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Friday July 31 2020

Looking Back: The Diaconate

The 1887 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland gave final approval to the founding of the Diaconate. Writing in July's Life and Work, Archibald Charteris, driving force behind the new movement, explained the first steps.


This great and grave step in advance which has been taken by the Church of Scotland throws upon every one of her loyal members an obligation to contribute to its success. I write in name of the Committee on Christian Life and Work to ask that contribution. We claim the active help, volunteered, repeated, and continuous, of all who wish us well in our enterprise and undertaking. The Committee ask that this be made a subject of importunate earnest prayer, so that the work may be the Lord’s, and may be kept free from the action of low motives and the adoption of mistaken plans.

What is it, then, we now propose as the next step? It is proposed “to provide a home and training for such women as desire to be qualified and set apart as deaconesses in connection with the Church of Scotland,” and in that Home to receive for a limited period such women as desire to give themselves to mission work, whether in Scotland or abroad, that they may be tested and instructed, though they may not as yet desire to be deaconesses.

It is proposed that the residents in the Home shall receive practical training in parochial work under “the guidance of the minister and kirk-session of a parish.” It is further proposed that special courses of instruction of instruction in religion and biblical subjects shall be given; and that “direct help in the spiritual life shall regularly be given, through addresses or otherwise, by such ministers or others as the Board of Management may appoint to visit the home for the purpose.” No one will be received into the order of deaconesses through this Institution (there is another portal, of which hereafter) unless she has been connected with the Home for not less than two years on probation and in service.

In short, the proposal is to invite women desiring to dedicate their lives to good works to come and be trained in this Institution, so that when they have received suitable training they may be set apart with the seal of their Church’s approval upon them, and be sent forth on their ministry of mercy. The Institution will be a house or home for them while they are in training, a home for some of them afterwards, if they so desire; it will be something of a normal school or college; it will be a place of Bible study and united prayer.

What do we need for it? We need funds to complete our skeleton programme; and the General Assembly has commended the special appeal to the liberality of members of the Church. A house must be rented if not bought, must be furnished, and the household maintained. It is proposed that candidates shall pay a certain weekly sum for the first three months while they are on probation; but if afterwards accepted with a view to the diaconate, they will be maintained by the Institution until their two years are completed. We have calculated that for furnishing and maintenance during the first year a fund of a thousand pounds will be needed.

But besides funds we need volunteers. We hope that a lady closely connected with the activities of the Church of Scotland, who has already volunteered to be a resident, will be induced to accept the onerous and honourable post of lady-superintendent. Offers of help have come from some who have worked in London and elsewhere.

We believe that six or eight ladies may be expected to join the young association during its first year; and that in due course of time it will grow to be a great Institution. We expect that the daughters of Scottish manses, and other daughters of the Church, will come and seek training for good work at home, or in that foreign field to which only one daughter of the manse has as yet gone to represent the Church of her fathers.

I have said that the Institution is not the only portal to the diaconate. Those who faithfully labour at their own doors are as well entitled to be members of the order as those who are trained in the proposed Home, though in their case seven years of such work are required. And there are already many who are amply trained, and in a position to give honour and standing to the new order of deaconess be accepting a place in it.

There are some in our foreign mission field who have fulfilled more than our seven years, and who, to my knowledge, would be glad to be recognised as deaconesses of the Church of Scotland. There are doubtless some who have been their fellow-workers at home who might well be joined with them in this Scriptural order.

There are some who are in the evening of a life of Christian work, and who have looked forward to this, since they first heard of it, as an honour they would be glad to receive from the Church they love and serve so well. Shall we not, ere the year ends, have a great enrolment, in more Presbyteries than one, of those whom the National Church delights to honour, because they are already honoured by the King?

Many have been deterred from the missions of their own Church because they thought them cold; but the Church is not cold; she is aflame with zeal, and is eager to be in the van of those who desire to revive in our days the functions and the faith of the Church of Apostolic times.


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