Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for America
How far, and in what form, ought woman’s work in the Church to be organized? What was the deaconess of St. Paul’s epistles? What light on this subject do the primitive and the mediæval Churches yield us? Can “sisterhoods” be established without weakening the sense of personal responsibility in those Christian women who are not thus wholly set apart to charitable and spiritual work? Can they be multiplied without danger of introducing into Protestant communions the evils of the conventual life? Are there modern instances of safe and successful organizations? What good have they achieved, and what further good do they promise? In what relation should such organizations stand to the authority and fostering care of the Church? What should be their scope, spirit, methods? What regulations are fundamental and indispensable? What perils are real and possibly imminent?
To answer these, and other questions associated with them, this book is written. Its authoress is a gifted daughter of the Church, well known in literary and educational circles. During a protracted sojourn in Europe she enjoyed unusual facilities for studying the deaconess work as carried on in many places, and particularly in the institutions founded by Pastor Fliedner at Kaiserswerth in Prussia, and in those at Mildmay in England. She has also made a thorough and discriminating study of the subject as developed in the early centuries of the Church and in the Middle Ages.
The book itself will amply reveal these facts, and cannot but contribute largely to the guidance of the newly revived interest of the American churches in the far-reaching question how Christian women may best serve their Lord in serving the humanity which he has redeemed.
It appears at an opportune time. The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, at its session in May, 1888, inserted in the law of the Church a chapter on deaconesses, defining their duties and providing for the appointment and oversight of them through the Annual Conferences. This action was the natural outcome of a wide and increasing appreciation of the service of Christian women in many departments of Church work; and it was greatly furthered by the advocacy of Dr. J. M. Thoburn, now the devoted and honored missionary bishop of India and Malaysia. But it had not been the subject of any considerable previous discussion in the periodicals of the Church, and there was not in the Church a widely diffused or an accurate knowledge of the history, scope, possibilities, or perils of such an organization. The promptness, however, with which the provision thus made by the General Conference has been seized upon by the Church in several of our large cities, indicates that the time was ripe for the movement. But information is still scanty; ideas concerning the aim and place of the deaconess work are crude; methods have been very little digested; the foundations of local homes evidently may come to be very imperfectly laid; and the movement may easily come to naught.
This book, it is hoped, will do a twofold work. It will awaken a lively interest in a movement already arrived at large proportions in some parts of European Protestantism; and it will guide those among us who are studying how best to organize, against the sin and suffering of the world, the practically unlimited resources of Christian women. Whenever any one shall in some good degree apprehend what helpfulness for the lost as yet lies undeveloped in the hearts and hands of the daughters of the Church, and what honor may yet come to Christianity by the rightly directed use of this power, he will welcome a volume which, like the present one, offers such guidance as history, observation, and earnest reflection yield on the question at issue.
Edward G. Andrews.
New York, May 10, 1889.