The Ministry of
THE REV. EDWARD L. PARSONS
Rector of St. Mark's Church
This sermon was preached in St. Mark's Church, Berkeley, California, on the XVIII Sunday after Trinity, 1909.
The occasion was the setting apart by the Bishop of California, of Anita Hodgkin and Mary Bostwick Mott to the office and work of a Deaconess. The sermon is printed by the Board of Managers of the Training School for Deaconesses in the Diocese of California, whose first graduates were thus made deaconesses.
THE MINISTRY OF DEACONESSES
I TIM. III, ii. Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.
I had almost read this passage to you as "Deaconesses must in like manner be grave, temperate, faithful in all things;" for there can be little doubt that it is of deaconesses that the writer here speaks. The bishop "must be without reproach," he says; "deacons, in like manner must be grave; not double-tongued;" and then, after further words concerning the deacons, "Women in like manner."
It is evident that he means women deacons. Of course, we must remember that when we talk of the ministry in the New Testament the terms so familiar to us, had, to those primitive Christians, hardly the same meaning. The great importance of the bishop, the orderly ranks of the clergy, the wide distinction between clergy and laity did not exist. There was no theory of apostolical succession. There was no tradition. There were no canons, no vestments, no church buildings. So when directions are given for the guidance of women deacons, or Phoebe is called a "deaconess in Cenchreae" it is well for us to note that although they were officials, these deaconesses, the thought that was predominant in the mind of those who worked and worshipped with them, was that of their work rather than their position. Deacon means servant. Phoebe in Cenchreae, doubtless a wealthy and prominent woman, was proud to be called the servant of the church. Today so used are we to the thought of service that we can hardly realize what [3/4] it meant in those days, that honorable officers of the church were called servants. In the Roman and Greek world the servants were slaves. Service was menial in its idea. Yet the very word used of the slave in performance of his menial duties is adopted as a word of honor in the new Christian community. Sometimes a single word will disclose the germ of a great social revolution.
In the New Testament then, we are probably safe in concluding that the church recognized an official ministry of women with duties parallel to those of the men deacons. These duties were all summed up in the idea of service. The deaconesses must have helped (as they did at a later date) in caring for the poor, in visiting the sick, and in teaching the new converts. Perhaps Priscilla was a deaconess; and you will remember that she was teacher of that learned man and mighty in the Scriptures, the famous Apollos. So in the New Testament Church the ministry of women began, and to this day, in one form or another, it has continued to be of the very life of the church.
All this was inevitable, for Christianity equalized men and women before God. It has taken many centuries to cast off woman's bonds, and indeed, some still cling about her; but Christianity brought the principle of equality and the rest was inevitable. Christianity substituted for a civilization that was masculine in type, masculine in its deliberate, rational virtues, as well as its social ordinances and its hideous vices, one which brought the feminine virtues, the feminine coloring of social usage, yes and the [4/5] feminine vices into equal prominence. The old Roman Emperor who tried to prohibit women from the common worship and to turn her life into a separate stream from that of man must have had some dim insight that neither a masculine nor a feminine Christianity could live. If he could divide the stream and break up the unity and symmetry of Christianity he could destroy it. Christianity brought women to the front, recognized their equality with men before God, understood that the world was their world as much as a world of men, made marriage a sacrament, because it was typical of the constitution of society as a whole. Under Christianity woman's virtue came to be a sacred thing. Its roll of honor numbered no Helens, no Aspasias, no Cleopatras; but Phoebe and Priscilla, Agnes and Felicitas, Olympias and Fabiola.
The New Testament Church therefore only expressed the natural feeling of Christianity in regard to women. Many conditions, however, enter into the development of any great institution. The social bonds which woman had to throw off, the rise of the ascetic ideal, the development of the priestly conception of the ministry and the varying forms in which in different countries the need for her work presented itself, all conspired to prevent a definite and orderly development of the woman-diaconate or of any other order of woman. The sense of uncertainty, of a kind of groping, seems to linger about the ancient records.
Various orders appear. There was very wide-spread an order of widows who helped in the care of the poor. It was the practical sense of the church which created [5/6] this order, putting to work those left destitute, for whom it must provide. There was the order of virgins, who at any rate in many places formed the choir. But over both these orders in the Eastern world a deaconess was likely to preside, the forerunner of the mediaeval abbess.
From the fourth century we have the clearest information of the importance of the deaconesses. In St. Chrysostom's time in Constantinople there were forty deaconesses attached to the principal church. Two or three have famous names; Pentadia, "a haven, a staff, a bulwark for those in distress;" Olympias, a widow of great beauty and wealth "full of patience, humility and many-shaped almsgiving." These women served as did the men deacons, visiting women (which the men could not do under the social conditions of those days,) preparing them for baptism, assisting at baptism, caring for the sick, teaching children and at times taking the Holy Eucharist to those women who were too sick to come to the church. It was not unknown too that they should assist in administering the consecrated chalice. There seems no doubt that these women were counted as much a part of the clergy as the deacons. They were ordained by the laying on of hands. The diaconal stole was placed about their necks. They were allowed to enter the sanctuary. Yet in other places there were those who expressly forbade that woman should be accounted as of the clergy. There were great churches where the order was unknown in the earlier centuries. As Deaconess Robinson has pointed out, "at the very time that Olympias was acting as the head of the [6/7] deaconesses in the eastern capital, Marcella was presiding over a community of women which she had founded in her own palace in Rome." It is interesting to us to whom the name Fabiola is so familiar to note that that founder of perhaps the first real hospital was for a time associated with Marcella's community. [* Fabiola is the chief hospital of Oakland.]
But these Roman women were not deaconesses, and it was not till much later that the order appeared in Rome and then it leaves only the vaguest record. The middle ages, bringing the great growth of monastic orders, establishing convents, creating new ideals of woman's life, saw the practical abolition of the order both in East and West. Women still worked, but through the convent and the sisterhood, not as parochial ministers. It was natural, therefore, that when the Reformation brought so large a part of European Christianity into antagonism to medieval ideals, the Protestant Churches, hating monasteries and the nun's life and knowing nothing else, should have failed, in spite of a few sporadic attempts, to give official place to woman's work. Our own Church failed with them. The Church began her post-reformation life handicapped. Her women could be taught, but could not teach; could be ministered unto, but could find no official recognition of their ministry.
The modern revival began in Germany in 1833, when Pastor Fliedner established the famous Deaconess Institution at Kaiserswerth. Sisterhoods began to be established a decade later in England, but it was not until 1861 that that country saw a Deaconess Institution. [7/8] In that year the Bishop of London set apart Elizabeth Ferard as a Deaconess and made her head of a new Institution for the training and common life of the deaconesses of his diocese. Since then in England, diocese after diocese has established Schools and Institutions and the Deaconess has become a definite factor in Church work.
So likewise in America the Church began to feel the new movement. Dr. Muhlenberg founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion in 1845 and the growth of sisterhoods has been steady ever since. In 1855 Maryland and in 1864 Alabama saw diocesan deaconesses appointed, but it was not until 1871 that the matter came up in General Convention. In that year the Rev. Mr. Spalding of Erie, father of the present Bishop of Utah and afterward Bishop of Colorado, proposed that the Convention should recommend that every diocese have its deaconess homes and schools. His resolution failed but the Rev. Dr. Huntington, from that time leader of the whole movement, secured the appointment of a Joint Commission to consider the matter and report to the next Convention. General Convention moves slowly. It has been discussing provinces for fifty years and has not come to them yet. For eighteen years it failed to give Deaconesses any standing. As I have gone over the history of those years it has seemed to me that the delay was due to the need that the Church's mind should be cleared upon two points: (i) What is the exact status of the deaconess as related to the male ministry of the church? Is she member of an order in the technical sense or is she holder of an office? [8/9] and (2) what is the difference, if any, between deaconess and sister?
At last in 1889 the canon on Deaconesses was passed and the Church recognized the order as a real part of its work. But on both those points many of us are still in doubt, and I must try to define the ecclesiastical status of the deaconess and differentiate her from the sister.
The Church was not ready to put the deaconess in quite the same category as the deacon. He is ordered; she is set apart. He is admitted to an order; she to an office and work. He is given the privilege of reading the Gospel and assisting in the administration of the Lord's supper. She is given no more privilege in regard to public worship than any other woman. But beyond that there is no practical difference. The deaconesses constitute a distinct order, although technically set apart to an "office and work." This order is part of the working force of the Church. The deaconess receives the laying on of hands as does the deacon, the symbol and pledge of the gift of the Spirit for her work. In every practical way the work given her to do is the work of a woman deacon. In her ministration she comes with the official position, the gift of the Spirit and the authority of character and consecration to those whom she serves. In my judgment there is still a certain vagueness about her place, and I feel sure that the time will come when the Church will frankly admit that she is ordained to her work, when the service will perhaps be something more like that of the use in ancient Constantinople. When we have a real diaconate among the men [9/10] and not a mere preparation for the priesthood that will be more easily accomplished. We have today three orders of the ministry in name but only two in fact. People do not really understand what the work of a deacon ought to be. When they do they will more easily recognize the Order of Deaconesses as co-ordinate.
It is easier to define the difference between a sisterhood and the Order of Deaconesses. The sisterhood is formed upon the community idea. Its members are bound by vows to the order. They assume in many cases vows of perpetual obligation. They surrender themselves entirely to the order; live by rule, obey the superior. Their responsibility is directly to the order, indirectly to the Bishop. There is always something of the conventual flavor about their life. They are isolated, apart. "They are" as Archdeacon Tiffany puts it "an order in the Church; the Deaconesses an order of the Church." That is very apt. The Deaconesses have their responsibility directly to the Bishop. While in some places the community life has been emphasized, it is not at all essential to the idea. They are primarily diocesan and parochial workers. They serve in parishes as do the clergy and may go from parish to parish and diocese to diocese as do the clergy. Their vows are vows of service, not of perpetual obligation. No stigma attaches to them if they surrender their office in order to fulfill that other great service of woman, wifehood and motherhood. In a word, they do not renounce the world, except as all Christians do. They are set apart [10/11] to a life of special service in the world. They are women ministers.
Now that being the case and it being apparent that to fulfill such a work careful training was necessary, the Church in America had no sooner formally recognized the order than upon the initiative of two far seeing men provision was made for the education and training of deaconesses.
Dr. Huntington founded the New York Training School in 1890. It was at first little more than part of Grace Parish and the Parish gave it its first House. It was there, when I was a deacon, that I first taught in a Deaconess School and under the leadership of that great statesman, my dear friend, learned something of the field for women in the ministry. Of deaconesses and a deaconess school we talked, when thirteen years ago, for the first time, I met that other dear friend and leader, the Bishop of California.
Shortly afterward, Bishop Whitaker of Pennsylvania, so well known to the coast because of his work in Nevada, years ago, founded the Philadelphia School, and later again a third school was opened in Minneapolis. These schools have graduated many splendid women. There are in the United States alone more than 150 deaconesses at work, most of them graduates.
And now with high hope and ardent purpose we add to the number the California School. It is not the pioneer in the work in this diocese for our own Bishop, like Bishop Whitaker and Dr. Huntington, understood the wide-reaching possibilities opened under the canon and in 1891, St. Phoebe's House was established in San Francisco. But after one graduate [11/12] was set apart to the work, it appeared that this coast had not yet awakened to the need. Not enough students presented themselves to make it possible to keep up the School and it was discontinued. The new school enters into this heritage of faith.
Two years ago one of those who is to be set apart today asked whether she could receive training here. Through the willing cooperation of my colleagues, Mr. Higgs and Mr. Hodgkin, it seemed possible to arrange it. The Bishop consented; informal classes began; and two or three other students entered. Later to the number of those who have given their services on the Faculty, freely and gladly, fall to be added Mr. Murgotten, Mr. Brookman, Dr. Powell and Miss Wright. The following year we gave the classes form and system by calling them St. Mark's Training School for Deaconesses. A little circular spread information about the School and another student or two was enrolled. During last winter the actual need of the school lead us to the venture of renting a small flat. Then the Bishop arranged for the organization of the school under his auspices. A number of women consented to serve as managers, an admirable house just opposite the Rectory on Durant Avenue was rented, two students entered the Junior class and the third year of work began last month.
The interesting fact about the school is that its growth has been perfectly natural—indeed we have been pushed forward whether we would or not. To have dropped the work, to have gone back, to have failed to rise to the opportunity would have been to neglect a manifest duty. God has guided us directly [12/13] and clearly through it all, and we look forward to the future confident that it is his work. There is still much to be done. I look forward to the time when beside the Head of St. Anne's House who will be a deaconess, at least one member of the Faculty will give most of his working time to the School. I look forward to the time when students will be enrolled from all up and down the coast and when the Board of Missions will send candidates here because of the great advantage of the close touch with the Orient for those who are going out across the Pacific. I pray for the time when some godly man or woman will give the School a house and when others will add endowment. Thus equipped I can see its influence for good not only among those whom it graduates to the work, but among the women students of the University. It can well be—this future St. Anne's House—the headquarters for the Church women of the University. But all that is in the future. Today we have only in humble faith to continue our endeavor to prepare women for this ministry. I believe that many will adventure. As from year to year the meaning of it, its beauty, its opportunity, come to be more widely known there will be no lack of those who will crowd forward to its ranks. Today many women long to be in some recognized ministry of the Church. They serve gladly and constantly, but they long for more. But they do not know where to turn. I doubt not that among you young women who are here this morning more than one has envied her brother, that to him the Church has opened a ministry. She has thought that for her there was none. But there is! I doubt not [13/14] that many of you here today, young college women, have looked forward to work in an office, to teaching, to medicine, to some other of the many occupations now open to women, and in your heart of hearts have sighed that one seemed closed. A thousand paths open, one closed, and that one the one above all others you would long to enter. You have wondered which profession will give you greatest opportunity for service and your heart has been heavy that that which seemed to you to answer your question had no welcome for you. But it has! I doubt not that some of you mothers who are here, who would gladly have given your boys to the service of the Church, have wondered why to your girls the Lord opened no way. You have drawn back at the thought of a sisterhood. It has seemed to rob you of your daughter. It has seemed to isolate her, cut her off from the fulness of life. You have thought that there was no place for full, happy, hearty service in the world of men and women, consecrated to the work of God's Church. But there is! Will you not then help your daughters to understand?
No, there will be no lack of women for this work as the years go on. And as the years go on the Church will call more loudly for them. The ordinary parish will learn that its work without a deaconess is but half well done. The slums will call. The country districts will call. From the mission field already the cry is loud. In China, Japan, Alaska, the Philippines, everywhere women are wanted for the work of the ministry. Who will respond?
Such are the thoughts, the hopes, the faiths with [14/15] which we come to this solemn day and the setting apart of the first graduates of the California school. Most of us here need not to ask whether they are fitted for the work. They have gone in and out among us. They have blessed and cheered us. They have served humbly and without thought of self. And we welcome the day which gives them this new authority and power for their work.
Nor when I turn to you who are about to be set apart, so long my fellow laborers in this parish, do I need to exhort you to hold fast these ideals and visions of ministry of which we have been thinking. The work is not a new work to you. Only the sacred office and the ancient name are new to you. They come as crown of service, as fit dignity for character well molded, for mind well trained, for heart well filled with devotion and reverence.
In this new office to my great joy and that of this whole parish you will continue your work among us. You have the ideals and visions, you have the training and the character. I bid you hold fast to these things. I bid you cherish, no matter how sore the burden, how hard the work, how ungracious and unresponsive those ministered unto, how unfruitful the field, I bid you cherish that which we have learned here together to be best and noblest. Be faithful in your ministry. Be faithful in all things, and again I say, be faithful. Take these words of the Apostolic writer for a message to your own heart. "Deaconesses in like manner must be grave, temperate, faithful in all things."