catholic sacramentalism at its worst.


Well, that wouldn’t work in all cultures. In Germany the gender debates are so hot that to take the male form as generic for male and female would be an absolute no-no. But then in the German language all professions have male and female forms.

You would write:
deacons and deaconesses
or deacon:esses
or deacon*esses the gender * implying that there may be more than two gender (it is taken as a symbol of inclusion). The gender debates are closely related to the ordination debate. The article makes very clear the issue of being “invisible”.

In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free
PUC Asia/Pacific 2019

I often feel this way also, yet people leaving would make the church more concentrated with crazy. Maybe straight up protests with signs and walk outs would work? We should make church stall/stop until we can walk together in a good way.


Perhaps, but this is more of an indictment than a reason to stay, IMO.

The idea makes me smile, but I think the only thing the corporate church cares about is membership numbers and - of course - money.

Last I checked, the NAD continues to fund the world church, while at the same time most of the world church is in conflict with what the NAD wants - and so they get what they want (without paying for it). Things like allowing Women’s Ordination and at least somewhat rational statements regarding nature instead of the current science denialism. If that funding stream started to dry up, and to the church membership = funding, they’d start to become alarmed. I think it has to actually happen, though. Threats without follow through will just be ignored.


Funding the world church means… supporting the General Conference administrative functions with contributions from all 13 world divisions. So the question really is how much of the money the NAD sends to the GC are distributed to the rest of the world, right? Interesting.

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in fact we have a biblical directive of what to do in this situation in the experience of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the 5 daughters of Zelophehad…instead of voicing their feelings to their immediate family and hoping for the best, they made it their business to approach Moses with their grievance over land ownership in the promised land, and ultimately, God approved their course and case…

Julia needs to call a meeting with the head Pastor of her church…if this goes nowhere, she needs to appeal to her Conference President…if this goes nowhere, she should appeal to her Union President…if this fails, she needs to appeal directly to NAD President, Alexander Bryant, who i can’t believe won’t sustain her case…

this situation calls for intelligent action, and not laid back resignation, filled with misgivings and regrets…we can’t know that Julia isn’t being called by God to take a stand that her grandmother apparently never did…