YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW: LDA CELEBRATES 100 YEARS
Nestled on the northern edge of the Valparaiso University campus— just past the tennis courts and softball fields — sits a nondescript building housing an organization comprised of staff and members with one purpose—to serve others.
Celebrating its centennial this year, the Lutheran Diaconal Association (LDA) has developed communities of deaconesses and deacons in a Lutheran context who serve in all walks of life. LDA students study theology, practice hands-on ministry, grow in their own spirituality, and become members of a lifelong diaconal community of other deaconesses or deacons.
About 475 LDA deaconesses and deacons worldwide serve in a variety of ways that brings the reach of the church to others. While many serve in traditional church-based ministries, many more serve Christ and their communities through secular organizations or professions including engineering, teaching, law practice, and nonprofit organizational leadership.
With a strong belief that everyone is called to serve in some way, Deaconess Lisa Polito ’90 has been executive director of the LDA since 2008, after serving as director of development and public relations for seven years. She assumed the leadership role from Deaconess Louise Williams ’67, who led the LDA for more than 30 years.
“Put simply, the LDA helps people answer God’s call to service,” she says. “We see every place in our world where ministries can happen.”
A Century of Service
The LDA was founded in 1919 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as The Lutheran Deaconess Association, an all-female organization formed to educate women to serve the Lutheran church and its congregations as deaconesses. Many early deaconesses were nurses at area hospitals. In the early 1940s, the LDA moved its training school from Fort Wayne to the Valpo campus and established a fouryear degree program. The LDA offices have been housed in Valparaiso for over 75 years.
For the past seven years, men have been invited into the student process and been consecrated as deacons. In 2018 the organization officially changed its name to the Lutheran Diaconal Association. But Lisa stresses that the more things changed, the more they have stayed the same.
“That’s one of the most amazing things about us,” she says. “As an independent organization we see what the changing needs in the world and our society are. We then can work on ways to best answer those needs and serve those in need. That’s been a gift of who we are.”
That century of service is being recognized during a host of activities both on and off campus, including an event during Homecoming Weekend, at a men’s home basketball game, and a centennial banquet Friday, Nov. 8, in the Harre Union.
The Tie that Binds
With nearly three-quarters of its 100 years spent at Valpo, there seems to be no doubt that this partnership was destined to serve the unique missions of both.
“I am so grateful that the deaconess program has been and remains a part of Valpo,” said Deaconess Edie Hovey ’61, who served as the LDA Deaconess in Residence from 1966. “I always will be grateful for my education there, and how it influenced me to continue my theological and general education. I am grateful that the LDA and Valpo remain an important part of my faith community.” “There has always been a natural tie between the organization and the University,” Lisa says about the LDA moving to Valparaiso. “In many ways the LDA echoes Valpo’s independent Lutheran roots. Today, it’s hard to picture the LDA not being near the University.”
THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE…
In many ways, Lisa’s own journey is a testament to the legacy Valpo and the LDA have built together. Even as young as four-years-old growing up in Minnesota, Lisa says she felt a call to ministry, leading her to visit Concordia College in St. Paul, Minnesota, while looking at colleges. That’s where she first learned about the deaconess program and Valparaiso University.
At one point, Lisa heard the Lord’s call to become a prison chaplain. She even did field work at a prison. But it was her internship where she worked with adults with developmental disabilities in California at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Home of the West that set her on her journey of service. After graduating from Valpo, she returned to California where she was Director of Chaplaincy Services for Good Shepherd. But the Lord called her back to the Midwest and Valpo, where she joined the LDA to lead development and tell the organization’s story.
The Next Century and Beyond
It’s clear that the next century for the LDA will be as full of service and adaptability as the first 100 years wereif for no other reason than the needs of the world keep changing. But it will be people like Deaconess Johnna Georgia ’11, who will usher in those changes with aplomb.
“The beautiful thing about the ecumenical nature of the LDA is that while deacons and deaconesses are consecrated to this service, it does not necessarily need to take place within church walls,” she says. “Our men and women are directors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and some are not in a career field that can be easily tied to service but choose serviceoriented lifestyles and volunteerism.”
In fact, Johnna’s own path to the LDA was unique—Johnna was working on her business degree when she was admitted to the LDA as a student—but it may become more the norm in the future. She always felt called to serve but wasn’t sure what that would entail. She has answered the call to serve as a deaconess currently serving as program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin.
“The LDA has always been about the future of the church and the role men and women with servant hearts plays in it,” Johnna says. “As a millennial, I see the role the LDA plays in the faith community to be an asset because younger generations, in my experience, are more drawn to service and action than to tradition. The LDA is a beautiful weave of all three.”
The future also will be about serving all people as the LDA has deacons and deaconesses who worship in different Lutheran church bodies in the United States and overseas. “The LDA will continue to be about how we can go about loving all of God’s children,” Lisa says.
And as the LDA lives out its mission, the Valpo community will be there aswell.
“The University has an emphasis on service that resonates so deeply with who we are,” says Lisa, “and we [the LDA] help people answer a more life-long, intentional call to service.”
And so—within the walls of the nondescript brick house on LaPorte Avenue— there are years and years of the stories of partnership between a service-oriented university and an organization following Christ’s call to serve.
As it has been for a century and will be for a century more at least.