General Synod, Committee on Women's Work, "The Future Pattern of Women's Work in the Church" (1955)



In the course of our deliberations and inquiries, we have been aware that there is a good deal of heart-searching going on both among those who have responsibility in the women's organizations and among those who feel a concern for women who are not attached to any organization. We received expressions of opinion from the Executive Committee of the Dominion Board of the Woman's Auxiliary and the Church Year Federation besides answers to a letter published in "The Living Message". We had before us Dr. Charlotte Whitton's Report which deals particularly with professional women who seldom find a place in organizations; and a member of our committee visited a business women's group.

We find two trends of thought emerging; --

i) Towards unification of organizations.

ii) Towards freedom of activity to meet the needs of different types of women.

These two are not entirely incompatible; but the emphasis is different.


The Woman's Auxiliary is the official women's organization of the Church and spreads from Coast to Coast. There are also branches of the Mothers' Union in various parts of the country. The Women's Church Year is strong and flourishing in a few places. All these are actually or potentially Dominion-wide; and there is a risk, as the responsible leaders well know, of distressing local rivalries. We are thankful to record a good deal of excellent co-ordination and co-operation. One W.A. member expresses the ideal to be aimed at as; -- "A modern overall Woman's Organization in parishes to bring about a unification of missionary and other groups, preserving a member's sense of belonging to a body with a common life and a common purpose. There should be groups for different ages to study, serve, and have Christian fellowship".


Groups of business and professional women are beginning to appear among those whose training and occupation give them an outlook and interests rather different from the majority in the existing organizations.

The Women's Church Year aims particularly at flexibility. It has short terms for its officers to develop the maximum of leadership among its members. It has a distinctive feature in its insistence on direct giving; so that none of its activities are fund-raising, and all the more energy can be devoted to practical service, while preserving also a proper place for prayer and study. ...


This presents a complicated picture, difficult to analyse, especially in view of the fact that different categories which might be used overlap so much. ...


DEACONESSES are usually either in charge of a mission parish or on the staff of a city parish.

BISHOP'S MESSENGERS are usually in charge of a mission parish, singly or in pairs.

Members of RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES are engaged in education, in running homes for the aged or for unmarried mothers, and in religious work of all kinds.

YOUTH WORKERS are distributed very unevenly one or two to a Diocese or one to two or three Dioceses.

SOCIAL WORKERS are in institutions and caring for the welfare of various groups in society.

Other types of work include Sunday School by Post, Book-room, Diocesan secretaryship. These things as well as parish and mission work may be done by workers who come under any of the special categories above or none.

INDIAN SCHOOLS provide specialized




The Anglican Women's Training College has placed graduates in all parts of the field and gives partial training to others.

Some workers have University degrees plus Theological Training. Some rely on sanctified common sense.


Salaries, on the whole, are according to the scales decided by the Woman's Auxiliary.

There are still too many Church workers not covered by any pension scheme, though the Woman's Auxiliary covers most of its workers.


Here confusion reigns.

In some Dioceses all workers are licensed. In others not even the Deaconesses hold licenses from the Bishop, despite the provision in the Canons of General Synod.

In one Diocese a woman has been licensed as a Lay Reader.

Some allow full status in Synod to Deaconesses or Bishop's Messengers in charge of parishes or missions. Some admit no women to Synod at all and ignore parochial or missionary responsibility. Some invite all or most of their women workers, letting them report or speak when asked; this means they have no vote and cannot join in discussion of matters of general concern to the Church.



Status. We feel that the status of Deaconesses should be made much clearer and that it should be understood that the Order of Deaconesses is a distinct Order in the Anglican Communion.

a) The name Deaconess should only be used for a woman who has been made a Deaconess by a Bishop, with laying on of hands.

b) The Canon which enjoins the licensing of Deaconesses should not be allowed to becomes dead letter.

C) A Deaconess on the staff of a Diocese or parish should have the status of a member of that staff, with full membership of the Synod; and she should be summoned to Deanery or other conferences.

Training. We beg to endorse the recommendations of our parent committee on the subject of training.

The Nature of the Order of Deaconesses.

We feel it is most unfortunate that there is a divergence in the Anglican Communion concerning the nature of the Order of Deaconesses. In the Church of England, Deaconesses are ordained for life; but the Anglican Church of Canada has followed the American pattern of a conditional setting apart to be terminated by marriage.

We would draw attention to the recent statement issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (November 1954). This includes a quotation from the English Canons, as they stand after recent revision; --

"The order of Deaconesses is the one order of ministry in the Church of England,to which women are admitted by prayer and the laying on of hands of the Bishop".

This order is expressly differentiated from the diaconate of men and entry on the threefold ministry. Their Graces continue; --

"At her ordination as a Deaconess, a woman receives by episcopal ordination a distinctive and permanent status in the Church, and is dedicated to a lifelong service and ministry. The Church thus gives to her ministry authorization and authority by the laying on of hands. No vow or implied promise of celibacy is involved".

(What does seem to be implied is that marriage should no more be a bar theologically for a woman than for a man conscious of a vocation to serve the Church. The question is a practical and personal one, largely affected by the social patterns of a rapidly changing world. The woman who is "dedicated to a lifelong service and ministry" in the Church will have that

dedication first in mind in any consideration of marriage. We can picture conditions in Canada, particularly in missionary districts, where a married Deaconess might be able to carry on a very real and valuable ministry).

We believe that those who have offered themselves to be made Deaconesses in the Anglican Church of Canada intend the life-long dedication of which the Archbishops speak. For any who do not, we suggest a different kind of commission is appropriate. The distinctive and permanent status of a Deaconess is, we believe, appropriate for women with a strong sense of vocation, who are willing and able to take a training comparable with the training of a man for Holy Orders. ...


These are, ipso facto, directly under the Bishop who employs them as he sees fit. This service can be extremely flexible, to suit the needs of rapid expansion and varied conditions. A woman can give good service here whether she believes full=time Church work to be her life-long vocation, or is aware only of a call for a particular period.


We wish to record our appreciation of the value of Religious Communities to the life of the Church. Sisters are far less regarded as belonging only to one section or school of thought than they used to be; and it seems to us this is a sign of growth in the wholeness of the Church. The possibility of a vocation to the religious life still needs to be far more widely known.


No report on women's work in the Anglican Church of Canada would be complete without mention of the devoted work of Miss Hasell and the Canadian Sunday School Caravan Mission. This gallant enterprise is known to Anglicans far from Canada. It has provided an opportunity for team-work between members of the Church from both sides of the Atlantic and witnessed to the concern of the Church for many who felt cut off in the remote parts of this country. It has also kept flying the flag of disinterested service for negligible material return.

Some dioceses have already taken over their own van work. We believe this is the pattern that will and should spread. The work affords a special challenge to Canadian girls who so often assume that they have an obligation to make money, when they may really be in a position to honour a higher demand, at least for a limited period.


Qualifications. Qualifications for Church work vary very much. We would recommend that an effort should be made to issue workers with appropriate certificates which would provide some classification, showing the standard of both practical and intellectual training.

There is still a place for the amateur; but it is an increasingly small one. We are extremely grateful to some who are giving loyal and fruitful service in this way. On the whole we must recognize that professionalism has come to stay, and that it can be and is being consecrated to the service of God. To be recognized as a professional Church worker, a woman should be able to produce solid evidence of training for the work she wishes to undertake.

Co-ordination. We consider that women working for the Church are much in need of facilities for; --

a) Mutual consultation, fellowship and support.

b) Registering qualifications, receiving notice of posts and finding the right positions.

A. Fellowship.

The Sisterhoods and the Bishop's Messengers of St. Faith's have each their central

house, which is both a base and a place of spiritual refreshment; they have also a strong bond of prayer and fellowship. The Alumnae of the Anglican Women's Training College have likewise a continuing bond with each other and with the College. We feel that other Church workers would benefit greatly by having similar links. The established communities might be able to help both by telling of their experience to guide plans, and by extending their own fellowship in whatever degree is feasible. Resources already available could be more widely used. There are probably Church workers who are not even aware that the religious houses welcome Church women for short periods of rest and spiritual refreshment.

B. Placement

The Woman's Auxiliary is able to look after the workers sponsored by it to a considerable extent. In general, however, a freer flow of information about candidates and openings is needed. The Anglican Women's Training College is being asked to do more than it can to supply the need of a placement bureau. We say this with the full approval of the College staff. They are not in a position to provide this help for their own graduates after initial placement, far less for other women who may be anxious to work for the Church.


... Status, classification, recognition, are all important. A woman of ability needs assurance that she will be used according to that ability, and she needs reasonable security of tenure. There have been occasions when a Bishop asked for a qualified woman who was not forthcoming. This situation is part of a vicious circle. If there is not status, recognition, security, women will hesitate to train to bring high qualifications into a doubtful field; and responsible people will hesitate to urge them to do so. ...

We offer these findings out of a profound concern first for our Church and then for the women in the Church. A great deal is being said in these days about the unity and wholeness of the Church. This demands a wholeness in the service men and women give to the Church. It is unfortunate in some ways that we have had to frame this report as a report on "Women's Work". There is a danger, noted by some groups reporting to Geneva for Dr. Bliss's survey, that "An organization, group or fellowship tends to become 'The Church' for the woman who finds there Christian fellowship, worship, and the upbuilding of her faith. Thus there can arise in practice, although the theory of it is denied, a Church within a Church."

We believe the word to link Future - Women - Church - is something like this:--

Let the Church recognize in practice as well as in theory that Church women are responsible Church members, persons created to serve God with the varying talents He has given them. Then the pattern will work out, and that to the obliteration of any false distinction between 'The Church' and 'Women in the Church'.

Joanne Dewart, "Address to General Synod" (1975)


Christianity and Feminism

...Self-transcendence, the sharing in the divine life, is offered only to human persons and to all human persons, but human life can and does exist in conditions that make a positive response to the divine call terribly difficult, almost impossible. Throughout history men and women have fought to conquer these conditions of squalor, sickness and oppression. It is to the discredit of Christians -- to our discredit -- that we have not often enough been in the front line of these battles, and that all too frequently the Christian church has lent itself to a shoring up of discriminatory attitudes and institutions of all kinds -- slavery, the exploitation of agricultural and industrial workers, the stifling of intellectual life. Itr has often been a question of societal sin rather than personal, although the two are intertwined. We can be so blinded by the culture we live in and by its myths that we become morally desensitized. Such societal moral callousness has generally marked the attitude to and the treatment of women in the Christian church. (It is true of other societies to an even greater degree, but today we are looking at ourselves.) Women have been oppressed; they have not been afforded the same opportunities to grow to ful human personhood, to respond to the divine call in an adult way, as have men. But the oppression and injury are +not all on one side: men, in carrying out this oppression, injure themselves, and women as they acquiesce in the discrimination, share the responsibility for the injuries done to themselves and to men. Sexual discrimination has harmed Christians of both sexes and so the Christian Church.

We can begin to appreciate the harm done to Christian men and women if we compare our sexual stereotypes with the challenge and demands of the Gospel. There we are asked to transcend ourselves in service to others, to go beyond our own comfort and our own interest, beyond those things that are familiar and safe in order to give a free, personal response through Christ to the Father in the Spirit. Such a response calls for courage and humility, intelligence and patience, justice and compassion on the part of all Christians, women and men. But have we not, in fact, divided and assigned virtues on the basis of sex? The Christian man should be brave, intelligent and just; the Christian woman humble, patient and compassionate. In brief, in incorporating into Christianity the social myths of innate sexual characteristics, we have fostered one-sided development -- in fact, distortion -- and both sexes have been inhibited from developing that fullness and integrity of personhood called for by the gospel. (Let us note in passing that it has been more commonly accepted that men can encompass the virtues of both sexes than can women; a compassionate man is not considered as much an anomaly as an enterprising woman.)...