Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for America Part 12

Many of these deaconesses are educated women, gladly devoting their whole life and energies to the work, and who with "food and raiment" are quite content. Nothing but a strong indomitable faith in G.o.d's love and promises can stand the strain of such work. But if there is the faith and love to deny self and dare all "for the love of Christ and in His name," where can such rewards for labor be found? The dull streets become filled with friends, sodden countenances brighten, the little children come with loving faces and gladdened hearts, and the deaconess is recognized as interpreting to the hearts of these weary, forlorn, helpless people the love of G.o.d who, when He came upon earth, shared the burdens that belonged to His humanity. He came as a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, and it was the "common people" that heard Him gladly. The deaconess, in her distinctive dress, is becoming a well-known figure in the east of London, and not only protected but recommended by her garb, she visits the lowest parts of the city without danger. Just such deaconesses are needed in the cities of America. The cities of the United States are increasing as wonderfully as the great cities of the Old World. With the surplus population of Europe pouring in upon us by the hundreds of thousands annually our country is doubling in numbers every twenty-five years; and the growth of the towns absorbs a larger proportion of this mult.i.tude than does the country. The cities attract the immigrants because there they find others of their own nationality. In some cities there are whole foreign colonies where the people speak a foreign tongue, read foreign newspapers, and have very few interests in common with the people of the land in which they live.

They continue the same customs and the same habits of thought that belonged to them in the Old World. Examples of such colonies are found in the thirty thousand Poles in Buffalo, and the sixty thousand Bohemians in Chicago.

Then the cities offer attractions that are irresistible to the young men and women from the country. Thousands leave quiet country homes every year, and, with no certain prospects before them, cast themselves into the busy life of the nearest great metropolis. In many places, especially in New England, the villages number less, and farm land is much less valuable than it was fifty years ago. It is this ma.s.sing of population that is causing us already to experience some of the evils that are old problems in the great cities of Europe. There is the same gulf between the rich and the poor, with the added element that the great ma.s.s of the poor are composed of foreigners and their children.

And the difference in race is a hinderance to a common ground of sympathy. A greater hinderance is the difference in religious faith. The preponderating number of native Americans are Protestants, and their thoughts and beliefs are permeated with the principles that their fathers held so dear, and which they sacrificed home and country to preserve. They hold a faith that is inseparably connected with free inst.i.tutions, personal liberty, and personal responsibility. But the ma.s.s of foreigners that are in the great cities largely belong to the working-cla.s.s, and, with the large proportion of the poor who are the wards of the city, are Roman Catholic in faith, a faith that has little in sympathy with republican inst.i.tutions, and which least prepares its followers to exercise the duties of citizens of a republic. Keeping these facts in mind, the statistics contained in the following extracts are of telling force: "If the laboring cla.s.s should contribute its due proportion to the congregations, the churches, many of which are now half empty, would not begin to hold the people. In 1880 there was in the United States one evangelical organization to every 516 of the population; in Boston, _counting churches of all kinds_, there was but one to every 1,600 of the population; in Chicago, one to every 2,081; in New York, one to every 2,468; in St. Louis, one to every 2,800." "The worst of it is that, instead of improving, the condition of things has been growing worse every year. While the prosperous are moving away to the suburbs, and the laborers are being more densely ma.s.sed together in the heart of the city, the church accommodations, even if fully used, are becoming more inadequate to the needs of the community.

Including religious organizations of all sorts, New York had in 1830 one place of worship for every 1,853 of its inhabitants; in 1840, one for every 1,840; in 1850, one for every 2,095; in 1860, one for every 2,344; in 1870, one for every 2,004; in 1880, one for every 2,468; and the religious history of Chicago is even more noteworthy in this respect: Chicago had in 1840 one church for every 747 of its population; in 1851 there was one for every 1,009; in 1862, one for every 1,301; in 1870, one for 1,593; in 1880, one for 2,081; in 1885, one for 2,254. All the large cities have districts which are dest.i.tute of church accommodations, and have not seats in Sunday-school for more than one tenth of their children."[94]

Have we not as great need of deaconesses as any of the cities of the Old World? Most of our pastors stand alone. They do not have the a.s.sistant curates and pastors that are connected with large city churches in Berlin and London. When the minister makes pastoral calls, and, entering working-men's homes, finds sickness and scanty resources, he has no deaconess to call to his aid with her cheerful words of encouragement and her loving sympathy, that are better than money and medicine. It is not charity alone that is wanted in such cases; it is the knowledge of how to use proper means to make the sick one comfortable, how to lessen the burden on the family that a small additional call for work and care has so sadly taxed; how to enlighten the ignorance that is so common without wounding the susceptibilities that are so human. For, to quote the words of the Christ in the _Vision of Sir Launfal_:

"Not what we give, but what we share, For the gift without the giver is bare; Who gives himself with his alms feeds three:-- Himself, his hungry neighbor, and Me."

It is for such ministrations that we need deaconesses in every evangelical church of the United States; may the women that are ready to "publish the tidings" be "a great host."

[90] _Der Diakonissenberuf nach seiner Vergangenheit und Gegenwart._ Emil Wacker, Gutersloh, 1888, p. 196.

[91] McClintock and Strong's _Cyclopedia_, vol. iv, art. "Hospitals."

The editors give as authority for this statement, Augustine, _De Civit. Dei_, i, xxii, c. 8.

[92] Theodor Fliedner, _Kurzer Abriss seines Lebens_. Kaiserswerth, 1886, p. 60.

[93] _The Bitter Cry of Outcast London_, pp. 3-10.

[94] _Modern Cities_, by S. L. Loomis, New York, 1887, pp. 88, 89.



"Success and glory are the children of hard work and G.o.d's favor," is the inscription upon the tablet erected in Christ's Hospital, London, to the memory of Sir Henry Maine.

Upon these two elements depends the future of the deaconess cause in America. We are a.s.sured of the one; will the other be forthcoming? Will the individual members of the Church give this cause their hearty support? Surely the facts that have been stated must have convinced the judgment, but perhaps there are certain prejudices to be overcome. "I fear that deaconesses too closely resemble Catholic nuns for Protestants to accept them," says one. No; these helpful Christian women are thoroughly Protestant. Deaconesses are no Catholic inst.i.tution. Wherever they have appeared they have been met by open antagonism from the Catholic Church. Witness the calumnies with which the papers of that capital have constantly a.s.sailed the deaconess home of Paris.

There is good in the Catholic sisterhoods, but mingled with much that we disapprove. The deaconess inst.i.tutions have the good features, but have avoided the ill. Much of the success of the Catholic Church in winning the poor and in retaining its influence over the lowly is due to the power exerted by the sisters who go about from house to house among the poor, and are received as friends.

There is a great army of Catholic sisters. It is calculated that there are about 28,000 Sisters of Vincent de Paul, 22,000 Franciscan Sisters caring for the sick, 6,000 Sisters of the Holy Cross, 5,000 Sisters of Charles, making a total of about 60,000 sisters of various orders belonging to the Catholic Church[95] who are occupied with works of mercy. The sisters engaged in education are often well-trained and accomplished. The order of Charles will not accept widows, orphans without property, girls from asylums, or those that have served as maids. As a rule, those that join it must make some contribution of money to the order when they are received. This order is small, but one of the most active and aggressive of any. The great number of the sisters, however, are women of few advantages, taken from poor homes and lives of toil. There is wisdom in this course, for a great deal of the work to be done depends upon qualities that can be developed by training, while the exceptional education and talents are employed in the exceptional places.

A contemplation of these facts just recorded causes us better to understand the importance that the co-operation of women has for the Catholic Church. It causes us, too, to appreciate better the opening before the Protestant women of all evangelical churches, so wide, so all-embracing that every variety of talent can find a place.

Gifts of clothes or food or fuel are not so well appreciated as the respectful hearing which clothes the teller with self-respect, the kind word and loving sympathy that feed the heart, the inspiring consolations of religious faith that animate and warm the soul, and such gifts women of sympathetic Christian hearts can ever render. As has been well said, "Shall the advantages of such a system be monopolized by those who have so little else to offer?"[96]

You may say, "I do not object to the deaconess and her work, but I do object to her distinctive dress. I do not believe in a uniform of charity." But let us consider the arguments that can be brought forward in favor of it. It is a distinctive garb because its wearer is a distinctive officer of the Church. Unless she were "set apart" by some uniform immediately and widely recognized how could she have the protection that is accorded her? Alike in every land where she is known, as we have seen, the deaconess can venture into any part of the great cities at any hour, and is invariably treated with respect. There is in the heart of the rudest and most lawless some trace of chivalry which recognizes the self-denying lives of these women. Then, in making her visits, the deaconess finds her dress an introduction that opens doors that would otherwise remain closed to her. It certainly is a convenient and economical garb, that saves a great deal of time and money to the wearer.

Are not these advantages more than an offset to an ill-defined objection to the dress because it has been a.s.sociated with women who are alien to our Protestant faith? This is a minor matter, however, and one that can be adjusted at liking.

You may say, "I do not like to think of a woman who is dear to me cut off from the pleasures of home life, and devoted to a life-time of work among those who, in many respects, must be repugnant to her tastes. It does not seem so high and beautiful a life as that which makes home a center, and carries on its activities from there."

But there are many women debarred from the pleasures of home life by G.o.d's direct providence to whom other duties and responsibilities have been allotted. And then this work may not necessarily be for life. It is true that when a Christian woman occupies the position of a deaconess she must relinquish wholly all other pursuits so long as she holds this office. Neither without grave and weighty reasons should she seek to leave it. It is her calling. The period of probation has its uses, not only in making the probationer familiar with the duties and tasks demanded of her, but in giving her time to test the strength of her call to service, that she may not, through enthusiasm, lightly a.s.sume the duties of the office, nor as lightly throw them aside.

But if a deaconess is called away to perform her duties as a sister or daughter, or if she desires to marry, she is free to do so, after giving due information to those with whom she is connected in work. Freedom and liberty are in every phase of this office.

As to the highest life for a woman, an archbishop of England well said some years ago, "that whatever life G.o.d gives to any woman is the highest life for that woman," and that "in becoming a deaconess a woman devoting herself to this life must believe that it is the highest life for her, and that in it she gives herself wholly to the Lord."[97]

There should be no country like America for the favorable development of the deaconess cause, because in no other have women such large freedom of action, and, if we may believe our friends, they have improved it well. A distinguished English historian has just given us what we are fain to accept as words of just and discriminating praise. "In no other country have women borne so conspicuous a part in the promotion of moral and philanthropic causes.... Their services in dealing with charities and reformatory inst.i.tutions have been inestimable.... The nation, as a whole, owes to the active benevolence of its women, and their zeal in promoting social reforms, benefits which the customs of continental Europe would scarcely have permitted women to confer.... Those who know the work they have done and are doing in many a n.o.ble cause will admire still more their energy, their courage, their devotion. No country seems to owe more to its women than America does, nor to owe to them so much of what is best in social inst.i.tutions, and in the beliefs that govern conduct."[98]

Nor in any denomination should we expect women to be more ready to adopt this work than in the Methodist Episcopal Church, because women members have been accustomed to exercise nearly all the obligations and duties, and many of the privileges, that are accorded the laity of the great connection, and they are prepared to accept new duties in new relations.

This Church has over a million women enrolled as members, able to serve it in every capacity, from the lady in her home dispensing gracious Christian hospitality, to the one standing quite alone, who will welcome, as a brevet of rank, this new call to service. There are many such women ready to respond. Many, too, whose hearts have been left desolate by bereavement, who will be glad to fill the empty hands and vacant life by work for G.o.d and humanity. To such a woman the wide world is her home; the dear ones of her family are the poor and sick and needy who crave her aid.

The beautiful Mildmay motto is: "They dwell with the King for his work."

There are thousands of women all over the land who are ready to become "King's Daughters" in this additional sense of the word. The possibility of what such women can accomplish in the furtherance of G.o.d's kingdom upon earth has not begun to be fathomed.

Think of a great city church, with the manifold interests cl.u.s.tering around it, left to the care of a single pastor! He has not only the preparation of his weekly sermons, the care of the social meetings of the church, but a long line of other duties that are equally important to maintain. He must perform pastoral duties, push forward aggressive movements in behalf of the not touched by the church services, and fulfill public duties in connection with great charities, philanthropies, and moral reforms that he cannot neglect without injury.

If the efforts of such a pastor could be furthered by one, two, or more deaconesses, as are many of the pastors of the London churches, how greatly would the working force of such a Church be increased!

It is true that we must develop the work in accordance with our American ideas and inst.i.tutions. Through the study of the methods that have been adopted in European inst.i.tutions, and the experience that has been there won through long years of patient toil, we are prepared in a measure to start where their work leaves off. But we shall find that our circ.u.mstances require new adjustments, and that we shall have our own problems to solve, so that eventually our work will a.s.sume a distinctively American form.

We have only to plant the seed and to give it favorable conditions for growth. The outcome is not ours: "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand." The results are with Him who giveth the increase.

The practical question may occur to some one who reads these pages, "What shall I do to become a deaconess?" Write to the superintendent of the nearest deaconess home, and ask for directions. It is best not to multiply homes until we have a larger number of trained deaconesses that are ready to take charge of them, and until the number of applicants desiring to enter them is much greater than at present.

Many churches that need the services of a deaconess will doubtless select one of their number whose heart G.o.d has inclined to this service, and will provide the means by which she can secure the necessary training at a home and training-school. There are many devout Christian women in every community who have for years been deaconesses in labors, if not in t.i.tle and prerogatives. It is very important for such women to give their sympathies and fostering care to this new inst.i.tution. If not deaconesses by office, they can ally themselves as a.s.sociates. The a.s.sociate is a real officer in many of the deaconess establishments in London. Ladies who have great sympathy with the cause, and an earnest desire to do what they can to advance it, give some portion of their time, their labor, or their means to promote its interests. They will go to the home and reside there for some weeks or months, being under the direction of the superintendent and filling all the duties of a sister.

Or, if such duties are not practicable, they will work in behalf of the home, often securing the aid of those whose a.s.sistance is most valuable.

In some places it is arranged that a woman who earns her bread by daily toil shall be a.s.signed to labor at her regular vocation, consecrating a certain portion of her wages (perhaps one twenty-fourth) to the cause with which she is allied.

The Church has been accused of being too abstract, too ideal, too far removed from the life of the people in its every-day aspects. It is well for Church members to examine themselves, and the Church communities to which they belong, to judge how much ground there is for such criticism.

None are so sharp-sighted as hostile critics, and from none can such good lessons be learned. But this accusation is not a new one, and the only effectual way to meet it is to point to what the Church has accomplished. Over eighteen hundred years ago, when John the Baptist was in danger of mistaking our Lord, he sent to him, saying: "Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?" and the answer was: "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached."

Let us be prepared to make a similar answer to-day, and the Church need fear no accusation of holding aloof from the needs of the daily life of the people.

"Christianity, as it stands in the Bible and in our creeds, will neither be read nor understood by millions; Christianity as it is revealed in the loving service of deaconesses will be recognized by the dullest eyes."[99]

We have reached a new departure in Methodism. The Church has added another to its aggressive forces. How is it to be received? What welcome will be given it? May pastors and people, one and all, be in that att.i.tude of spirit where we shall respond readily to the command: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."

[95] _Die Diakonissenberuf nach seine Vergangenheit und gegenwart._ Emil Wacker. Gutersloh, 1888, chap. vi.

[96] _Modern Cities._ S. L. Loomis, The Baker & Taylor Co., New York, 1887, p. 192.

[97] _Deaconesses in the Church of England_, Griffith & Farran, 1880, p. 31.

[98] _The American Commonwealth_, James Bryce. MacMillan & Co., 1889, vol. ii, pp. 586, 589.

[99] _Phobe die Diakonissen_, p. 8.

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