150 years ago Elizabeth Catherine Ferard was made the first deaconess in the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury and so the order of deaconesses was inaugurated.
Thus began an opening up of ministry to women. For over a century the order of deaconess was the only order of ministry open to women, and it was regarded as a lay ministry, not an ordained one. It was not until 1986 that women were allowed to be ordained deacon, and in 1992 General Synod voted for women priests.
Nevertheless, the deaconesses worked with great dedication and in very similar ways to their ordained colleagues, although their work had to be principally pastoral as liturgical work was not open to women. Undoubtedly the witness and self sacrifice of many of the deaconesses helped pave the way for the ordination of women.
The people of St Chrysostom’s for many years have stood for inclusion in the church, and St Chrysostom’s has a tiny piece of history in the deaconess order.
The house opposite church, on Oxford Place, (now called ‘St Augustine’s’) was a training house for deaconesses in Manchester, and a deaconess often worked in the parish. Indeed the first women to be commissioned as deaconesses in Manchester diocese were commissioned by the Bishop of Manchester in St Chrysostom’s Church.
Here are two photos of deaconesses, in their distinctive uniforms, who once worked in the parish.
We thank God for the women who pioneered women’s ministry in the Church of England and pray for a fully inclusive ministry in the Church of God.