A SHORT HISTORY
The starting point for the history of the Diaconate in Caribbean Methodism could begin in 1910 when deaconesses from the Methodist Church in Britain were stationed in Haiti to assist in the educational ministry of the church there. Unfortunately the work in Haiti was short lived.
It was not until 1928 that at the request of the Jamaica District two young Wesley Deaconesses were sent by the Women's Work Department of the Methodist Missionary Society. These two deaconesses (Sister Jessie Kerridge and Sister Muriel Ellis, who was to latter marry Rev. Wilfed Easton) came brimful of ideas and enthusiasm to enhance the churches ministry with and among women and girls. Starting first in Kingston, but latter spreading their influence throughout Jamaica, the deaconesses ministered among women and girls through the Girls' League, Young Adventurers, Brownies, Girl Guides, camps and conference. Training Courses were held for young women and soon a regular feature of their ministry was the Easter Conference for the Girl's League. Deaconess Sister Vera Gridley noted in the book Forever Beginning that the work of the deaconesses "was not merely for recreation and interest of girls and young women; always there was a goal in view - the development of a consecrated Christian leadership which would spread, far beyond the walls of the churches, out into community life . . ."
The work and influence of the Wesley Deaconesses was soon to spread beyond Jamaica. Sister Jessie Kerridge visited many of the Districts in the eastern Caribbean. With the spreading of their work a strong ministry of Christian Education was encouraged throughout the region.
West Indian Deaconess Order
In 1939 the Wesley Deaconess Order of the West Indies came into being when a Jamaican, Elsie Bemand, offered herself for training and service as a deaconess. After Sister Elsie many others were trained as deaconesses. Among those who came after Sister Elsie included:
(The above list is by no means exhaustive.)
The Deaconess Order was a religious order of lay women. While the deaconess was ordained she remained a lay person and not admitted to the meetings of the Ministerial Session.
Wesley Deaconess Order of the MCCA
With the autonomy of the MCCA in 1967, the Deaconess Order now became the Wesley Deaconess Order of the MCCA. The President of the MCCA was, ex officio, the President of the Deaconess Order. The deaconesses, however, would gather every four years for Convocation when they would, among other things, elect a Vice President from among themselves. The Vice President of the Deaconess Order was the main officer of the Order.
The anomaly of having a lay order of ordained persons continued in the church until 1997 when the Deaconess Order gave way to the Diaconate of the MCCA.
In 1997 the Connexional Conference made fundamental changes in the churches understanding of the ordained ministry. The Conference agreed that there was one ordained ministry in the MCCA which has two forms. One form being the diaconate and the other being the presbyterate. The Diaconate was to be made up of the former members of the Wesley Deaconess Order of the MCCA and all other persons who would have candidated for the Diaconate. The Diaconate would be open to men and women and the members of this form of ministry would be called deacons.
By stating that there was one ministry with two forms the church was affirming that the presbyter and the deacon would be equal in all ways and would differ only in how they function in the church.
Deacons could become members of the Wesley Diaconal Community.