The first deaconess community in the Church of England was established in 1861 authorised by the Bishop of London – Bishop Tait. Originally called the North London Deaconess Institution and now known as the Community of St. Andrew, this religious community has recently transferred their papers to Lambeth Palace Library and they reveal some of the rich story of women’s ministry in the Church of England over the last 150 years.
Elizabeth Ferard became the first officially sanctioned deaconess in the Church of England on 18 July 1862. The office of Deaconess was the highest order for women in the church until 1987 when women were first ordained as deacons. The ordination of women obviously had a huge impact on the Community of St. Andrew and some sisters chose to be ordained as deacons whilst others preferred to remain deaconesses. Some of the papers catalogued so far document how the community was affected by women’s ordination to the diaconate and also the priesthood.
One of the most interesting parts of the collection is the diary of Elizabeth Ferard that documents her visit to the deaconess institution in Kaiserswerth in Germany. This institution was established in 1833 by Pastor Fliedner of the Lutheran church and by 1858, 220 Deaconesses had been set apart there. Other English women such as Florence Nightingale gained nursing experience at Kaiserswerth and Ferard writes in her diary that her visit there had a huge impact on developing the deaconess ministry in England. When she returned to England she was resolved to creating a similar institution here. Her return in 1858 coincided with a discussion at the convocation of Canterbury about reviving the order of deaconess and thus the conditions for the first deaconess institution in England were set.
Selected extracts of Elizabeth Ferard’s diary were re-produced in print by Henrietta Blackmore in ‘The Beginning of Women’s Ministry, The Revival of the Deaconess in the 19th Century Church of England’, (2007). This is available to read in Lambeth Palace Library reading room. You can find it in our online printed books catalogue at http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/searchcollections.
The records of the community have been very well cared for by one of the sisters – Sr. Teresa who did a lot of work preparing the collection for transfer to Lambeth Palace Library. A list of the collection made by Henrietta Blackmore and later supplemented by Sr. Teresa has been extremely helpful in determining the contents of the archive. An archivist doesn’t often get this kind of help to discern the correct arrangement and content of an archive, often having to sort through huge piles of disparate papers to find the original order. Preserving the original order of any collection is one of the core jobs of an archivist and coming across such a well-cared for collection is gratefully received!
Work on the collection is progressing well with 20 of the 69 boxes already catalogued. Re-packaging of the collection into archival containers is one of the principal jobs to ensure their long term preservation in the stores at Lambeth Palace Library. The collection will be made available to the public for the first time through our online catalogues and should be completed by August 2015.