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.

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