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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

A deaconess attired in her garb


While

probationers, they receive, free of charge, board and instruction, and the caps, collars, and aprons that are their distinctive badges. Their remaining expenses they provide for themselves. Those who have completed the full term of probation, and have proved their fitness for the office, must pledge themselves to a service of at least five years. At the end of the time they may renew the engagement or not, as they wish. Should a deaconess be needed at home by aged parents, or should she desire to marry, she is free to leave her duties, but is expected to give three months' notice of her intention to do so.

The deaconess performs her duties gratuitously. This is a main feature of the system. She is not even free to accept personal presents, for envy, jealousy, and unworthy motives might then creep into the system. She is truly "the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ." All of her wants are supplied, and her future needs anticipated, so that, literally "taking no thought for the morrow," she can give herself with single-hearted devotion to the work in hand. The deaconess at Kaiserswerth receives from the institution her modest wardrobe, consisting of a Sunday suit, a working-dress of dark blue, blue apron, white caps and collars. A deaconess attired in her garb, with the placid, contented countenance that seems distinctively to belong to her, is a pleasant, wholesome sight that is constantly to be seen on the streets of German cities. Her deaconess

attire is not only a protection, assuring her chivalrous treatment from all classes of men, but it is a convenient identification that insures her certain privileges on the State railroads and steamboats, for the German government recognizes the sisters as benefactors of society, and treats them accordingly. For her personal expenses the Kaiserswerth deaconess in Germany receives yearly twenty-two dollars and fifty cents; sometimes when in foreign lands she is paid a slightly larger sum. When she becomes unfitted for service by reason of sickness or old age, and has no means of her own, the Board of Direction provides for her maintenance.

The rules for probationers are full of practical suggestions touching the details of daily life. There is not space to transcribe them here, but those who have charge of training schools will find them valuable reading. Every kind of house and hospital service is clearly defined. The deaconesses are instructed what duties are theirs in hospitals for women and in hospitals for men. In the latter the sister undertakes only such nursing as is suited to her sex, and for that reason she has a male assistant. She must follow strictly the doctor's orders in all matters pertaining to diet, medicine, and ventilation, and must inform him daily of the patient's state. She also assists the clergyman, if desired, in ministering to spiritual needs. But she must not obtrude her religion, when it is distasteful to her patients; rather manifest it in her deeds and manner of life.

Every portion of the day has definite duties assigned to it. On reading them over you say, Can much be accomplished when the hours are subdivided into so many portions, and given over to so many objects? But the unvarying testimony is that no nurses accomplish more than the German deaconesses. No matter how busy they may be, the effort is made for each to have a quiet half hour for meditation and private devotion. Every afternoon the chapel is opened for this purpose, and all the sisters who can be spared meet here. A hymn is sung, and afterward each spends the time as she will in meditation, reading the Bible or silent prayer, the quietness and stillness being unbroken by words. The "Stille halbe Stunde," as it is called, is greatly prized by the sisters, and is observed by them in all their institutions, and in all lands. There are Bible-classes and prayer-meetings for the deaconesses during the week, and the first Sunday of every month there is a special service of prayer and thanksgiving for all sisters, all the affiliated houses, and similar homes wherever they exist. Fliedner prepared a book of daily Bible readings for the use of the sisters, and a hymn-book, used in all the Kaiserswerth institutions at home and abroad. "We have no vows," he said, "and I will have no vows, but a bond of union we must have, and the best bond is the word of God, and our second bond is singing."[37] The sisters of each house meet together to give their votes for the admission of new deaconesses and the election of the superintendents. Each deaconess is expected to obey those who are placed over her, and to accept the kind of work assigned her, except in the case of contagious diseases, when her permission is asked. What a tribute it is to these women that such a refusal has never yet been known! Every effort is made to harmonize the right of the individual with the needs of the whole body, a marked characteristic of the Protestant sisters of charity.


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