Feast of Lucy Jane Rider Meyer (September 9)   1 comment

Above:  Two Methodist Deaconesses, 1889

Image in the Public Domain



Novelist, Hymn Writer, Medical Doctor, and Foundress of the Deaconess Movement in the Methodist Episcopal Church




Lucy Jane Rider Meyer comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

The changing nature of Methodist ministerial orders over time requires explanation and is germane to this blog post.  Both versions (1945 and 1965) of The Book of Worship for Church and Home (of The Methodist Church, extant 1939-1968) include Orders for the Ordination of Deacons, the Ordination of Elders, the Consecration of Bishops, and the Consecration of Deaconesses.  The Order for the Consecration of Deaconesses, from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945) includes the following instructions to the candidate(s):

Dearly beloved, we rejoice that in the providence of God a door of usefulness has been opened to you in the Church of Christ.  You are to give yourselves to the service if the Lord, going about doing good.  You are to minister to the poor, visit the sick, pray for the dying, care for the orphaned, seek the wandering, comfort the sorrowing, and lead the sinning to their Saviour.  Such service lays upon you solemn responsibility.


The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), the immediate successor to The Books of Worship for Church and Home, includes the Order for the Consecration of Diaconal Ministers in lieu of the old Order for the Consecration of Deaconesses.  The consecration ritual includes these instructions to the candidate(s):

My brothers and sisters,

you are to be consecrated to diaconal ministry in Christ’s holy Church.

You are to represent to the Church the ministry of servanthood in the world.


God has called you to a special ministry that will exemplify Christ’s servanthood.

You are to lead the people of God to be obedient servants,

to participate in the leadership of worship,

to demonstrate concern for love, justice, and freedom,

to counsel the troubled in spirit,

to teach from the riches of God’s grace,

to serve the poor, the sick, and the oppressed,

to equip all Christians to be in ministry and in service to the community,

and to embody the unity of the congregation’s worship with its life in the world.


When I was a United Methodist preacher’s kid in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the ordained clergy on the parish level came in three tiers:  Local Pastor, Deacon, and Elder.  My father started as a local pastor in 1980.  He became a deacon in 1986 then an elder in 1994.  (I have his framed ordination certificates.)  I knew about diaconal ministers; I saw them, from a distance, consecrated at the Annual Conferences in June.  My father wore a stole over both shoulders, but a diaconal minister wore a stole over one shoulder.  Diaconal ministers usually served on staff in large congregations in cities.  

I, being on this earth, in part, to be an Episcopalian, converted to The Episcopal Church on December 22, 1991.  I stopped paying such close attention to the details of United Methodist ministerial orders.  In 1996, The United Methodist Church established the Order of Deacons.  The denomination revised its ministerial orders and redefined the diaconate.  Deacons ceased to be parish ministers who had not become elders yet.  Deacons started wearing the one-shoulder stole.  The Church ceased to consecrate diaconal ministers, although some people already consecrated as diaconal ministers still used the title.  Likewise, when The Episcopal Church had relabeled all deaconesses as deacons, some deaconesses had retained their former title in a denomination that had ceased to set women apart as deaconesses.

Now that increasing numbers of denominations have authorized the ordination of women, many of those denominations have discontinued the Order of Deaconesses.   The Order of Deacons has come to include both men and women in many denominations.  Yet the Order of Deaconess has persisted in some quarters of the Church; Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a deaconess in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, for example.

I live in a time in which a woman can be the Presiding Bishop.  I approve of this.

Lucy Jane Rider Meyer, however, lived in a time and a culture quite different from mine.  Progress for women in the churches meant opening up gendered, parallel institutions.  After the U.S. Civil War, for example, opposition to sending single women abroad as medical missionaries declined, and women from various denominations founded ecumenical and denominational missions agencies for women.  Furthermore, the renewal of the female diaconate spread in the United States.




The revival of the ancient Order of Deaconesses started in Europe.  The renewed Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) did this first, in 1745.  In Germany, Lutheran pastor Theodor Fliedner (1800-1864) opened a deaconess training center at Kaiserworth in 1836.   The revival of the female diaconate spread throughout European Lutheranism.

The Reverend William Alfred Passvant, Sr. (1821-1894), the pastor of the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1845f), became active in providing social services.  From 1849 to 1871, he founded hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged, and homes for epileptics.  Passavant also raised funds to support these institutions.  And, in 1846, he wrote Fliedner and requested deaconesses in Pittsburgh.  Fliedner and four deaconesses arrived in 1849.  They helped to open Deaconess’ Hospital, Pittsburgh, in 1850.  Passavant consecrated Catherine Lousia Marthens (1828-1899), the first American deaconess, in 1850.  And, in 1885, Passavant invited Norwegian Lutheran deaconess Elizabeth Fedde (1850-1921) to work in the United States.  She worked in this country from 1883 to 1895.  She opened hospitals in New York and Chicago.  

The revival of the female diaconate spread to the Anglican Communion, too.  Elizabeth Catherine Ferard (1825-1883) became the first deaconess in The Church of England in 1861.  The movement to revive the ancient Order of Deaconesses in The Episcopal Church began in earnest in 1871.  The denomination approved that order in 1889.

The 1888 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (extant 1784-1939) approved the creation of the Order of Deaconesses in that denomination.  

That detail brings me to the woman known as the “Archbishop of Deaconesses.”




Above:  Lucy Jane Rider and Josiah Shelly Rider

Image in the Public Domain

Lucy Jane Rider, born in New Haven, Vermont, on September 9, 1849, became a mold-breaker and an educator.  She was the only child of widower Richard Dunning Rider (1807-1876) and his second wife, Jane Child Rider (1823-1901).  Our saint had three younger half-siblings, born in 1834, 1840, and 1847.  Lucy graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in literary studies in 1872.  She, planning to become a medical missionary, matriculated at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania the following year.  Our saint, engaged to marry, suffered heartache in 1875; her fiancé died.  Lucy dropped out of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and served as the principal of the (Methodist Episcopal) Troy Conference Academy, Poultney, Vermont (1876-1877).  

Rider also had an interest in chemistry.  She studied the subject at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1877-1878.)  Then she was a professor of chemistry at McKendree College, Lebanon, Illinois (1879-1881).  This interest in chemistry was also evident in her children’s book, Real Fairy Folks, or, The Land of Chemistry:  Explorations in the World of Atoms (1887).

Our saint turned her full-time attention to Christian education next.  She, a delegate to the World Sunday School Convention, London, in 1880, worked as a field secretary for the Illinois State Sunday School Association in 1881-1884.  This period in Rider’s life proved to be foundational for her subsequent labors.  She became convinced that Christian educators and others engaged in evangelism needed to be better informed than many of them were.  

In 1885, Rider married Chicago businessman and ordained Methodist Episcopal minister Josiah Shelly Meyer (1849-1926).

The Meyers opened the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions (later renamed the Chicago Training School for Home and Foreign Missions) in 1885.  Josiah served as the first superintendent and Lucy as the first principal.  The school, which was for women, had a curriculum some conservatives considered more advanced than necessary for mere females.  Furthermore, Lucy was allegedly a heretic because she argued that the authors of the Bible did not take dictation from God.  She taught that the Biblical authors were inspired, and that others edited those texts into the forms present in the Bible.  

Lucy, married, returned to medical school.  She graduated with her M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of Chicago in 1887.

Lucy founded The Message, a periodical, in 1886, and served as its editor until 1914.  After the Methodist Episcopal Church formally approved the Order of Deaconesses in 1888, she renamed the magazine The Deaconess Advocate.  

Lucy remained active in the Methodist deaconess movement for the rest of her life.  She designed the uniform.  Our saint established the deaconess houses in Chicago (1888), Boston (1889), and Toronto (1894).  She appointed Isabella Thoburn (1840-1901), one of the first Methodist deaconesses, as the superintendent of the Chicago deaconess house.  Lucy founded the Methodist Deaconess Association in 1908.  And she wrote about deaconesses.  Her published works germane to this topic included:

  1. Deaconesses:  Who They Are and What They Do (188?),
  2. Deaconesses:  Biblical, Early Church, European, American (1889),
  3. Deaconesses and Their Work:  Biblical, Early Church, European, American (1897), and
  4. Deaconess Stories (1900)

Women became eligible to serve as delegates to the General Conference, starting in 1904.  Lucy was a delegate to the General Conferences of 1904 and 1908.

Lucy also made her contribution to hymnody.  She wrote at least 17 hymns and edited Everybody’s Gospel Songs (1910).

Lucy’s other published works included:

  1. The Shorter Bible, Chronologically Arranged (1895), as editor;
  2. Mary North:  A Novel (1903);
  3. What Made Life Worth Living,” an article in The American Journal of Nursing (December 1904); and
  4. Some Little Prayers (1907), as compiler.

Lucy retired as the principal of the Chicago Training School for Home and Foreign Missions in 1917. 

She died, aged 72 years, on March 16, 1922, in Chicago.

The legacy of the Chicago Training School for Home and Foreign Missions has continued.  It merged into Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Illinois, in 1930.  This institution merged with the Evangelical Theological Seminary (formerly of the Evangelical United Brethren Church), Napierville, Illinois, in 1974, to form Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, in 1974.


Loving God, who called many women to Christian service as deaconesses,

thank you for the faithful life of Lucy Jane Rider Meyer,

reviver of that ancient order in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

May we, inspired by her good example,

follow you where and when we are, and as you direct us.

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Exodus 22:21-24

Psalm 10

Acts 9:36-43 and Romans 16:1-2

Matthew 25:31-46









One response to “Feast of Lucy Jane Rider Meyer (September 9)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Althea Brown Edmiston (December 17) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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