Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fliedner's Training and Consecration of Deaconesses

Theodor Fliedner provided the probationary deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany, with a hefty set of guidelines for day-to-day living and working in institutions of mercy. For example, the women were told how to carry out their duties in hospitals, especially in terms of following the doctors' instructions for medicine, diet, or ventilation for each patient; how to make daily reports to the doctors; and how to assist the pastors without imposing their Christian belief on those who were not receptive [to witness to Christ through their actions instead when necessary].

Each day the probationers and working deaconesses went to Chapel for half an hour. The time in Chapel began with the singing of a hymn, but was followed by complete silence during which each woman could choose to pray, read the Bible, or meditate on the Word. During the week there were other Bible classes and prayer meetings available to the women. In relation to this focus on God's Word, J.S. Howson once quoted Fliedner as saying, "We have no vows, and I will have no vows, but a bond of union we must have, and the best bond is the Word of God, and our second bond is singing."

The deaconesses in the various Motherhouses established by Fliedner always met together to vote on acceptance of new deaconesses into their houses and elected their own superintendent of the House. In turn, each woman was expected to obey the superintendent and to gladly and cheerfully accept whatever work was assigned to her by her superiors.

All of the German Deaconess Houses used a similar service of consecration for deaconesses. The service included singing; an address reminding the deaconesses that they are servants of Jesus, servants of the needy, and servants of one another; an opportunity for the deaconess candidates to indicate that they wish to take up such a ministry of mercy; the kneeling and blessing of the candidates; the recitation of a prayer from Apostolical Constitutions; and lastly, the service finished with the celebration of Holy Communion.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lutheran Orphan's Home in Des Peres, MO

Two days ago I received a wonderful surprise in the mail from a deaconess friend who lives in St. Louis. The surprise is a plate depicting the 100th anniversary of the Lutheran Orphan's Home in Des Peres, MO, from 1868 to 1968. The back of the plate is inscribed: "In Memorial to the 100th Anniversary of the Lutheran Orphans' Home Celebrated July 21, 1968. Dedicated to all the Children, Housemothers, Fathers, and to the Glory of God. 1868-1968."

I'm not sure where my friend found this treasure, but I'm delighted with it. [Of course it is already 41 years old, which makes it even more precious!]

In chapter one of In the Footsteps of Phoebe I make reference to the very first Lutheran orphanage - which opened in Des Peres, Missouri, in 1868. This venerable institution has several connections with deaconesses.

1. We know that at least one deaconess from Germany worked at the orphanage in its early days;
2. We know that in 1934 Rev. Herman B. Kohlmeier, superintendent of deaconess training for the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, took a long road trip that included visiting the orphanage;
3. We know that Deaconess Florence Storck was assigned to work at the orphanage at the time of her commissioning in 1937, and worked there until transferring to the St. Louis Lutheran Mission in 1940.

My guess is that there are other connections between the deaconess community and the Orphans' Home that are still waiting to be discovered. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the plate! Thank you, Pam!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Community Life of the Beguines

As I progress through the little volume titled, "Deaconesses in Europe and Their Lessons for America" (by Jane Marie Bancroft), I am fascinated to discover that even though the office of deaconess may not have been continuously present in either the Eastern or Western Churches, there were many ways (outside of convents) in which women were banding together to give service to God and their fellowman.

One case in point is the various communities of "Beguines," who are known to have lived from the 12th century onward, in the Netherlands, in Belgium, along the Rhine River, in Switzerland, and in eastern France. During the first half of the 13th Century, there were thousands of Beguines. For some reason they began to be persecuted, nuns disliked them, and the Pope withdrew his "protection" of them. At the time of the Reformation, many of these women became Protestant, but continued to resemble sisterhoods of Catholicism.

As for the life and work of the Beguines, Bancroft explains:

"As a rule they lived alone, in separate small houses build closely together and surrounded by a wall. Each house bore on its door the sign of the cross, and with every Beguine court there were invariably two large buildings - a church and a hospital; the one for the worship of the sisters, the other the field of their self-denying ministrations. At first they were in no wise distinguished in their dress from other women, but in time they wore a habit which varied in color with each establishment, but was generally blue, gray, or brown. The veil was invariably white. The sisters had to earn, or partly earn, their own livelihood. In the time remaining they rendered essential service in performing acts of charity. They received orphans to bring up and educate, taught little children, nursed the sick, performed the last offices for the dead, and bound themselves by good deeds closely with the lives of the people. They were in no sense isolated from the world, but lived busy, useful lives in the midst of the world. They could leave the community at any time, and after severing their connection with it were free to marry. They also retained control of their own property."

This strikes me as a pretty modern arrangement for women in the 13th-19th centuries! And except for the living together in groups of houses, pretty close to how some deaconess communities serve today.