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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

The majority of them being deaconesses


Adjoining the hall, at the west end, was built the deaconess house. From his home near by Mr. Pennefather had watched the completion of the work with great interest. In one of his letters he says:[68] "Sometimes I can scarcely believe that it is a reality, and not all a dream--the Conference Hall, with its appendages, and the deaconess house actually in existence. May the Holy Spirit fill the place, and may he make it a center from whence the living waters shall flow forth."

From a letter written to one of these deaconesses, we gain his opinion as to the need of deaconesses, and what was his ideal of a Home.[69] "The need for such an institution is great indeed. I do not suppose there was ever a time in the history of Christianity in which the openings for holy, disciplined, intelligent women to labor in God's vineyard were so numerous as at present. The population in towns and rural districts are waiting for the patient and enduring love that dwells in the breast of a truly pious woman, to wake them up to thought and feeling. O! if I had the women and had the means, how gladly would I send out hundreds, two by two, to carry the river of truth into the hamlets of our country, and the streets and lanes of our great cities. Will you pray for the Home? Ask for women and for means. I want our Home to be such a place of holy, peaceful memories that, when you leave it, it may be among the brightest things that come to your mind in a distant land, or in a different position; and each inmate can help to make it what it should be." But Mr. Pennefather did not live to see the great extension in usefulness and importance that the Deaconess Home was to obtain in later years. He passed away from life April 28, 1873, leaving to his wife, who had ever been his sympathetic and devoted helper, the care of continuing the work he had begun. She is still the head of the Mildmay Institutions, assisted by a resident superintendent, and aided by the counsels of wise, experienced men, who form the board of trustees.

From the beginning of the erection of the new building every portion of it was put to use. In one of the basement rooms is the invalid kitchen, where, daily, puddings, jellies, and little delicacies are prepared and sent out to sufferers in the neighborhood, who could not otherwise obtain suitable nourishment. From eleven to two o'clock tickets are brought in, which have been distributed by the sisters or by the district visitors; and those who come to take the dinners, while waiting their turn, have a kind word, or sympathetic inquiry about the sick one, from the deaconess in charge.

A flower mission occupies another room. Kind friends send here treasures from the garden and green-house, field and wood, and children contribute bouquets of wild flowers. A deaconess superintends the willing hands that tie the bunches, each of which is adorned with a brightly colored Scripture text. Ten hospitals and infirmaries were regularly visited during 1888; and more than thirty-eight thousand bunches of flowers were distributed, each accompanied by an appropriate text.

Near at hand is the Dorcas room, where deaconesses are kept busy in cutting out clothing and superintending the sewing classes. During the winter of 1887 thirty widows attended this class three times a week, glad to earn a sixpence by needlework done in a warm, lighted room, while a deaconess entertained them by reading aloud. A large amount of sewing is given out from the same room, and the garments that are made are often sold to the poor at a low price. A most impressive scene is witnessed during the winter months, when, on three evenings of the week, all the basement rooms are crowded with the men's night-school, which has, it is believed, no rival in England. The ordinary number of names on the books exceeds twelve hundred. There are forty-nine classes, all taught by ladies, the majority of them being deaconesses. The subjects range from the elementary to the higher branches of general and practical knowledge, including arithmetic, geography, geometry, freehand drawing, and short-hand. The Bible is read in the classes on Monday and Friday, and a scriptural address is given by some gentleman on Wednesday. The school always closes with prayer and singing. The men may purchase coffee and bread and butter before leaving, and of this they largely avail themselves. A lending library is also attached to the school. The highest attendance during last session was five hundred and eighty-one, the lowest two hundred and eighty-seven.


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