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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

85 fourteen sisterhoods are named


America, however, as in England, within the Episcopal Church sisterhoods are more influential and more rapid in their growth than are deaconess institutions. In a list of the sisterhoods of the Episcopal Church in America, given in the monthly magazine devoted to women's work in the Church,[85] fourteen sisterhoods are named, one religious order of widows, and two orders of deaconesses, one of which is that which is now changed into the Sisterhood of St. John the Evangelist.

In 1871 the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church discussed at some length the relation of women's work to the Church, and there resulted increased interest in the subject of sisterhoods and deaconess institutions. An effort has been made to obtain for the order of deaconesses a wider recognition than it now enjoys, as it simply has the support of the bishop within whose diocese the deaconesses are at work. To this end, in the General Convention of 1880, a canon was presented to the House of Bishops, and accepted by a large vote. But it reached the Lower House too late for consideration, and no further action has been taken since that time.

In the Presbyterian Church of America the question of the revival of the office of deaconess has already claimed some attention. The late Dr. A. T. McGill for many successive years earnestly recommended the revival of the office to the members of his classes in the theological seminary

at Princeton; and his views, matured by years of reflection, were given for publication in an article published in the _Presbyterian Review_, 1880.

In the Minutes of the General Assembly for 1884, page 114, and of 1888, page 640, we find an overture asking if the education of deaconesses is consistent with Presbyterian polity, and, if so, should they be ordained, answered in the negative in the following words: "_The Form of Government_ declares that in all cases the persons elected [deacons] must be male members. (Chap. 13. 2.) In all ages of the Church godly women have been appointed to aid the officers of the Church in their labors, especially for the relief of the poor and the infirm. They rendered important service in the Apostolic Church, but they do not appear to have occupied a separate office, to have been elected by the people, to have been ordained or installed. There is nothing in our constitution, in the practice of our Church, or in any present emergency, to justify the creation of a new office." The next year an explanation of this action, which so obviously contradicts the facts of history, was asked, but the committee declined to say any thing more.

The Southern Presbyterian Church has proceeded further, and in the direction of the female diaconate, as it is characterized in its main features wherever it has existed, when it declares in its _Book of Church Order_, adopted in 1879, that "where it shall appear needful, the church session may select and appoint godly women for the care of the sick, of prisoners, of poor widows and orphans, and, in general, in the relief of the sick."[86]

In isolated Presbyterian congregations deaconesses have already obtained recognition. At the Pan-Presbyterian Council, held in Philadelphia in 1880, Fritz Fliedner, the son of Dr. Theodor Fliedner, was present as a member, and through the influence of his words the Corinthian Avenue Presbyterian Church set apart five deaconesses, whose duty it should be to care for the poor and sick belonging to the congregation.

"More recently the Third Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles, Cal., empowered its three deacons to choose three women from the congregation to co-operate with them in their work, granting them seats and votes in the board's monthly meeting."[87]

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