On Aug. 14, 2005 Sister Hulda celebrated her 50th year of consecration at Augustana Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN, with Sr. Ginger, Sr. Noreen, and Sr. Anne present to bring greetings from the Deaconess Community of the ELCA. In August 2006, I joined the staff of Augustana Lutheran church and heard about Sr. Hulda, the last remaining Deaconess in the Augustana Homes. I am now doing my internship in the Homes as Sr. Barbara.
Sister Hulda E. Simenson was born April 9, 1920, in Duluth, Minnesota to Joseph and Ellen (Thompson) Pfister but her mother died soon after and she was adopted by Edmund and Tora (Thompson) Simenson, her mother’s sister I am thinking. She was baptized at her mother’s bedside, confirmed in Mt. Morris Lutheran Church in Wantoma, WI in 1934, attended Waishara Normal School and then Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis, graduating in 1943. For the young people reading, that is before Mona Lisa Smiles!
The name Hulda has two origins. One meaning coming from Scandinavian background is “woman of strength” as the plaque at her memorial showed. The second is a Hebrew origin and means “weasel.” Weasels dig an intricate system of tunnels linking their entire community. Of the famous Hebrew women honored today, Hulda the prophetess is probably the least known. She was the cousin of Jeremiah who has a whole book in the Bible named after him. Hulda was a prophetess during the reign of King Josiah who came to the throne at the age of 8. After 18 years of kingship, a scroll of the Torah was found that was opened to a portion of scripture talking about judgment. Josiah sent the scroll to the priest Hilkiah who took it to the prophetess Hulda. Why?
At the time there were prophetesses who were trained in the Torah and who dealt with women. Hulda sat at one of the two gates at the southern entrance to Jerusalem. All prophets were required to give a literal interpretation of God’s words and so what Hilda said would not have been any different than what Jeremiah would have said. One theory is that Jeremiah was out of the country. But there were other male prophets. According to Jewish understanding, the prophets gave the same word for word interpretation of God’s message but a female prophetess in her intonation was more prone to give hope and mercy. Hulda’s interpretation was such. The temple would be destroyed but…not in King Josiah’s lifetime as the God knew he was a good king. When the temple was rebuilt after the exile the southern gate was rebuilt over the spot where Hulda prophesized and named “the Gate of Hulda.” Hulda linked the despair of the first temple’s final days to the hopeful new generation of the second temple. She pointed to a God of mercy and hope.
Sr. Hulda was part of the Deaconesses of the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital of Chicago, IL that was incorporated 9/17/1896. It started as a hospital but then added a nursery and a day care center to care for young children of working parents. Sr. Hulda was consecrated into this community in 1955. The last group to be consecrated with the community was in 1956! Not only did Sr. Hulda live in a culture that did not encourage women in leadership, she held fast to her faith and sense of call in a church that was valuing less and less the diaconate role. When I met her in her later years with failing ability to hear, she so much shared of her joy of working in the Ebenezer Homes and the wish that she could still be there sharing about Jesus with people.
As I read her vita, a sentence stood out to me. “She was one of ten American Bible study leaders at the youth section of the Lutheran World Federation assembly in Hannover, Germany in 1952.” What was that sentence about? I asked a man at the Homes whom I knew had been in Geneva and he replied, “I was there but I did not know Sr. Hulda at the time.” LWF called the meeting at the end of WW2 because there was great world concern over the destruction of Germany and how to rebuild it and the church there. Committees were formed to deal with this. “But why Hulda?” I asked. “Her gifts and caliber of training at that time in history were outstanding for a woman.” Frederick Shutts, head of the LWF and ALC leaned heavily on the USA for leadership and Sr. Hulda was one of those leaders.
One last story, Pastor Michelene visited Sr. Hulda two days before she passed. She shared with me that she gave Sr. Hulda communion and they chatted. Doctors thought she was getting better but Sr. Hulda knew she was dying. She looked at Pastor Michelene and said, “I have taught many people about dying but now I guess I am going to experience it myself.” She leaned back and her face glowed with total peace and confidence in a Lord and Savior whom she had served faithfully all her life.
Sr. Hulda stood strong in her faith and her call in a society that did not appreciate women in leadership, in a church that did not value the diaconate. It is because of her service that I, and more importantly my daughter, will have much broader opportunities of ministry today. I am grateful for the Lord letting me to know her.