Although St. Paul mentioned deaconesses at Cenchreae, and St. John Chrysostom considered the model appropriate for both sexes, deaconesses vanished for hundreds of years until revived among Lutherans in Kaiserswerth, Germany in 1836. The nineteenth century deaconess movement involved women living in community while carrying out traditional deacon ministries, especially teaching and serving the poor in industrializing cities.
Ferard was a gentlewoman from a prominent Huguenot family. Archibald Tait, then Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, encouraged Elizabeth Ferard’s religious vocation, particularly her visit to deaconess communities in Germany. In 1858, Ferard visited the deaconess community at Kaiserswerth. With the help of benefactors, Ferard founded the North London Deaconess Institution in 1861. The women dedicated themselves to the Church, to teach and care for the sick, but without taking formal vows. Ferard was ordained a deaconess on 18 July 1862.
Gilmore was a widowed nurse. In 1886, she was recruited by Anthony Thorold, the Bishop of Rochester, to revive the female diaconate in his diocese. In her nearly 20 years of service, she reestablished the female diaconate in the Anglican Communion. She had personally trained at least seven other head deaconesses for other dioceses before she died in 1923.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank You for the lives of Elizabeth Ferard and Isabella Gilmore and for the deaconess movement. Bless the United Kingdom with other religious communities within the Church of England, for the relief of the suffering, teaching, and evangelism. May Your kingdom come, Your will be done in the Church of England as it is in heaven. Amen.