Deaconesses were included in the official staff of the early Christian churches. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well” (Rom. 16:1, 2, RSV).
The deaconess is elected to office, serving for a term of one or two years as determined by the local church. (See p. 49.) It does not follow that the wife of a man chosen as deacon thereby becomes a deaconess, nor is it incumbent upon a church to choose the wife of a deacon as deaconess because her husband is a deacon. The deaconess is to be chosen from the standpoint of consecration and other qualifications that fit her to discharge the duties of the office. The church may arrange for a suitable service of induction for the deaconess by an ordained minister holding current credentials.
Duties of Deaconesses—Deaconesses serve the church in a wide variety of important activities, including:
1. Assistance at Baptisms—Deaconesses assist at the baptismal services, ensuring that female candidates are cared for both before and after the ceremony. They also give such counsel and help as may be necessary regarding suitable garments for baptism. Robes of suitable material should be provided. Where robes are used, the deaconesses should see that they are laundered and carefully set aside for future use. (See p. 35.)
2. Arrangements for the Communion Service—The deaconesses assist in the ordinance of foot-washing, giving special aid to women visitors or those who have newly joined the church. It is the duty of the deaconesses to arrange everything needed for this service, such as seeing that the table linen, towels, et cetera, used in the celebration of ordinances are laundered and carefully stored. (See p. 84.)
The deaconesses make arrangements for the communion table, including: preparing the bread and wine, arranging the ordinance table, pouring the wine, placing the plates of unleavened bread, and covering the table with the linen provided for that purpose. All these matters should be cared for before the service begins.
3. The Care of the Sick and the Poor—Deaconesses are to do their part in caring for the sick, the needy, and the unfortunate, cooperating with the deacons in this work.