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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

Presbyterian Deaconesses


The adoption of this report made its contents a portion of the organic law of the Church.

It is doubtful if there was any measure taken at the General Conference of 1888 that will be more far-reaching in its results than that which instituted the office of deaconess. The full and complete recognition accorded by the highest authority of the Church commended it to the people, who showed a remarkable readiness to accept the provisions. Nearly simultaneously, at important points distinct from each other, steps were taken to establish deaconess homes, and to provide lectures and practical training to educate deaconesses for their work.

The terms of the law in which the Conference action was expressed were not closely defined. It was felt that in establishing a new office for a great Church there must be room for a wide interpretation, to meet the various exigencies that will arise. It is true, also, that there can be no final interpretation until there shall be a basis of experience wide enough and varied enough to furnish facts that will justify us in forming conclusions from them. Still it was thought by those who were practically engaged in the work that there should be a common agreement on certain practical points: What was to be the training that the deaconesses were to receive during the two years of "continuous service?" What was to be their distinctive garb? What was to be the relation of the deaconess

homes, that were arising, to the Conference board appointed by the Annual Conference? To discuss these and other questions a Conference was held in Chicago, December 20 and 21, 1888, of those who were actively engaged in the work. The outcome of the deliberations was the "Plan for Securing Uniformity in the Deaconess Movement." Regulations were suggested concerning homes and their connection with the Conference boards, conditions of admission were agreed upon, and a Course of Study and Plan for Training recommended.[89] Of course the recommendations set forth in the "Plan" are not obligatory, but there has been remarkable unanimity so far in accepting them.

In addition to the Chicago Deaconess Home, and the branch in New Orleans, there is the Elizabeth Gamble House in Cincinnati, of which Miss Thoburn is superintendent; the Home in New York city, instituted by the Board of the Church Extension and Missionary Society, under the superintendence of Miss Layton; the home in Detroit, under the auspices of the Home Missionary Society; and homes under way or projected in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Minneapolis; while individually deaconesses are employed in Kansas City, Jersey City, Troy, and Albany. It is also well to add that since his return to India, Bishop Thoburn has opened a deaconess house in Calcutta, with four American ladies as deaconesses, while at Muttra a second home has been opened, of which Miss Sparkes, so long connected with our mission work in India, is superintendent.

Pastor Fliedner thought it strange that in the New World where there is such ceaseless activity in good works, the deaconess cause should make such slow progress; but the season of sowing had to precede that of reaping, and it seems now as though the fullness of time had arrived for the incorporation into the agencies of the churches of America of the priceless activities of Christian deaconesses.

[78] _Phoebe die Diakonissen_, Dr. A. Spaeth, p. 31. [79] For facts concerning the Philadelphia Mother-house of Deaconesses, and other important assistance rendered me, I desire to express acknowledgements to Dr. W. J. Mann, Dr. A. Spaeth, and Rev. A. Cordes, the rector of the house. [80] McClintock and Strong's _Cyclopedia_, vol. ii, art. "Deaconesses." [81] _Sisterhoods and Deaconesses_, Rev. H. C. Potter, D.D.. 1873, p. 118. [82] _Sisterhoods and Deaconesses_, p. 105. [83] _Ibid._, p. 181. [84] Constitution and Rules for the Order of Deaconesses of Alabama, Art. vi. [85] _Church Work_, May, 1888. [86] For this and other suggestions regarding the deaconess question in the Presbyterian Church, I am greatly indebted to the kindness of Dr. Hastings, President of the Union Theological Seminary. [87] _Presbyterian Review_, April, 1889, art. "Presbyterian Deaconesses." [88] Mrs. Meyer's book on _Deaconesses_, containing also the story of the Chicago Training-school and Deaconess Home, gives the best description to be obtained of the rise of the work in Chicago. [89] A more extended and elaborate course of study has been prepared by the Rev. Alfred A. Wright, D.D., Cambridge, Mass.


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