Friday, April 30, 2010

Not Quite Right, UCC!

Having chanced upon an interesting article posted on April 29, titled "The End of an Era" - which reported the February 25, 2010, death of the last deaconess in the United Church of Christ, I was amused to see the author's parochially short-sighted conclusion. Since the "comments are closed" on this article, even though it was posted only yesterday (!), I felt compelled to write a comment here.

The first two paragraphs of the article started out well enough - with a short historical statement...

"In the late nineteenth century, St. Louis was the American center of the Deaconess Sisters, a movement that traced its spiritual roots back as far as Paul’s first letter to the Romans. This order of women, founded in Germany in the 1830s, dedicated their lives to caring for the sick and the poor. They were established in America in 1889 by a group of St. Louis Evangelical pastors who wanted to respond to the needs of the poor in their community.

"The Deaconess Sisters of St. Louis, which included 200 women, launched Deaconess Hospital and a nursing school and worked with children, seniors, and the homebound ill. Their work continues today through the ministries of CHHSM members including the Deaconess Foundation, Deaconess Parish Nurse Ministries and the International Parish Nurse Resource Center in St. Louis."

The next paragraph is the amusing one:

"Now the Deaconess movement in the United States has passed into history. On February 25, 2010, Sister Marie G. Lee, the last Evangelical Deaconess Sister in the United States, died in St. Louis."

This is a good example of the ignorance that can easily develop in any Christian denomination when its members forget, were not taught, or do not recognize the fact that the cumulative history of the Christian Church can exist outside of their own denomination!

[The rest of the article contains interesting information about the deceased deaconess and may be found at]

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wesley's Famous Words

I've known for a while that the United Methodist Church has a long history of deaconess service, but have never read much about that history. Today I stumbled across an inspirational article about Deaconess Clara Ester, an African American deaconess who served for many years as the executive director of Dumas Wesley Community Center, a United Methodist Women-supported national mission institution, located in the Crichton neighborhood of Mobile, Ala. [See]

One of the interesting things in this article is the citing of some "famous words" of John Wesley, which are credited with having a profound influence on Deaconess Ester. Simple and direct, the quotation reads:

Christian service
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.” -John Wesley

That about sums it up!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Prayed by Deaconesses

The website for the Order of Deaconesses in the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) includes a couple of beautiful prayers appropriate for the personal prayer life of a deaconess:

O GRACIOUS FATHER, we here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to thee and thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy handmaidens who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Anglican Deaconess Association (ADA) which is affiliated with the REC describes itself as "an organization for the promotion and support of the traditional Order of Deaconesses." Interestingly, this association also includes a prayer for deaconesses on the back of its publicity tract:

O LORD of souls, who hast chosen and called us to service in thy Church; all our trust is in thee, for in thee are the springs of our life. Abundantly give us of thy blessed Spirit, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, and use us as it shall please thee for the glory of thy Name. Empty us of self and fill us with the meekness of wisdom. Increase our faith, mellow our judgment, stir our zeal, deepen our affections. Do thou choose for us the work we do and the place in which we do it, the success we win and the harvest we reap. Preserve us from jealously and impatience, from self-will and depression. Make us faithful unto death, and give us at last the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I have emailed the deaconess listed on the REC website to ask for the sources for these prayers, and will add that information when it is received!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Order of Deaconesses in Reformed Episcopal Church

It can be interesting to take an occasional look at the deaconess movement in other Protestant denominations in the United States. As recently as 2002, the Reformed Episcopal Church adopted a Canon to officially recognize the Order of Deaconesses and establish requirements for candidacy. But this action was really a restoration of the vocation that existed in the church more than a century earlier.

The Order of Deaconesses was revived in the Church of England by the Bishop of London in 1861, and subsequently in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America in 1889. And in 1920, the denomination's Lambeth Conference encouraged the restoration of an Order of Deaconesses throughout the entire Anglican Communion. However, in 1976, the specific Order of Deaconesses in the United States "dissolved into the Diaconate" when the Episcopal Church voted to allow the ordination of women.

A year later, in 1977, a large group of traditional Anglicans adopted The Affirmation of St. Louis as a confessional charter to unite Continuing (Traditional) Anglicans around the world. Among other assertions, this charter recognized the need for a special ministry for women, and declared "as one of the 'essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order: The ancient office and ministry of Deaconesses as a lay vocation for women, affirming the need for proper encouragement of that office.'”

Since adoption of the confessional charter, several women have been admitted to the Order of Deaconess in Traditional Anglican jurisdictions. The training program for new deaconesses is housed at Cranmer Theological House, just north of Houston, Texas. (A review of the Deaconess Studies curriculum there reveals some intriguing course titles, including "Biblical Womanhood.") One of the House's website pages states, "Cranmer Theological House is distinguished by its strong commitment to the Holy Scriptures as God's infallible Word, its adherence to the theology of the English Reformation as expressed in the historic Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and its commitment to the worship and polity of the greater Anglican tradition."

Quotations taken from: