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Like Mother Like Daughter, Like Daughter Like Mother

Barb and Michelle Collins are first mother-daughter deaconesses in the ELCA

An old cliché says “like mother, like daughter,” but for Barb Collins and her daughter, Michelle, it is probably just as accurate to say “like daughter, like mother.”

This duo is the first mother and daughter to serve together as part of the Deaconess Community in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). On the ELCA Web site, the deaconesses are described as women from “a variety of ethnic groups, ages, backgrounds, and places … [who have] a heart for diakonia — for loving service to all in need, because of the love of Christ … [and are] a bridge connecting the church with the needs of the world.”

The women, who were both consecrated as ELCA deaconesses in the last few months, are like bookends of each other. Michelle has just begun her ministry career. Barb, on the other hand, has answered a final call to the end of her ministry career. (Prior, she spent 25 years serving with her husband as a missionary in Kenya, where they raised their children.) Mutually inspired by each other, Michelle and Barb have now found a ministry home together, even as they serve half way across the country from each other.

For Michelle: A Beginning to Ministry

When Michelle began her Master of Arts degree at Luther Seminary, she wanted professional theological training for service in the church. While she first looked into serving as an associate in ministry (AiM), as well as diaconal ministry, both official roles of theologically trained lay leaders in the ELCA, she found that neither of these roles quite fit her.

At a recent deaconess consecration in the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, Sr. Anne Keffer, directing deaconess of the community, and the Rev. Craig Johnson, synod bishop, stand on each side of the mother-daughter deaconess team, Barb and Michelle Collins. Photo provided by Michell Collins

In discerning where and how she was meant to serve, Michelle learned of the ELCA Deaconess Community. Having grown up in a missionary family, Michelle felt that the deaconess’ global focus fit her ministry calling.

“The deaconesses have connections all around the world. I felt like being a deaconess I would be more able to give to that ministry,” she said.

And so, shortly before she completed a master’s degree in 2007, Michelle joined the ELCA Deaconess Community. She then went on to get a degree in early childhood education from Rasmussen College in order to better understand child development.

Last October, she put her education into practice by accepting a call as director of faith formation at Advent Lutheran Church in Melbourne, Florida, where she now works with children, youth and family, and adult ministries.

As a minister, Michelle hopes to equip people across generations to see the role they have in their own faith formation, as well as the role they play in the faith formation of other people. In order to do this, she hopes to integrate outreach, education, and worship into a holistic language for those she serves.

For Barb: The End of a Ministry Career

Barb took a cue from her daughter when choosing to become a member of the

Deaconess Community. “Michelle’s encouragement got me into it,” Barb said. “The way deaconesses do things very much mirrors my African experience — that kind of structure, with focus on word and diakonia [service].”

After the Collins family permanently returned to the United States in 2001, Barb and her husband knew they had to establish a new base and chose Minneapolis due to the large African presence. (They had been serving a congregation in California for one year at a time in four- and five-year rotations during their missionary work).

During her research, she began the process of becoming an ELCA rostered leader in 2003. In order to become rostered, Barb had to take three courses at Luther Seminary and complete a clinical pastoral education (CPE) internship, which she is currently completing.

While she had many years of ministry experience, in order to find a new call Barb explained that “I sort of had to forge an identity.” And, in that process, through Michelle, she found the Deaconess Community, and has also found a call to ministry through her CPE internship and teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) courses.

The Deaconess Community supports her unique gifts. “I can be my own person,” she said. “I like the creativity of that.”

And of the deaconesses with whom she serves, Barb said, “They are a bunch of great, gifted women [who are] really unique. It is like being part of a sorority that is out to change the world.”

And that they are — sisters, mothers, and daughters alike — out to serve God’s world in mission.

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