Discerning a Call to Be Set Apart as a Deaconess
By Dss Teresa R. Johnson
How does a woman know she is called to the office of Deaconess? I have answered this question several times since I was Set Apart in 2003; some of the women who inquired found the answer too difficult, and they decided not to pursue the office. But that is as it should be, I think. It is a serious matter to make vows that take us into greater service to Christ and into a more formal and accountable relationship with His Church. I purposely do not try to encourage a woman to pursue this path. What I do encourage is that she count the cost and allow God to lead her in the path in which He wants her to go.
The first question that the Bishop asks a woman who is being set apart is, “Dearly beloved in the Lord, who are minded to take upon you this service in the Church of God, have you duly considered how weighty an undertaking this is, and are you prepared with a willing mind to take upon you this office?” While God makes His will known in a variety of ways, the discernment process of “due consideration” should begin with a self-examination that includes the following questions:
The preceding questions are fairly straightforward, and the answers should be evident to you. The next questions are a bit more difficult, as they are focused on assessing with your relationships with others, and as such, they require additional soul searching as well as consultation with your spiritual fathers and others among whom you currently serve. These are the points that often prevent women from pursuing the office any further.
A woman who is called to the office of Deaconess will say with the Psalmist, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). Yet her desire for the presence of the Lord is to be turned outward in service to the Church. Her awesome responsibility, as well as her enduring joy, is to support her spiritual fathers in the care and teaching of the people of God. A Deaconess can be the official representative of the Church in situations that are made awkward by the presence of a man, and her insight can often enable a priest to provide better care to the flock.
Finally, it would be dishonest for me to close this discussion without offering a sufficient warning: the closer you get to Christ and the more committed you become to serving Him, the more Satan will torment you. If you do become convinced through prayerful discernment that you are called to be a Deaconess, expect resistance and spiritual warfare like you've never seen. Satan will try to convince you that you are unworthy, unable, unprepared—in short, he will do anything to turn you back. But Christ is sufficient even in times of persecution.
So if, after all of the hurdles I've presented, you are still convinced that God is calling you, talk to your parish priest to see if it's time for you to start the process of submitting an application,
"Women should not offer themselves for service in the Church until they have made up their minds as to what their desire is for their future lives. The office should not be experimented upon as merely a refuge from disappointment, or as a change from an inactive, dissatisfied existence, but should be sought for and entered into as a God-given sphere of service. No woman should allow herself to be set apart as a deaconess unless in doing so she is conscientiously giving herself to the Church. It might possibly happen, however, that a daughter or sister, after she has become a deaconess, may, in God's Providence, find it necessary to return to her home duties: and should any promise whatsoever stand in the way of a Christian woman being at liberty to answer to the call of any duty which is clearly a God-sent one? Neither should it be supposed that marriage is impossible for a deaconess, if only that marriage is "in the Lord," and if it should be shown to be so clearly His way for her, that in marrying she will have the approval of her own conscience and the sanction of the Bishop of her diocese: in such case the deaconess spirit will have but a different sphere for its exercise for every real deaconess is a deaconess for life. " - from Deaconesses in the Church of England
O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy handmaidens who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We are affiliated with the Anglican Deaconess Association.
For more information about the Order of Deaconesses, email firstname.lastname@example.org.