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Women Deacons in the RPCNA

29. September 2017

Features, Theme Articles,

  —Thomas Reid

McKeesport, Pa., seems an unlikely location for an ecclesiastical revolution, but one occurred there in 1888. McKeesport is located where the Youghiogheny River joins the Monongahela River, southeast of Pittsburgh. In the late 1700s, Reformed Presbyterians had settled along the “Yough” and formed societies, and then a congregation, which daughtered the McKees­port RP Church in 1882; it closed in 1918.

In 1888, the McKeesport RPC held an election for deacons, and a woman, Miss McConnell, was chosen. Since the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America did not at that time permit women to be ordained to the office of deacon, the session sought the counsel of the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

The presbytery in turn sought the counsel of Synod, which permitted the ordination and installation of Miss McConnell to the office of deacon by approving the following recommendation of its Committee on Discipline: “[S]uch ordination is[,] in our judgment[,] in harmony with the New Testament and with the constitution of the Apostolic church.”

Not only did Miss McConnell become the first female deacon in the RPCNA, but apparently in any Presbyterian church around the world. Indeed, the RPCNA was the first Presbyterian denomination anywhere to approve the ordaining of women to any church office. It is not often that an ecclesiastical revolution occurs in our circles!

About 20 percent of the delegates voted against permitting women deacons, and 9 elders ...

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