Sunday, September 20, 2009

PRINCIPLES for FIRST AMERICAN Deaconess Institution

After writing about Catharina Louisa Marthens (see Woman of the Week blog for Sept. 6), the first woman to be consecrated as a deaconess on American soil in 1850, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the General Principles under which Sister Catharina took up her work.

The following list of
Principles were adopted after W.A. Passavant organized the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses of the County of Allegheny, Pa.

1. The association of Christian females is purely voluntary. The members unite without persuasion, remain without vows, and retire without restraint.
2. It is not an order, but the restoration of an office, that of "Servant" or Deaconess in the primitive church.
3. Its members heartily confess the faith, engage in the worship and observe the discipline of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
4. Its object is habitually to engage in works of mercy among the sick and poor, the ignorant and fatherless, and other suffering members of our Lord's body. In the better attainment of this object, the association is incorporated and fully empowered to establish and conduct the necessary charitable institutions.
5. Not earthly reward and honor but the desire for an opportunity to manifest their gratitude to Jesus Christ in the way revealed in His Word, has influenced the members to associate themselves as servants of Christ and of His church. [taken from The Life and Letters of W.A. Passavant by G.H. Gerberding]

The members of the Institution also had a set of Regulations to follow, which simply summarized, obligated the deaconesses to live in a parent house (later usually referred to as a Motherhouse); obey the Director and Directing Sister or other governing authorities; and wear a "plain, economical habit, as much as possible conforming in style, expense and color, which shall be black or gray or blue on week days."

We know that the Pittsburgh community disliked the "habits" worn by the deaconesses because they supposedly made the women look too much like nuns! The history of this institution and its connection to the first Protestant Hospital in the United States makes for some very interesting reading.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


After many months of planning, the LCMS Deaconess Biographies Project was launched on June 4, 2009. A new URL has been acquired for the project website and the Project Manager is now in the process of designing a website to facilitate project goals.

So what is it all about ? The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod archives house good biographical records on the men who have served as pastors, missionaries, and teachers for the Synod. These records make it possible for families to find information about their ancestors, and also very importantly, provide information about the church's activities and mission throughout the decades. What fun it can be to make a visit to Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis and read patriotic hymns penned by one pastor, or the stories of parish visits made on horseback by another.

Over the last five years or so, members of the Missouri Synod have become increasingly aware of the presence and role of other church workers that fit into the category, "ministers of religion - commissioned." That is not to say that such people hold the "office of the ministry" but that they are non-ordained professional church workers who have been commissioned by the church into a particular "church vocation." Among these vocations, of course, is the office of deaconess, in which a woman engages in a ministry of mercy which complements the ministry of Word and Sacraments carried out by the office of the ministry (or pastoral office).

As a result of research needs, the fact that there are three deaconess training schools in the Synod, and an increased interest in the deaconess movement, the LCMS Deaconess Biographies Project is being carried out at a good time in the Synod's history. Watch this space for an future announcement of the website address.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Coptic Church Restores Female Diaconate

On June 9-10, 2009, the annual meeting of the Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation met in New Rochelle, New York, and discussed "the diaconate in the theology and practice" of the attending church bodies.

According to Deacon Dennis ( "Father Shenouda Maher Ishak spoke on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which counts the diaconate as one of seven clerical orders. The deacon has such an indispensable role in the liturgy that a priest is not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist without one. Others of lower orders may assume this role if a deacon is not present. Coptic deacons are not allowed to baptize, but in the early centuries had a prominent role in devotional censing. They are not allowed to marry after ordination. At present there are very few full time permanent and professional deacons in the Coptic Church, since almost all of them are called to higher orders. The Coptic Church is now in the process of restoring the female diaconate in three orders: the female reader for women (now called "devoted one"), sub-deaconess (now called "assistant deaconess") and deaconess. The Coptic Holy Synod has made it clear that deaconesses may not in any way participate in service of the altar or sacerdotal service. The rite of initiation into the female diaconate is performed by a bishop without the laying-on-of-hands but with a signing of the cross three times over the candidate. In their ministry they are to work exclusively with women and children. They assist at the baptism of women, visit sick women in hospitals, supervise women's activities in parishes, and clean the church building except for the sanctuary area which they may not enter."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Before Paying with Plastic

Remember the days when "paying with plastic" was the exception rather than the norm? Yes, there was such a time... not really that long ago... and I've recently discovered that there are some places that still operate their business with this assumption.

In our own lovely little village, which we moved to from the larger Pittsburgh area in May, there are still places that only accept cash payment. These include establishments that people go for to for entertainment and socialization, for example, the movie theater and the local ice cream shop.

These kind of hold-outs for the old-time ways might feel like an inconvenience with one's first patronage of them. But after that it's fun. I mean, it's like stepping back just a little bit in time, to a less complicated, less rushed time in history, in which every corner of life was not yet infiltrated by technology - or by plastic!

I like to live a simpler life when possible!