Above: Elizabeth Ferard
Image in the Public Domain
ELIZABETH CATHERINE FERARD (FEBRUARY 22, 1825-APRIL 18, 1883)
First Deaconess in The Church of England
Sometimes that which seems new is merely a revival of something quite odd. Hence that which is new is more traditional than the status quo.
Such was the case with the revival of the ancient order of deaconesses in Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopal denominations in the 1800s. I have read a portion of the Lutheran side of this history in Frederick S. Weiser, Love’s Response: A Story of Lutheran Deaconesses in America (Philadelphia, PA: The Board of Publication of The United Lutheran Church in America, 1962). According to Robert Prichard, A History of The Episcopal Church (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1999), The Episcopal Church revived the order in 1889. Other denominations, such as various Methodist bodies and The United Church of Canada, also resurrected the order. In recent decades, with the ordination of women to orders formerly restricted to men in many denominations, the female diaconate has faded and folded into regular ministerial orders in a host of denominations. In The Episcopal Church, for example, the female diaconate merged with the formerly exclusively male diaconate in the 1970s. Nevertheless, the order of deaconesses provided many faithful women with opportunities to serve God and their fellow human beings in the 1800s and 1900s.
The listing for our saint in Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England (2000) reads:
Elizabeth Ferard, first Deaconess of the Church of England, Founder of the Community of St. Andrew, 1883).
Elizabeth Catherine Ferard, born in London, England, United Kingdom, on February 22, 1825, had a vocation to care for people. Her father, Daniel Ferard (1788-1839), was a solicitor. Our saint’s mother, an invalid, died in 1858. Ferard, who had provided care for her mother, received support from Archibald Tait (1811-1882), the Bishop of London, in pursuing her vocation. He sent her to Germany, to visit Lutheran deaconesses. More encouragement and assistance came from Thomas Pelham Dale (1821-1892), a priest who went on to suffer incarceration for his ritualism in 1880-1881, as part of the anti-ritualist policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881). In 1861, with Tait’s support, Ferard and Dale founded the North London Deaconess Institution (later renamed the Diocesan Deaconess Institution then the Community of St. Andrew), based on a monastic model. Our saint was one of three original members. On July 18, 1862 (hence her feast day in The Church of England), Ferard became the first deaconess in The Church of England and the Anglican Communion. She worked among the poor of London as a teacher and a nurse. Although health issues forced her to resign as the leader of the order in 1873, she operated a home for convalescing children after that year and before her death at London on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1883.
The poor will always be with us. That statement is true and accurate for a host of reasons, but it provides no moral cover for throwing up one’s hands in discouragement or claiming that, because we cannot solve the problem, we must nor or will not do anything to address it. After all, the commandments to love God as we love ourselves and to behave toward others as we want them to act toward us apply. Furthermore, whenever we help “the least of these” we serve Jesus, and whenever we do not aid “the least of these” we do not serve Jesus.
Elizabeth Ferard served Jesus ably.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 22, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF GENE BRITTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST
THE FEAST OF CESAR CHAVEZ, LABOR UNION LEADER
THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MARTYR
Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Elizabeth Catherine Ferard,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60