It was stated in part 1 that in early Adventism, according to the Ellen G. White Writings Complete Published Edition 2005, the word “deacon(s)” was recorded fifteen times. Only four recordings related to their ministry in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church. The word “deaconess(es)” was recorded eighteen times, of which only three related to their ministry in the church. The deacons were responsible for supplying the wine—unfermented grape juice for communion. They were also responsible for encouraging members to return a faithful tithe, collecting the tithe, and turning the tithe over to the treasurer in large churches or serving as treasurer in small churches.
The third and final area relating to the deacons’ ministry pertained to their ordination. The following statement by Arthur N. Patrick, who was the registrar at Avondale College in Australia, indicates that both deacons and deaconesses were ordained in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church.
On June 24, 1899, the Ashfield church in Sydney elected G. F. Goodman as elder. The church records tell us that he “was ordained as elder by the laying on of hands.” Clearly, Adventists at the time understood the laying on of hands as effecting ordination.
Which officers were ordained to their tasks? Again the Ashfield church minutes, in two separate entries, give us the answer. At the meeting on August 10, 1895, the nominating committee rendered its report. The record notes: “immediately following the election, the officers were called to the front, where Pastors Corliss and McCullagh set apart the elder, deacons, [and] deaconesses by prayer and the laying on of hands.”
On Sabbath, January 6, 1900, Elder W. C. White presided over the regular Sabbath meeting at Ashfield. The clerk’s minutes note: “The previous Sabbath officers had been nominated and accepted for the current year, and today Elder White ordained and laid hands on the elders, deacon, and deaconesses.”
The page from W. C. White’s diary for this date confirms the Ashfield church’s records: “Spoke at Ashfield. Twenty-five present.
Ordained J. Hindson Elder, Thos. Patchin Deacon, and Mrs. Brannyrane and Patchin Deaconesses.”1
It is clear from this letter and the record of the church’s minutes that both deacons and deaconesses were ordained in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The second and final area relating to the deaconesses’ ministry in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church defines some of the duties that they performed. Ellen G. White gave this brief description of their work, as well as recommended that they be ordained, in an article she wrote in the Review and Herald, July 9, 1895. She stated,
Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the ministers; but if they are devoted women, maintaining a vital connection with God, they will be a power for good in the church. This is another means of strengthening and building up the church.2
Based upon these sources, deacons and deaconesses were ordained in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church. Deaconesses visited the sick, looked after the young, and ministered to the necessities of the poor. It is important to note that the deaconesses also counseled the women of the church. In a letter written to A. T. Jones in September 1902, Ellen White scolded him for “listening to the private woes of women— ‘When a woman comes to you with her troubles, tell her plainly to go to her sisters, to tell her troubles to the deaconesses of the church.’”3
The ordination of deaconesses was officially discontinued in 1932, according to the first Adventist Church Manual of 1932. It was replaced in 1990 with an induction service. However, the delegates at the 59th General Conference Session in Atlanta, Georgia, June 24–July 3, 2010, voted that deaconesses should be ordained along with deacons.4 That decision is reflected in the current Seventhday Adventist Church Manual.
The duties and responsibilities performed by the deacons and deaconesses of the early Seventhday Adventist Church were in harmony with those carried out by their counterparts in the first-century Christian church, and they are the same for those serving in the twenty-first century.
1 Ellen G. White Writings, Complete Published Edition 2005, Ellen G. White Estate Research Documents Full Text Search, s.v. “deacons” (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 2006), CD-ROM.
2 Ellen G. White Writings, s.v. “deaconesses.”
3 Nancy Vyhmeister, “Deaconesses in the Church,” Ministry, September 2008, 22.
4 Adventist Review, “Sixth Business Meeting: Proceedings (Church Manual Only),” www.adventistreview.org/article. php?id=3510 (accessed July 5, 2010).
Vincent E. White Sr., DMin, is a retired pastor and author of The TwentyFirst Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model, The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model Workbook, and Problem Solvers and Soul Winners: A Handbook for Deacons and Deaconesses.