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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

Deaconess institutions now exist in Switzerland


sisters are bright and cheerful, and keep their various dwellings so exquisitely neat and clean, with their white-washed walls adorned with Scripture texts and pictures. No work, however menial, is beneath them. I have myself seen one scrubbing the stairs, and in turns they sleep on a hard straw bed on the floor, ready to rise in the night as often as a bell summons them to the aid of a suffering invalid or a refractory lunatic."

There are a few institutions that exist independently of those represented at the Kaiserswerth General Conference. They stand alone for various reasons; perhaps they have not met the conditions required of those which belong to the association. Any house whose administration rests exclusively either in the hands of a man or a woman is excluded from the Conference. In every mother-house there represented the administrative head is twofold, consisting of a gentleman, who, with rare exceptions, is a clergyman, and a lady who is a deaconess. The Kaiserswerth authorities regard this joint management as an indispensable condition.

The rector, as he is usually called, cares for the intellectual and spiritual instruction of the probationers, conducts public services in the chapel, and issues the publications and reports of the house.

The oberin, or house-mother, is the direct head of the sisters. She is responsible for the interior management, regulates the

duties of the sisters, and gives practical instruction. The two are jointly responsible for the acceptance and dismissal of probationers, for the assignment of the sisters to different fields of labor, and the kind of labor required. Every mother-house has its own peculiarities. The personal characteristics of those who conduct it are naturally impressed upon the house.

Then, too, the influence of environment is to be reckoned with. The house may be located in a large city or in a small one; in the country or in towns. It may be under the influence of a State Church, as in Germany, or of Christians of all Churches, as at Mildmay. It will share the characteristics of the race of people from which come its workers. Doubtless in the Methodist Episcopal Church in America the deaconesses that eventually become recognized as set apart to special Christian service, through the training that is provided for them, will be women who are peculiarly adapted to the needs of that Church, with all the distinguishing American traits that will prepare them to understand the people whom they are to serve, and that will give them access to the hearts of this people.

If the deaconess cause should gain favor with us as it has in Europe, and should the deaconesses become as established in the social life of the people as they are there, the effective agencies will be largely increased that are to deal with the questions that come to the front whenever, as in great cities, large numbers of people are massed together.

Deaconess institutions now exist in Switzerland, France, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Austria, England, and Germany, while the countries in which these homes have stations are literally too numerous to mention. Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the countries of Northern Africa, and of Asia Minor, as well as isolated mission stations throughout the entire world are now served by deaconesses.

If there were ten times the number of sisters, places could be at once found for them. It is instructive on this point to read what Pastor Disselhoff says[46] in the account he gives of the various demands made upon him, which he has been unable to meet. One of the letters he quotes was from an English missionary on the Cameron River. "Send us deaconesses for our hospital," he says. "It was built for European sailors, especially Germans. We hope and trust to overcome the superstitions of the natives, and that they too, may come to be healed." But there were no sisters to send.

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