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."

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