100 Years of Service – “Guidelines for Those Employing Deaconesses”

Last week we read a document from the 1950s for deaconesses about to start in their first ministry call.  We had a request to see the document sent to churches and organizations that were going to employ these deaconesses to see what the advice was to make the new worker feel at home.  Some of the ideas in this document are reflective of the times, while others are applicable even today!

Because of the many questions asked us by those about to employ deaconesses, we are more than happy to send information, answer questions and be of whatever service we can to the new employer and to the deaconess so that their working together might be as joyful and profitable as possible. Thus, these questions and answers are sent; perhaps you were wondering about some of these things, too. If other questions occur to you, please write to us, and we will try to answer them.

I.  How can we make our deaconess feel at home?
a) Write to her now and welcome her to her new “home.” Feel free to ask her questions you may be wondering about. Also, you may wish to enclose the check for her traveling expenses to your city now, or perhaps a little later. Perhaps an offer to find temporary housing arrangements for her would also be appreciated.

b) Inform the congregation or agency of her arrival and in preparation for it by expanding upon her duties there and her purpose in coming. One pastor appeared before every group in his church telling them a little about Deaconess education and services in general, about their Deaconess in particular, and that this was to be her home and would they do all they could to make her feel at home. This deaconess reports an overwhelmingly warm welcome among the parishioners she is serving.

c) Your sympathetic understanding if your deaconess seems to feel a little “low” sometimes means much. One of the biggest problems for single workers is loneliness — especially church workers since confidentiality is a part of their job and the sharing of burdens is not always possible. Understanding this is a big help to her.

II. Shall we plan an installation service? A reception?
Most groups do; you may do as you like. If you’d like a sample installation service outline, drop us a line. Some churches also have a reception for the new worker which is a good opportunity to make her feel welcome.

III. What shall we call her? Is she expected to wear her deaconess uniform always?
a) Some pastors use the formal, “Miss Smith” in addressing their deaconess. Others use, “Miss Mary” and still others use “Deaconess Smith” or “Deaconess Mary”, one uses “Sister Mary” others use the first name. Individual preference and local usages will determine what suits your situation best, and this is amenable to us.

b) The same applies to the deaconess’ uniform as far as the Association is concerned, she is free to wear or not to wear it as she sees fit. You may wish to discuss which or what combination, best suits your groups. Some deaconesses wear their uniform every day; others wear them only when an outward indication of profession is helpful (in hospitals, slums, etc.) or when representing deaconess work or appearing officially, and some wear them seldom.

IV. How can we best begin our work together?
a) The first word we would offer is this: sit down and plan together regularly, and, secondly; go slowly at first, taking one thing at a time. After one phase of the work is familiar, introduce the next. After you know the deaconess better, you can better adjudge at what pace to proceed. Remember-­she does not have all the answers, but she’s willing to try and to learn, she desires your guidance.

b) Thinking back to our early days just out of school and at a new job, we remember most gratefully the many minutes of frank discussion and planning our employer shared with us, This discussion — of big and little matters is important to the new worker in making her feel a part of the work and more familiar with the entire niche into which she is beginning to fit.

c) It is good to remember that a woman worker, though possessing many fine qualities, usually does not have the physical stamina of most men. She may not be able to take prolonged hours, though usually, she will be willing to go extra miles when the situation demands it. Unlike a male worker, she has, in addition to her work, her personal obligations – laundry, cooking, and cleaning — to attend to in most cases. This takes time and should be allotted for – perhaps by giving her a weekly day off.

d) Prayerful remembrance of one another as work begins is vital. The Kingdom’s growth and well-being is at stake as is happiness in Kingdom work for both employer and deaconess. Much personal growth can be effected in the new worker through her prayers and yours.

V. What is the relationship of the Deaconess Association to the Deaconess?
a) The Association has helped provide for the deaconess’s education so that she might better serve the church. The deaconess agreed to serve 3 years as a deaconess when she received the financial help; if she does not serve 3 years, she repays a portion of the scholarship. This relationship, then, exists between her and the Association.

b) The Association also places the girls initially, helps with their transfers, and maintains a hearty interest in the deaconess and her welfare. We are always happy to share her problems and yours, and if transfer to a new area of service is desired, the Association is happy to offer positions and help in new placement arrangements for the deaconess.

c) The Association also wishes to maintain among the deaconesses a feeling of fellowship these women have due to their common office of being deaconesses, their common heritage as deaconesses, their similar education and school years, and their common goals as they serve. To promote professional growth, the Deaconess Conference, an organization of all Synodical Conference deaconesses, was organized and meets annually also to foster and carry on this spirit. Through the Conference mutual sharing is possible, and a deep feeling of fellowship is felt as papers, lectures, devotions, and business meetings are held at Conference each year. To further this esprit de corps the home office workers also try to visit deaconesses when in the area where they are working and to share news with them through a quarterly newsletter for, of and by deaconesses.

The Association wants to help the deaconess to be happy and to enjoy a full freedom of service, and to that end, is interested in all of her problems, her joys, and her work.

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