In Paul's first epistle to Timothy, he specifies women once in his advice about qualifications for overseers and deacons: "In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything" (1 Timothy 3:11). Footnotes in the New International Version suggest Paul may have been referring either to the wives of deacons and overseers, or to women like Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae whom Paul personally greets in Romans 16:1.
While the Roman Catholic church does not ordain women, the ordination of women as deacons varies across Protestant denominations, organizations and individual churches. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, which claims more than 50,000 churches across the U.S. as members, restricts offices requiring ordination to men but allows local churches to enact their own policy on women serving as deacons according to how church leaders interpret Scripture. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has ordained women as deacons, elders, and pastors for decades.
The women featured in this story are members of either Baptist or Presbyterian congregations. Their churches vary in size, but all are members of churches that select deacons through a nomination process before ordaining them. While their specific duties are diverse, all the women are honored to serve and don't believe gender should be a stumbling block to anyone called to God's service.
"Our job in the faith community is love, care and compassion, which a lot of times can look like a more feminine gender role," said Dawn Pendleton, 49, a member of Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky.