Above: Harriet Bedell
Image in the Public Domain
HARRIET BEDELL (MARCH 19, 1875-JANUARY 8, 1969)
Episcopal Deaconess and Missionary
Starting in 1889, The Episcopal Church formally had the order of deaconesses. In the 1970s the denomination opened the Sacred Order of Deacons to women. Howard Harper wrote:
A deaconess used to be a “devoted unmarried woman” (to quote the old canon) appointed by the bishop to do just about anything that happened to be needed in a parish or an institution. She could be a spinster or a widow–if she married, that automatically terminated her appointment.
She wore a distinctive, identifying garb and went wherever she could make herself useful. She visited the sick and the poor, she gave Baptism and Confirmation instructions, she read Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the Litany at public services, she specialized in work with women and children, and when licensed by the bishop to do so, she gave “addresses”–which means she preached. And if circumstances called for it, she mopped the floor and mowed the lawn.
There are still, bless them, a few deaconesses around, but their tribe will not increase. There is no longer any canonical provision for creating new ones.
—The Episcopalian’s Dictionary (1974), pages 56-57
The General Convention of 1964 permitted deaconesses to marry, according to Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church, Revised Edition (1999), page 255.
Harriet Bedell, born at Buffalo, New York, on March 19, 1875, devoted most of her adult life to missionary work among Native Americans.
Bedell prepared for her vocation at the New York Training School for Deaconesses, where she studied teaching, missions, education, and hygiene. She taught Cheyenne Indians at the Whirlwind Mission in Oklahoma before going to Alaska in 1916. There, in 1922, she became a deaconess. Her home base was Allakaket, 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle. She worked as a nurse and a teacher at St. Johns-in-the-Wilderness Mission. Bedell also traveled to and from remote villages via dogsled. Furthermore, our saint opened a boarding school.
Bedell relocated to Florida (and the Episcopal Diocese of South Florida) in 1932. There she remained for the rest of her life. Our saint used her own salary to reopen the Blades Cross Mission to the Seminoles and the Miccosukees. Until 1960, when Hurricane Donna destroyed the mission, Bedell pursued a three-prong mission: education, health care, and economic development. One strategy was to encourage traditional crafts, simultaneously respecting the culture and providing a means of increasing income. Retirement did not stop her; she retired at the age of 63 years in 1938.
Our saint won the respect of the indigenous people among whom she lived and worked. She was also a popular author for The Spirit of Missions, an Episcopal Church missions magazine.
Bedell died on January 8, 1969. She was 93 years old. Her commemoration has spread from the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida to The Episcopal Church generally.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 14, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION
THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER
Holy God, you chose your faithful servant Harriet Bedell to exercise
the ministry of deaconess and to be a missionary among indigenous peoples:
Fill us with compassion and respect for all people, and
empower us for the work of ministry throughout the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 161