Project Canterbury

Does the Church Want Deaconesses?

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A crisis is at hand! In America there soon may be no deaconesses! Does the Church need deaconesses? Does the Church want them enough to take definite action?

The Order belongs to the whole Church. Herein lies its potential strength. And alas, herein lies its inherent weakness. Though the Order is a heritage of the whole historic Church, in America it is dependent upon the action of the Church expressed through General Convention. Too often delegates, both clerical and lay, have had only the haziest ideas of the place of the Order in the system of the early Church. Too many times has important legislation for the Order been put off until the eleventh hour of Convention, or laid on the table. Now a real crisis confronts the Church. Unless we take time to consider the situation, unless the Church takes action, there will soon be no deaconesses available. The ranks are rapidly thinning. Of late years too few women have sought this service. In an age when women are proving their worth in expanding professional fields of service, shall a great potential channel of power be lost to the Church?

And so, Reverend Fathers in God, Clerical and Lay Deputies to General Convention, I address an analysis of the situation for your careful consideration.

In the New Testament days and later, the Church had definite need for the Order. Because of oriental social customs, men were limited in their ministrations to women. So deaconesses were a necessity quite as much as deacons as helpers in pastoral work of the Apostles and later the bishops, for the discharge of matters they could not attend to. The deaconess anointed women in Baptism, instructed them in their Christian duties, presided over the women's part of the Church. She ministered to the sick, the poor, the martyrs in prison, and carried messages and the Blessed Sacrament to sick women. She cared for the widows and orphans.

What are deaconesses doing in the Church today? They are working among the Indians of Alaska, South Dakota, Arizona, and the Everglades. We find them in settlement houses [3/4] developed in the city's slums, or in mission houses in the mountains of Appalachia. We see deaconesses as nurses and superintendents of hospitals, and homes of rest and refuge for the aged or distressed; we see them as teachers and housemothers in schools and homes for children; we see the deaconesses making these institutions real houses of God. In the rural mission field, or the city parish, the deaconess takes the Church to the people in the homes she visits. She is friend of rich and poor, and finds opportunities for words of comfort or counsel or instruction. This person is brought to Baptism or Confirmation, and that one to Absolution. We see the deaconess directing the Church School, preparing candidates for Confirmation, and training young women in Altar guild duty. Sometimes two or three deaconesses live and work together; many times one is working alone, often doing heroic duty at a lonely post. In the years since the restoration of the Office of Deaconess, men, women, and children have been ministered to in the Name of Christ. It would take volumes to tell the story for the work done by deaconesses is as varied and extended as the Church's field of service at home and abroad.

Is this work of value? Most assuredly! Does the Church need deaconesses? It does! Does it need more deaconesses? The Church needs more now and in the future. Never has the supply of deaconesses been equal to the demand for their services. Bishops, parishes, institutions, and the mission field looking for help say, "We want a deaconess if one can be obtained." But alas, the answer has to be made over and over again, "There is no one to send."

Why is there this preference for deaconesses? They are usually practical and efficient. They bring a maturity and stability to the work. They have been doubly selected--by the school that trained them and by the Church that set them apart. The work they do, is done with the authority of the Church behind them. The religious garb they wear is the outward expression of something inward and spiritual that happened when they were set apart for God's service.

Why are there not more Candidates for the Office of Deaconess? There are several contributing causes. First of all, the Vocation is too little known. Deaconesses are scattered so sparsely throughout the Church that many people do not know of the existence of the Office. Deaconesses working in [4/5] remote places, among the ill, unfortunate, or very poor, have little opportunity to present the Vocation to the type of young women of good education and emotional maturity who would make excellent candidates. Many young college graduates prefer taking up Church work as a profession. The trained lay worker does not have to think of her profession as lifelong as does the deaconess. There is less regulation by the Church and more personal freedom, and this work is definitely better paid. These women ask in all seriousness, "Beyond wearing a religious dress, what can a deaconess do that I can not? What has the deaconess got, that I have not?"

These questions lead us to the key problem facing the Order. Just what is a deaconess?


While actually restoring the ancient Office of Deaconess, the Church did not at first define its position in its ministerial system. Vagueness as to status has done much to hold back development of the Order and to lessen its appeal. Why was there a lack of a clear cut pronouncement? Prejudice against women in professional life left its impact on ecclesiastical thinking too. Historical data regarding the Office was not easy of access to Church members or even the clergy. This was true in both England and America.

To meet this situation, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1917 appointed a committee of clerical and lay scholars to delve into historical material to be found regarding the ministry of women in the early Church, and that of the Order of Deaconesses in particular. Their report was thoroughly thrashed out in the Lambeth Conference of 1920, and definite resolutions made. These were somewhat simplified and then adopted by the 1930 Lambeth Conference. In 1948 Lambeth Conference reaffirmed 1930, which we quote:

"114. The Conference reaffirms Resolution 67 of the Conference of 1930 that `the Order of Deaconess is for women the one and only Order of Ministry which we can recommend our branch of the Catholic Church to recognize and use.' It also approves the resolution adopted 1939-1941 in both Houses of the Convocations of Canterbury and York `that the Order of Deaconesses is the one existing ordained ministry for women in the sense of being the only Order of Ministry in the Anglican Communion to which women are admitted by episcopal imposition of hands.' "

[6] "116. The Conference desires to draw attention again to the wide and important range of work which may be entrusted to deaconesses by the constituted authorities of any province of the Anglican Communion; and recommends that in all parts of the Anglican Communion the work of deaconesses should be encouraged and their status and function defined."

In America, the 1919 General Convention appointed a "Commission on Adapting the Office of Deaconess to the Present Tasks of the Church." This Commission did much study and presented to the 1922 Convention a complete report based on the 1920 Lambeth Resolutions. A new Canon on Deaconesses was enacted, since slightly revised, which gives the specific duties, condition of candidacy, training, canonical examination, ecclesiastical oversight, transfer by letters dimissory, physical and mental health requirements, even providing for trial in special court. But the very important matter of status has not been defined.

Why has this not been done? The 1922 Commission tried to include it in the Canon. Being of a historical character, the statement was considered extraneous to a good Canon and so was discarded. Also, the Church was not ready for the question. Too little was known of the history of the Office. It was a surprise to many people to learn that women had ever been considered ordained to any office in the Church. Some people were confused because the modern diaconate of men has become through the ages a sort of office of priest candidature in which a man remains as short a time as possible. This is quite different from the deacon of the early Church who was the Bishop's right-hand messenger and who expected to remain a deacon for life. No attempt has been made at any time to make the deaconess the exact counterpart of the modern deacon. The 1922 Commission proposed defining the status of deaconess according to the pattern in the primitive Church. But some people did not understand. They said this was just an opportunity for women to get their feet into the door of the ministry and they would soon move in and take over! Of course this was absurd!

Talk of ordaining women to the priesthood has some times arisen, coming from lay women and other sources, but never from the deaconesses. In 1948 the Chinese Church because of the shortage of priests, petitioned Lambeth for its opinion. As a branch of the historic Church, Anglicans have [6/7] always tried to hold steadfastly to the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, neither adding to, nor subtracting from the essentials of faith and practice. The early Christian Centuries are held in greatest respect, for the Church feels that after the great Pentecostal outpouring, the Holy Spirit was especially active in those formative years of the Church. We look to those years for precedents to guide us now. As to women in the priesthood, there is no precedent in any branch of the historic Church in all the Christian ages. Our Lord chose men to be His Apostles; the Seventy sent to preach were men; the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was instituted in the presence of men only; the Evangelistic Charge (Matt 28:1620) and the Apostlic Commission (John 20:19-23) were given to men. Therefore the Anglican Church is against any practice seemingly so contrary to Catholic tradition and order. This was the opinion expressed to the Chinese Church and others by the 1948 Lambeth Conference. [1948 Lambeth Resolutions, 113, 115.]

The Conference again called attention to the Order of Deaconesses commending it for more extensive use. For the two propositions are entirely different. There have never been women priests in the Catholic Church. But the Office of Deaconess was created as part of the Catholic system of Orders. Actually the building up of a strong diaconate of women in the present age would be the strongest bulwark against the innovation of women priests.

Because the history of the Office of Deaconess is so little known to many Church people, and the data not easily available, it is necessary in this analysis to give a brief summary: [Material taken largely from The Ministry of Women, the Report and Appendices of the Committee appointed in 1917 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. S.P.C.K. 1919.]



1. He permitted women to minister to Him.

2. He chose women to be the first witnesses of His Resurrection.

3. On the Day of Pentecost, women no less than men were partakers of the special gifts of the Spirit. St. Luke cites this as the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy of Joel, quoted [7/8] by St. Peter, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. . . . upon the servants and handmaidens in those days will I pour out my Spirit."


1. The setting apart of "The Seven" (men) with prayer and the laying on of hands, so that the Apostles should not leave the Word of God and serve (diakonein) tables, has always been taken by the Church as inaugurating the office of deacon, through "The Seven" were not so called.

The title Deacon (and later Deaconess) was crystalized from a commonly used Greek word to denote service freely given as an act of gracious helpfulness, such as that performed by St. Martha, the Angels, and Our Lord Himself. There were other words that denoted service for hire, or slave service.

2. The Epistle to the Romans (about 56 A.D.) was sent to Rome by St. Paul through the service of "Phoebe, our sister who is also a deacon (diakonos) of the Church at Cenchrea." St. Paul highly commends her. (Rom. 16:1, 2.) The title is used here in its common gender as was done by the first generations of Christians. The first use of the feminine form "deaconess" (diakonissa) was in the Fourth Century in the Nicene Canon.

3. The use of this common gender title (like our word "servant") was probably the reason St. Paul used simply the word "women" (gunaikas) to make himself clear when laying down the qualifications for men and women deacons, when writing his first letter to St. Timothy about 64-67 A.D. St. Chrysostom, Theodoret, and many other ancient and modern scholars agree to this interpretation of I Tim. 3:8-13. We can see St. Paul's meaning best by putting his qualifications in parallel columns thus:

"Likewise must the deacons be grave,
not double tongued,
not given to much wine,
not given to filthy lucre,
holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
Likewise must women
be grave,
not slanderers,
full of faith in all things."


1. Pliny writing in Latin about 112 A.D. to Emperor Trajan, refers to "ancillae quae vocantur ministrae"--women who are called ministers. "Ministrae" being the Latin translation of the Greek "diakonoi."

[8] 2. Clement of Alexandria (150-220 A.D.) refers to St. Paul's rules about the ministry of women, (diakonon gunaikon).

3. Origen (185-254 A.D.) comments on Rom. 16:1, 2, and says this shows that women also were set in the ministry (diakonia) of the Church.

4. The Didascalia (about 300 A.D. reveals the deaconess as a regular member of an important order of ministry.

5. The Apostolic Constitutions telling of Church custom before and after Nicea, mentions the deaconess between the deacon and subdeacon, and speaks of the imposition of hands by the bishop as the accepted method of making deaconesses. A prayer from the Constitutions is embodied into some of the modern admission rites.


1. NICEA 325 A.D. The clergy of the heretical Paulianist sect, returning to the Catholic fold were required by the Council to be rebaptized and reordained, the same rule to be observed concerning deaconesses. Deaconesses are specially mentioned since some of the deaconesses wearing the habit had not received the imposition of hands and therefore were to be considered laity.

2. CHALCEDON 451 A.D. (IV General Council). The ordination of deaconesses is expressly called both "cheirotoneisthai" and "cheirothesia"--(ordination by the imposition of hands).

3. TRULLO 692 A.D. (Called "Quinisext" as being supplemental to Councils V and VI which were occupied wholly with matters of Faith). This Council speaks of the ordination of deaconesses in two Canons using the word "cheirotoneisthai". While Pope Serius did not accept six of the Canons of this Council, the Deaconess Canons were accepted.

IN THE EAST, the Deaconess Order developed to sizable proportions, forty deaconesses being attached to the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople at the time of St. John Chrysostom and later. Here deaconesses were considered members of the clergy in both ecclesiastical and civil law. The deaconess received the Eucharist directly after the clergy and was addressed by such terms as "most reverend" and "the venerable." She was ordained with the imposition of hands by the bishop. The same words were used to describe the rite whether administered to the man or woman deacon. The deaconess was considered of higher rank than the subdeacon.

The minor orders were not of Apostolic origin. They developed later, and did not at first have the laying on of hands. They were called "acheirotonetos uperesia" or "insacrati ministry". In later [9/10] years, as the office of deacon grew in importance, and that of the subdeacon also, the laying on of hands was given the subdeacon. The office of deaconess diminished in size and function and then became ranked after the subdeacon.

In the Eastern branch of the Church there have been some survivals and liturgical mentionings of the Deaconess Office continuing to the present. There is a movement now to restore the Office as "a great need exists in the Greek Orthodox Church for deaconesses, who proved very helpful in the first Christian Centuries, and who will again be an arm of the service." Schools are planned for both in America and in Athens, Greece.

IN THE WEST, deaconesses were not as numerous. Many abbesses were consecrated deaconesses that the bishops might have control over their religious orders. There is confusion over the two titles; all abbesses were not deaconesses, nor were all deaconesses abbesses. The deaconess was considered to be ordained to her office. Bishop Fortunatus (6th C.) writing of the action of Bishop Medard in making S. Rhadegund a deaconess uses the words, "mane superposita consecravit ean diaconam," words meaning ordination.

In the Eleventh Century we find charters of four popes issued to bishops in Italy, which state the right of the bishops to make priests, deacons, deaconesses, and subdeacons. [We quote one of these charters; the others are similar. Charter of Pope Benedict VIII (1012-1024 A.D.) to Benedict, Bishop of Portus: "Concedimus et confirmamus vobis vestrisque successoribus in perpetuum omnem ordinationem episcopalem, tam de presbyteris quam diaconibus vel diaconissis, seu subdiaconibus ... quae in tota Transtiberi necessaria fuerit, faciendam, nisi cardinails presbyter vel cardinalis diaconus . .. efficiatur."]

There are several survivals of the deaconess office which have continued in the Roman Church to the present Century. In the Carthusian Order, the diocesan bishop continued to "consecrate into the place of deaconess" some of the older professed nuns, vesting them with stole and maniple which was worn on the right arm, and "using the same words that he says at the ordination of deacon and subdeacon." A nun thus consecrated sings the Epistle at conventual High Mass, though without leaving her place in the choir. If no priest be present at Matins a consecrated nun assumes the stole and reads the Gospel.

Among the Benedictines and Cistercians the practice of "consecrating" nuns continued until the Eighteenth Century. Among some of the other orders three different veils were bestowed: the veil of profession given as early as at twelve years of age; the veil of consecration given to a nun as early as age twenty-five; and a veil of ordination given at forty years of age. This last veil seems to be a survival of the deaconess ordination, forty years of age being the usual requirement of the Canons of the early Church for ordination to that office.

[11] Thus history shows us that although the deaconess office fell into disuse in the Middle Ages, it was a true part of the Church's ministerial system from the beginning. It was never abolished nor entirely lost sight of by the Church through the ages. Therefore the bishops of the last eighty-seven years in England and America were quite within their inherent rights as bishops of the historic Church when they set apart women to the Office of Deaconess. They carefully followed ancient precedent with the essentials of Public Prayer, the Giving of the Commission, and the Laying On of Hands. In some instances this preceded canonical definition and action.

In the revival of religious orders there was some confusion of thought between sisterhoods and the deaconess order. In Europe there were certain Protestant religious communities who dedicated their sisters as "deaconesses" but without the laying on of hands. In America there were some attempts to organize along this line, particularly in Maryland and Long Island.

The first real deaconesses of the American Church were those in the Diocese of Alabama. In 1856 Bishop Cobbs planned a Cathedral surrounded by a group of institutions with deacons and deaconesses ministering therein. The plan did not materialize but his friend and successor, Bishop Wilmer gathered women into a sisterhood of deaconesses to care for war orphans. While not using the laying on of hands at first, the Bishop did so as early as 1885. After the passage of Canon 10, Bishop Wilmer did not wish any question to arise as to the validity of the ordering of his deaconesses to the ancient office. So he called the group together on the Feast of the Purification 1893 and in the presence of a large congregation solemnly bestowed on each woman the imposition of hands.

Bishop H. C. Potter of New York set apart a deaconess in 1887. Since the Canon on Deaconesses was enacted in 1889, several hundred women have served their Lord and His Church in this Office.

The actual restoring of the Office has been done. But because the Office practically fell into disuse for several centuries, it is highly desirable that a definition of its status be made. Lambeth has recommended this be done. It is time the American Church should do so. It might be done as follows:

[12] RESOLVED, That General Convention recognizes the Order of Deaconesses as the one existing ordained ministry for women in the sense of being the only Order of Ministry in the Anglican Communion to which women are admitted by episcopal imposition of hands, belonging to a permanent diaconate in accordance with primitive usage and precedent.

The word "permanent" would leave no chance to make the deaconess the same as the modern deacon, a priest candidate. Yet the wording suggested would emphasize the validity of her deaconess orders in accordance with historical precedent. It would answer the few within the Church who would say that the laying on of hands in the case of a deaconess is a mere benediction, no grace being given, no character conferred. As this has been somewhat of a controversial point in the past it needs further analysis.

The outward and visible sign in the Sacraments of Holy Confirmation and Holy Orders is the same. In both Sacraments an inward and spiritual gift of grace is conferred, and a certain character created, for each Sacrament, if validly performed, is accomplished for life and not repeated. But the specific quality of grace received, varies according to the specific intention of each Sacrament. In Holy Confirmation the sevenfold gifts of grace are for the steadfast, mature living of the Christian life. In Holy Orders there is a definite intention, with a specific commission given to execute a specific office of ministry, and the gift of grace that is conveyed is for the fulfillment thereof. If the intention is to ordain a deacon, the commission is given, "Take thou authority to exercise the Office of Deacon . . . " and the gift of grace is for living the vocation and exercising the office of deaconno more, no less. The character conferred is life-long, can not be erased (except by special ecclesiastical means for cause) though it may be and usually is added to. A priest is both deacon and priest. A bishop holds the three-fold character of deacon, priest and bishop. In the case of a deaconess, the intention is to create a deaconess after the primitive pattern; the commission is given, "Take thou authority to exercise the Office of Deaconess. . . . " The gift of grace is for the living of the vocation and exercising the office of deaconess--no more, no less. The character conferred is life-long, but differs from that of a deacon, in that it can not be added to.

[13] Canon 51 "Of Deaconesses", is a good and complete Canon with the exception of its weak Section I--"Appointment." This section reads:

"A woman of devout character and proved fitness, unmarried, or widowed, may be appointed Deaconess by any Bishop of this Church, subject to the provisions of this Canon. Such appointment shall be vacated by marriage."

The word "appoint", while used historically as appointment to a permanent Office, is an unhappy choice now. It is too suggestive of the appointment of men and women to temporary "deacon" and "deaconess" duty in some non-episcopal churches. It would seem more in keeping with the permanency of the Office if this section of Canon 51 were amended to read thus:

Section 1. A woman of devout character and proved fitness may be ordered Deaconess by any Bishop of this Church, subject to the provisions of this Canon.

This re-wording of Section 1 of Canon 51, brings up another controversial point. Does marriage invalidate the character conferred in the setting apart of a deaconess? Does it nullify the grace given? The answer from history is no. Even in the strictest days when the marriage of the clergy the deaconess included, was severely penalized, ordination character and grace were not considered made void. The English Reformation allowed the clergy to marry or not as they should judge the same to serve better to godliness. Lambeth carefully considered the case of the deaconess, and stated, "It should be understood that the Deaconess dedicates herself to a life-long service, but no vow or implied promise of celibacy should be required as necessary for admission to the Order."

The removal of the sentence in Section 1 forbidding married deaconesses to function does not mean making the vocation and office a temporary one. The setting apart is a life-long dedication, not for mere personal consecration, but to definite office and function. A woman can not be admitted to the Office until she shall be under definite appointment to serve under the jurisdiction of the Church. The keynote of the Vocation is "to serve upon the Lord without distraction" and a married woman can very rarely do this, having other duties and responsibilities. There is nothing to prevent a deaconess from taking a vow of celibacy if she so desires, or of [13/14] becoming a member of a monastic community, providing her distinctive office is recognized. In England there is a Religious Community of Deaconesses with a Rule especially designed to further the Deaconess Vocation and ministration of the Office, and preserving her canonical relationship to her diocesan bishop. In America, as yet we do not have any such Community, and the few deaconesses who have felt the call to the Community religious life have joined various Sisterhoods of lay women where their distinctive deaconess orders were not recognized and hence laid aside. How fine it would be if these Deaconess-Sisters could get together and found a new Community like the English one, with an especially adapted Rule. This would fill a need, and do a service to the Church.


Another of the recommendations of Lambeth is that there be adopted a standard "Form and Manner of Making Deaconess" such as might fitly find a place in the Book of Common Prayer, and which should contain provision for:

(a) Prayer by the Bishop and the Laying on of Hands.

(b) A formula giving authority to execute the Office of a Deaconess in the Church of God.

(c) The delivery of the New Testament by the Bishop to each Candidate.

The services now used contain the essential parts, but for an Order of ministry belonging not to dioceses, but to the whole Church, a uniform service should be adopted. Surely the service of the setting apart of a life to an office of ministry in the Church is as worthy of a place in the Prayer Book as the consecration of a building or institution of a rector. It would seem that on the next revision of the American Book of Common Prayer, that it might be the time to include such a Form in the Ordinal where it was for centuries in the early times. Placed there, it would be a witness and reminder wherever the Book was used, helping to call candidates to the Lord's service.


If the Church wants deaconesses in the future, there is urgent need for the establishment of a national school or [14/15] deaconess seminary. It is a shock to learn that at present there is no school whose primary purpose is the training of deaconess candidates!

After the 1889 Canon was passed, many schools started in different parts of the country. Being of local or diocesan character, financial difficulties soon closed all but three or four. These schools trained both deaconess candidates and other women for missionary or Church work at home. The candidates were in the majority in the student body at first, but the proportion changed. Some years ago the Philadelphia and Berkeley Schools ceased to have Deaconesses in charge or in residence. The former became the Department of Women of the Philadelphia Divinity School but still without Deaconesses. Windham House was created in New York by the Woman's Auxiliary as a National Graduate Training Center for professional Church workers. These schools are headed by able women and doing excellent work in their field. It is true that a deaconess candidate can obtain at these schools most of the academic work required to pass canonical examinations. But this is only one side of her training! Her Vocation needs nourishing care. She needs the spiritual preparation for ardous and often lonely work among both the fortunate and unfortunate ones of the Lord's flock. She needs special training in the pastoral ministration of her Office. This part of her training can not be given by laywomen, no matter how competent or able, for they do not have, nor perhaps value, the ordination gift. Herein lies one reason why so few young women seek to enter the Order. Deacons and priests can not be developed in theological seminaries run entirely by laymen!

The New York Training School for Deaconesses was the last of the schools where the training of deaconess candidates was its first purpose. It was forced to close for financial reasons. Then it was re-opened and operated for a few years by the deaconesses themselves raising enough to augment endowment funds. It is now closed, because the building which housed the school is needed by the Diocese of New York for its own use.

If the Church wants deaconesses, there is urgent need for the establishment of a Deaconess Seminary on a national basis, where candidates could live with deaconesses and where [15/16] the special vocational preparation could be given. The operation of such a school could not have as much freedom as Windham House for instance, because the training is for an Office whose requirements are laid down by Canon. It might properly be under the supervision of the Commission on Theological Education or under a special Commission, as is General Seminary.


In an analysis of the decline in the numbers of deaconesses, we must consider salaries. While today, salaries paid are much better than years ago, there is still room for much improvement. This should be a matter of concern to the whole Church and to parishes and institutions employing deaconesses. Too often, the Church has been willing to accept the services of devoted deaconesses for a bare subsistence wage, or less. Because she wears a religious garb, and is dedicated in lifelong service, is no reason why she should not be paid adequately for her services. The cost of bread and books and gasoline is the same for all. It is hard to get deaconesses to serve on Committees or attend Conferences which would help promote the interests of the Order or present the Vocation to young women, because so few are financially able to go very far from their field of duty.


A certain deaconess was criticised by the young curate as being inefficient. A person who knew the circumstances said, "Would you be efficient if you had to hold on to your job until you were eighty, because it meant your bread and butter?" It is a surprise to many that the Church has no retirement provision for its aged deaconesses. A few dioceses and parishes have looked after their own. Those fortunate enough to have been National Council workers or missionaries have had pensions. Realizing that something should be done, the deaconesses themselves began a fund in 1926, called "The Retiring Fund for Deaconesses", which has been added to by gifts from individuals and organizations, many of whom make an annual contribution. Since 1934 some small grants have been made--$120 per year living in a home, and $300 per year to a deaconess living alone. This Fund is not adequate [16/17] either in the size of the grants or the number that can be benefited.

This is a real and present emergency. Over two-third: of the deaconesses of the Church are over sixty years of age While a few do not need pensions, most of them should have them, for the oldest ones received the most meager of salaries The whole Church should do something definite to meet this need. A suggestion has been made that if General Convention should designate a special Sunday Offering for Deaconesses as is done for Theological Education, the present "Retiring Fund" would be enlarged sufficiently to meet the emergency.

However, there should be a well thought out retirement plan for the deaconesses of the future. This is complicated; it needs much study. This is one reason that no action has yet been taken. The Church Pension Fund does not and can not take care of deaconess pensions for several reasons: Its capital was raised to provide for a certain group and can not be stretched further; the deaconess group forms a dis-similar unit with an older ordination age, longer life expectancy, smaller salaries, et cetera. The Church Life Insurance Corporation, created by the trustees of the Church Pension Fund offers attractive insurance and annuity plans to clergy, deaconesses and layworkers. But often premiums for annuities are beyond the financial ability of deaconesses set apart between 30 and 40 years of age, who often receive only maintenance salaries. There are many angles to be carefully considered. But because the problem is difficult, it should not be laid aside, but worked at until a solution is achieved.


One of the greatest needs of the Order and the Church it serves, is for more women to become candidates for the Office. The Deaconess Vocation is one for which the Church needs the most able of her young women. It is a Vocation in which can be used the highest faculties of mind and spirit of the woman fitted to perform its duties. Would that we could present more extensively, and more appealingly the call to this ancient, yet modern Vocation. This is a "take-home" job for every member of the Church.

[18] Does the American Church want Deaconesses? A crisis is at hand. What will we do about it? Will action be taken to eliminate some of the present handicaps? Will the Order go forward to greater usefulness to God and His Church? Will the young women of the Church come forward to carry on as we seniors lay down our work?

To the Blessed Holy Spirit under Whose guidance the Order of Deaconesses came into being in Apostolic days, to Him we commend it in these latter days. May He guide our deliberations and our actions, and receive our prayers concerning it!

Canon 51



SEC. 1. A woman of devout character and proved fitness, unmarried or widowed, may be appointed Deaconess by any Bishop of this Church, subject to the provisions of this Canon. Such appointment shall be vacated by marriage.

SEC. 2. (a) The duty of a Deaconess is to assist in the work of the Parish, Mission, or institution to which she may be appointed, under the direction of the Rector or Priest in charge; or, if there be none such, to perform such functions as may be directly entrusted to her by the Bishop.

(b) The following are the chief functions which may be entrusted to a Deaconess.

(1) To care for the sick, the afflicted, and the poor;

(2) To give instruction in the Christian faith;

(3) Under the Rector or the Priest in charge, to prepare candidates for Baptism and for Confirmation;

(4) To assist at the administration of Holy Baptism and in the absence of the Priest or Deacon to baptize infants;

(5) Under the Rector or Priest in charge to organize, superintend and carry out the Church's work among women and children;

(6) With the approval of the Bishop and the incumbent, to read Morning and Evening Prayer (except such portions as are reserved for the Priest) and the Litany in Church or Chapel in the absence of the Minister; and when licensed by the Bishop to give instruction or deliver addresses at such services;

[20] (7) To organize and carry on social work; and in colleges and schools to have a responsible part in the education of women and children, and to promote the welfare of women students.

SEC. 3 (a) A woman desiring reception as a candidate for the office of Deaconess shall submit to the Bishop of the Diocese or Missionary District letters of recommendation from her Rector and from two women communicants of the Church, together with evidence that she is a communicant of the Church in good standing; and that she is a graduate of a High School or of a school with standards equivalent to a High School, or is prepared to take such examinations as shall qualify her for reception.

(b) During the period of candidateship, she shall be under the supervision of the Bishop, and shall report to him quarterly at the Ember seasons. If possible at least one-half of the time of her preparation shall be spent in residence with Deaconesses, or at a Church Training School.

(c) For due cause the Bishop may terminate any candidacy.

SEC. 4 (a) Before admission to the office of Deaconess a candidate shall be required to pass examinations in the following subjects:

(1) HOLY SCRIPTURE: The Bible in English; introduction to and contents of the various books; special knowledge of at least one Gospel and one Epistle.

(2) CHURCH HISTORY: A general outline, including the History of the Church in the United States, and special knowledge of the first five centuries.

(3) CHRISTIAN MISSIONS: History; present extent and methods; at least one missionary biography.

(4) DOCTRINE: Contents and teaching of the Book of Common Prayer, including preparation for the Sacraments.

(5) MINISTRATION: The office and work of a Deaconess, Parish work and Organization.

(6) RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: Psychology; Educational methods; Church School Management.

[21] (7) SOCIAL SERVICE: Principles involved in the adjustment of individuals to each other and to the community; the methods of social case work; familiarity with the recognized standards of the work of social organizations including institutions.

(b) This examination shall be conducted by examiners appointed by the Bishop. The results of the examinations shall be certified to the Bishop, and to the Standing Committee of the Diocese or Council of Advice of the Missionary District.

(c) The candidate shall also be required to furnish evidence that she has had at least nine months of field work under competent supervision, or satisfactory previous experience in social service, educational, parish or mission work.

SEC. 5 No one shall be admitted a Deaconess until she is twenty-five years of age; nor within two years of her reception as a candidate, unless the Bishop with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the Standing Committee or Council of Advice, shall shorten the time of her candidateship; but the time shall not be shortened to less than one year.

SEC. 6 No woman shall be admitted a Deaconess until she shall have laid before the Bishop testimonials showing that she is a communicant of this Church in good standing, and that she possesses such characteristics as, in the judgment of the persons testifying, fit her for the duties of that office. The testimonials of fitness shall be signed by four Presbyters of this Church and by eight Lay communicants, six of whom shall be women.

SEC. 7 Before admission as a Deaconess the Bishop shall require the candidate to submit to a thorough examination by a physician appointed by the Bishop. This examination shall cover her mental and nervous as well as her physical condition. The form of medical report prepared by The Church Pension Fund shall be used for this purpose. This report shall be kept on file by the Bishop and shall be submitted to the Standing Committee or Council of Advice with the application to be recommended for admission to the office of Deaconess.

SEC. 8 When the foregoing specified requirements have been complied with, the Bishop, upon the recommendation of [21/22] the Standing Committee of the Diocese, or the Council of Advice of the Missionary District, may admit the candidate to the office of Deaconess.

SEC. 9 No woman shall be recognized as a Deaconess until she has been admitted to that office by a service prescribed either by the General Convention or, in the absence of such prescription, by the Bishop of the Diocese or Missionary District.

SEC. 10 A Deaconess shall not accept work in a Diocese or Missionary District without the express authority in writing of the Bishop of that Diocese or Missionary District; nor shall she undertake work in a Parish without the like authority from the Rector of the Parish. No candidate shall be admitted as a Deaconess until she shall have been appointed to serve in some position under the jurisdiction of the Church.

SEC. 11 When not connected with a Parish, the Deaconess shall be under the direct oversight of the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese or Missionary District to which she is canonically attached. A Deaconess may be transferred from one Diocese or Missionary District to another by Letters Dimissory. A Deaconess may at any time resign her office to the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese or Missionary District to which she is attached under this Canon, but she may not be suspended or removed from office except by the Bishop for cause. A Deaconess thus suspended or removed may demand a trial by a special Court, to be composed of two Presbyters and four Lay Communicants, one man and three women, of whom two shall preferably be Deaconesses. The members of the Court shall be chosen by the Standing Committee or Council of Advice. The procedure of the Court shall be according to the rules governing the trial of a Clergyman in the Diocese or Missionary District to which the Deaconess is attached under this Canon.

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