Monday, September 08, 2008

Deaconesses of Sydney Diocese: Part 3

I read a post today railing against the two income family. Apparently the fact that women can work has driven up house prices and caused many other ills. Here is some insight into what it was like for women to live on a less than sufficient income. More on the deaconesses,

The narrow moralism taught in their training at Deaconess House and Moore College and the strict injunctions given to them to work only with women and children, could alienate Sydney deaconesses from the people to whom they were trying to minister. Deaconess Dorothy Harris, in expressing her dislike of helping out at the Carramar Hostel for unmarried mothers, is an example of a Christian worker hampered by having acquired an over-moralistic attitude:

That was a job I didn’t enjoy. The actual work was all right but all those pregnant young girls I found nauseating. They had destroyed what should have been part of a future satisfying marriage and brought distress and unhappiness to themselves and families.

While admitting that “there were, of course, many instances where ignorance or some forms of abuse brought about the pregnancy”, Deaconess Harris still reflected the patriarchal church’s judgmental attitude towards women so often espoused by Anglican clergy, and the tendency to free the male of sexual responsibility.

Anglo-Catholics tended to favour the ministrations of women religious rather than deaconesses. In the Anglo-Catholic oriented Church Standard of 17 May 1940, in a series on parish life written under the pseudonym “Quiz”, there appeared an article entitled “The Dirge of the Deaconess”. The writer appeared to be torn between sympathy and rejection. While portraying an unflattering image of the deaconess, he also spoke out against the Church ‘s exploitation of women in this form of ministry.

“Quiz” described deaconesses as “bands of martyrs” who sacrificed their womanhood “to become a despised drudge with nothing on earth to press forward to but eventual retirement in some poverty-infested garret”. The writer continued:

The life demanded of a deaconess flouts every divinely endowed human instinct ....Wearing flop hats and starched collars their uniform closely resembles that of a female felon. Surely the more Catholic and certainly more soul- sating would be the graceful robes of a nun.... So long as the present attire makes many a deaconess resemble rather the captain of her school hockey team than a vestal virgin. she will be treated as such by the average pavement trotter.

The writer also deplored the lowly accommodation - “small room with gas ring and use of bath” which the deaconess’s meagre stipend forced upon her, asserting that “this criminal system has all the austerities and none of the blessings of community life, and saps the very womanhood from her veins.” One of the problems for the urban deaconess was that she was not entitled to the accommodation benefits accorded to clergy and her salary was much lower.

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