St. Phoebe

The Deaconess Program

   

A deaconess is a female lay minister qualified by study and training, then set apart and blessed by the bishop for the service of God to the Church. As with the word deacon, the term comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant.” Deaconesses are not ordained, but their title is conferred by the bishop. A deaconess is under the authority of the rector or vicar if she works within a specific congregation, or her duties may be directly entrusted to her by the bishop.

A deaconess' duties include being present among the parishioners of a church to prepare candidates for bap­tism and confirmation ( as well as other forms of instruction), and to provide pastoral ministry especially to women and young people. She may also be charged with leading college ministry, caring for the sick, organizing parish outreach to the community, and simi­lar duties. The position is non-stipen­diary.

The place of a deaconess in the Church originated in New Testament times. St. Paul writes in Romans 16:1:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae

The ministry was a thriving one for centuries; many early Christian writers also speak of deaconesses, in­cluding Origen and Clement of Alex­andria.

In early centuries, deaconesses helped instruct children and women before baptism and assisted them when receiving the sacrament, which was usually by full emersion. The order of deaconess started to dis­appear in the West around the 11th century, and these tasks were left for nuns.

In the early 19th century, facing a time of upheaval in society brought on by the Industrial Revolution, the Lutheran Church revived the concept of deaconesses, beginning in Europe and expanding to America. In 1862, Eliza­beth Catherine Ferard was set apart as a deaconess in the Anglican Church by the Bishop of London. She founded a training college for other women, producing many nurses who served in church-run hospitals. When the Re­formed Episcopal Church (REC) sep­arated from the Episcopal Church in 1873, it retained the order, which con­tinues to this day.

The order of Deaconess disappeared from The Episcopal Church after Gen­eral Convention voted in 1970 to translate all deaconesses into the order of deacon.

The Diocese of Fort Worth is restoring the ministry of deaconess. This office will provide an opportunity for women in the Diocese to be trained and supported as they minister to their communities and are witnesses for the Gospel.

Contact Deacon Kerwin Wade at kwade @ fwepiscopal.org.

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