The United Episcopal Church recognizes the significant gifts of women through the setting apart of deaconesses for particular ministry in the church. It is important to recognize that this is not an ordained office but a commissioned lay ministry.

Deaconesses may minister in these areas:

  • care for the sick, bereaved, and others in need;
  • catechizing of children;
  • teaching or administration in Christian education;
  • ministry to women and children in parishes and communities;
  • lay chaplaincies in shelters for women and children, hospitals, and other institutions;
  • social support services to families.

The qualifications for serving as a deaconess are rigorous, and only a few women are admitted to this special role.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Deaconesses ordained clergy?

No. Deaconesses are not ordained and are not the female equivalent of Deacons. Deaconesses are laywomen who minister in specific areas authorized by the bishop.

May Deaconesses serve as Lay Readers or preach?

No. Only men may be authorized to serve as Lay Readers. Preaching may only be done by ordained clergymen or by Lay Readers who have special authorization from the bishop.

Qualifications and duties of Deaconesses

The Canons of the United Episcopal Church specify the qualifications and duties of Deaconesses.

Canon 53. Of Deaconesses.

Sec. 1. A woman of devout character and proved fitness, may be appointed, and admitted Deaconess, subject to the provisions of this Canon. Such appointment and admission are not, and shall not be construed as, an ordination.

Sec. 2 (a). The duty of a Deaconess is to assist in the work of the Congregation or institution to which she may be appointed, under the direction of the Rector or Priest in charge; or, if there be none such, to perform such functions as may be directly entrusted to her by the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, Missionary District, or another place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which she is canonically attached.
(b). The following are the chief functions which may be entrusted to a Deaconess:
(1). To care for the sick, the afflicted, and the poor.
(2). To give instruction in the Christian faith.
(3). Under the Rector or the Priest in charge, to prepare candidates for Baptism and for Confirmation.
(4). To assist at the administration of Holy Baptism and in the absence of the Priest or Deacon to baptize infants.
(5). Under the Rector or Priest in charge to organize, superintend, and carry out the Church’s work among women and children.
(6). With the approval of the Bishop Ordinary and the incumbent, to read Morning and Evening Prayer (except such portions as are reserved for the Priest) and the Litany; and when licensed by the Bishop Ordinary, to give instruction or deliver addresses at such services.
(7). To organize and carry-on social work; and in colleges and schools to have a responsible part in the education of women and children, and to promote the welfare of women students.

Sec. 3 (a). A woman desiring reception as candidate for the office of Deaconess shall submit to the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which she desires to be canonically attached, letters of recommendation from her Rector or Priest in charge, and from two women communicants of the Church, together with evidence that she is a communicant of the Church in good standing; and that she is a graduate of a High School or of a school with standards equivalent to a High School, or is prepared to take such examinations as shall qualify her for reception.
(b). During the period of candidateship, she shall be under the supervision of the Bishop Ordinary and shall report to him quarterly during the Ember Days. If possible, at least one- half of the time of her preparation shall be spent in residence with Deaconesses, or at a Church Training School.
(c). For due cause, the Bishop Ordinary may terminate any candidacy.

Sec. 4 (a). Before admission to the office of Deaconess a candidate shall be required to pass examinations in the following subjects:
(1). Holy Scripture: The Bible in English; introduction to and contents of the various books; special knowledge of at least one Gospel and one Epistle.
(2). Church History: A general outline, including the History of the Church in North America, and special knowledge of the first five centuries.
(3). Christian Missions: History; present extent and methods; at least one missionary biography.
(4). Doctrine: Contents and teaching of the Book of Common Prayer, including preparation for the Sacraments.
(5). Ministration: The office and work of a Deaconess; Parish Work and Organization.
(6). Religious Education: Psychology; Educational methods; Church School Management.
(7). Social Service: Principles involved in the adjustment of individuals to each other and to the community; the methods of social case work; familiarity with the recognized standards of the work of social organizations including institutions.
(b). This examination shall be conducted by examiners appointed by the Bishop Ordinary. The results of the examination shall be certified to the Bishop Ordinary, and to the Standing Committee or Council of Advice.
(c). The candidate shall also be required to furnish evidence that she has had at least nine months of field work under competent supervision, or satisfactory previous experience in social service, educational, or Congregation work.

Sec. 5. No one shall be admitted a Deaconess until she is twenty-five years of age; nor within two years of her reception as a candidate, unless the Bishop Ordinary, with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the Standing Committee or Council of Advice, shall shorten the time of her candidateship; but the time shall not be shortened to less than one year.

Sec. 6. No woman shall be admitted a Deaconess until she shall have laid before the Ecclesiastical Authority testimonials showing that she is a communicant of this Church in good standing, and that she possesses such characteristics as, in the judgment of the persons testifying, fit her for the duties of that office. The testimonials of fitness shall be signed by four Presbyters of this Church and by eight Lay communicants, six of whom shall be women.

Sec. 7. Before admission as a Deaconess, the Bishop Ordinary shall require the candidate to submit to a thorough examination by a physician appointed by the Bishop Ordinary. This examination shall cover her mental and nervous as well as her physical condition. This report shall be kept on file by the Bishop Ordinary and shall be submitted to the Standing Committee or Council of Advice with the application to be recommended for admission to the office of Deaconess.

Sec. 8. When the foregoing specified requirements have been complied with, the bishop conducting the service of admission, upon the recommendation of the Standing Committee or Council of Advice of the Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction where she is to be canonically attached, may admit the candidate to the office of Deaconess. The fact of the setting a part of a Deaconess shall be transmitted by the Ecclesiastical Authority to the Recorder of the General Convention, together with the following data:
(1). Her full name.
(2). Place and date of birth.
(3). Date and place of such setting apart. Any change in the status of a Deaconess shall be likewise notified to the Recorder by the Ecclesiastical Authority.

Sec. 9. No woman shall be recognized as a Deaconess until she has been admitted to that office by a service prescribed either by the General Convention or, in the absence of such prescription, by the bishop conducting the service. The service of admission shall be conducted by the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese, Missionary District, or another place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction where she is to be canonically attached.

Sec. 10. A Deaconess shall not accept work in a Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction without the express authority in writing of the Ecclesiastical Authority thereof; nor shall she undertake work in a Congregation without the like authority from the Rector or Clergyman in charge of the Congregation. No candidate shall be admitted as Deaconess until she shall have been appointed to serve in some position under the jurisdiction of the Church.

Sec. 11. When not connected with a Congregation, the Deaconess shall be under the direct oversight of the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, Missionary District, or another place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which she is canonically attached. Each Deaconess shall report annually to the Ecclesiastical Authority of her Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the form prescribed by the Ecclesiastical Authority. A Deaconess may be transferred from one Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to another by Letters Dimissory. A Deaconess may at any time resign her office by sending her resignation in writing to the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which she is attached under this Canon, but she may not be suspended or removed from office except by the Bishop Ordinary for cause. A Deaconess thus suspended or removed may demand a trial by a special Court, to be composed of two Presbyters and four Lay communicants, one man and three women, of whom two shall preferably be Deaconesses. The members of the Court shall be chosen by the Standing Committee or Council of Advice. The procedure of the Court shall be according to the rules governing the trial of a Clergyman in the Diocese, Missionary District, or another place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which the Deaconess is attached under this Canon.

Sec. 12. When the Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which the woman desires to be canonically attached has no Bishop Ordinary or the Bishop Ordinary is under disability, the Bishop Coadjutor, or, if there be none, the Suffragan Bishop senior in order of Consecration, or, if there be none, the Clerical members of the Standing Committee or Council of Advice shall, through their President, discharge the duties assigned in Sections 2 (b) (6), 3 (b), 3 (c), 4 (b), 5, and 7 of this Canon to the Bishop Ordinary.

Sec. 13. When the Diocese, Missionary District, or other place under Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which the woman is canonically attached has no Bishop Ordinary or the Bishop Ordinary is under disability, the Bishop Coadjutor, or, if there be none, the Suffragan Bishop senior in order of Consecration, or, if there be none, the Presiding Bishop or a Bishop appointed by him, shall discharge the duties assigned in Section 9 of this Canon to the Bishop Ordinary and the duties of suspension or removal assigned in Section 11 of this Canon to the Bishop Ordinary.

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