This commemoration approved for trial use at General Convention 2022.
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Last updated:22 Sept. 2022
The Episcopal deaconess movement describes a ministry of women who were set apart for service by their bishops, beginning in 1857 and ending with the ordination of women as deacons, authorized by General Convention in 1970.
The bishop of Maryland set apart the first six deaconesses in the Episcopal Church on September 21, 1857. Four of their names are known: Adeline Blanchard Tyler, Evaline Black, Carrie Guild, and Catherine Minard. Other bishops soon followed suit. Thirty-two years later, the General Convention recognized the ministry of deaconesses canonically thanks to the efforts of Mary Abbot Emery Twing and William Reed Huntington.
Notable deaconesses over the 113-year timespan include Rebecca Hewitt, a caregiver, administrator and leader of deaconesses in Alabama during the Civil War; Jessie Carryl Smith, a World War I nurse in France and later missionary in Alaska; Jane Harris Hall, advocate for women in the New York theater industry in the early 20th century; Susan Trevor Knapp, dean of the New York Training School for Deaconesses and missionary in pre-World War II Japan; and the original staff of the Appleton Church Home in Georgia, Margaret Jennings and Sophjenlife Petterson, each a caregiver, formation leader, and head deaconess of the Appleton Church Home, and Mary Frances Gould, teacher, leader and facilitator of mission work throughout the Diocese of Georgia. (See also the individual commemorations for deaconesses Harriet Bedell and Anna Alexander.)
With the establishment of formation programs in several states, and communities for their life and work, the number of deaconesses in the Episcopal Church grew, peaking in 1922 with 226 living deaconesses. When in 1970 women were admitted to ordination as deacons, the Church's deaconesses, perpetual deacons and transitional deacons were joined in a single order of deacons; and women were thus counted among clergy for the first time.
Some 500 Episcopal deaconesses blessed the Church and the world with their diverse ministries, and provided an example of courageous faithfulness that challenged later generations to recognize God's call to women.
from the report to the 2022 General Convention