I know it’s been a long time since I posted but I thought it was time to get back to it as I am now on sabbatical. My main focus of study is Mission but the BU suggest a secondary, very different area alongside it, and mine is The Baptist Deaconess Order.
For those not in the need it started when a need was perceived in the late 18/early 19th Century for Christian women to serve the local community health and social needs.: To cut a long story church they eventually became church planters on the new estates and people who would go and ‘revive’ dying churches as well as assistant ministers. They went where the men wouldn’t and were paid a pittance, with no housing provided. They built churches up and then, when they were large enough the men turned up and took over ( often the date of foundation for the church was the day the man arrived!) They did the work of a minister but were never recognised as such until 1975. (The first woman was ordained in 1918 as the BU did not see gender as a bar the ministry!)
I have become fascinated by their story and the questions it raises for women in ministry today ( but I have to stop writing on this to move over the main study so this is the last week I can devote to it ( I think there’s a PhD to be had from this for someone)
Here are the questions I have sent out to some deaconesses and female ministers and one or two men…
- Why was baptism so often not part of deaconess duties, when communion/preaching was apparently more acceptable? This came from both deaconess and churches
- The apparent tension in the churches and denomination between the acceptance of deaconess in full pastoral charge and a female minister: both doing the same role which I have not fully untangled
- Many deaconesses resisted ordination as ‘ministers’, even though they were often in sole pastoral charge, and doing a minister’s job. One reason appears to be that they saw ‘ministry as ‘male’ and so wanted something distinctively different where they could do it ‘their’ way – to resist male ways of doing things and wanting to retain something distinctively female. (especially the uniform rather than suit and dog collar) There has also been the comment that by losing deaconesses order we have lost a ‘power-base’ from which women could influence the structures and decision-making within the Union – also that the support that was received has also been lost and women ministers feel isolated.Questions:
1. Do you feel you have had to adapt to a ‘male’ way of being a minister. Either in your own mind or because that is what the church expects of you?
2. Is there a ‘female’ way of doing ministry in your opinion or is it just that we all do it according to our own gifts and personality?
3. Did you feel isolated if are the only woman minister in your area – would you value more contact with other female ministers or do you get enough from whichever ministers are around you?
4. Do you feel that women are able to influence structures in the Union. If not what prevents it/what might make it easier?
Gentlemen…how do you respond to the idea that women do/should do ministry differently?
Any comments gladly received!