Jean Petrona Angus had a long ministry as a well educated and well appreciated Christian Educator. She had a thirst for knowledge. She served the church in Canada and New Zealand, with leadership at the congregational level and in denominational offices. At heart Jean was diaconal, although she was ordained for the last years of her ministry.
Jean, like many women who live to be 90, watched as the majority of her friends faded and died. She grieved these losses and she was lonely. She could be hospitable and show sincere warmth, but her loneliness sometimes roughened her demeanor. During the last decade or so of her life her cat and her dogs, Kia, and Rua (Maori for first and second) became the real focus of her life and her love for them was intense.
Jean was born in Summerland in the Okanagon valley of British Columbia, to Roy and Ella Angus, February 22, 1923. After attending high school in Summerland and Penticton, she obtained her teaching creditentials at Victoria Normal School in 1943. She taught primary school, first on Salt Spring Island and then for a year in Penticton. Jean had a serious beau, a young man who served overseas during World War II. When killed in action, he had a ring in his possession, clearly intended for her. His family gave it to her when it was returned to them. Perhaps Jean packed her bags and to head east to attend the United Church Training School in Toronto with a heart already accustomed to loneliness.
Jean was athletic and active, she skied, played basketball and was involved in drama. She played the piano. She grew up in the United Church with an experience not untypical for girls of her day. Attending St. Andrew’s United Church in West Summerland, she was active in Explorers and Canadian Girls in Training (CGIT) and the Young Peoples’ Union (YPU). Perhaps Jean’s mother was a member of the Woman’s Missionary Society (WMS), because Mission Band, a WMS program for children, was prominent in her memory. When Jean applied for the training school her intention was to serve with the WMS, although her plans changed soon after arriving at the school, and she never did do that.
Jean was academically capable and Jean Hutchinson, the Principal, saw the potential in her to develop her intellectual abilities. At the same time, Dr. Hutch, as she was known, noted that Jean was “young” for her age, and she felt that a few years of university experience would aid her in her work in the long run. Jean entered UCTS at a time when women with an undergraduate degree were only required to take one year to graduate and be eligible for entry into the Deaconess Order. Encouraged by the Principal’s affirmation, at the end of her first year, Jean shifted into the option offered by UCTS to take an undergraduate degree at Victoria College (University of Toronto) and an additional UCTS course in each of the 3 years along with two years of field placement resulting in the diploma and a BA. It was a heavy load. Because Jean had to financially support herself, it took her 5 years to complete the program, with two years out to teach.
Jean had field work experiences, her first year at Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church, in a very affluent neighbourhood in Toronto. Work with the kindergarten age children and CGIT earned her a commendation of “highly recommended” from the supervising minister. Likewise, her 2 years (1951-52) at High Park United Church in Toronto’s west end was positive. The supervisor noted, “Jean is attractive, well like by girls and leaders, co-operative, original and with a pleasing appearance.” The emphasis on her physical appearance seems extraordinary to 21st century western ears, or at least the explicit references in an assessment on performance, but is indicative of the culture and how women were viewed at the time. The shadow of sexism, both overt and covert, fell over Jean at several points in her career, making her work and life stressful.
Summer field work was often undertaken by UCTS students, although it was not a requirement of the program. Jean’s first experience, in 1947, was in Muskoka Presbytery, in southern Ontario’s cottage country. In 1951, she was at Langdon Pastoral Charge in Calgary Presbytery. Reports of her work that summer are very positive. The Superintendent of Missions noted her pastoral work and preaching were very good, her character and personality “excellent”. His report concludes with this comment: “The lay people suggested that this girl should become a minister.”
The 28 year old Jean would have taken no offense at being called a girl, nor have been surprised that the vocation of Deaconess was not considered ministry. Deaconesses were lay women, they were never considered to be in ministry. In fact, the responsibilities of the Order would customarily be defined as, “all aspects of church work except for ministry.” Ministry was reserved for those who had sacramental license, and in this era that was essentially men. The rules of the Order were clear from the very beginning: “Upon completion of the course of studies, and a suitable appointment, women shall be designated. … Such designation, however, is not to be regarded as ordination, nor shall any pledge of perpetual service be exacted, but each worker shall be free to retire from her work upon notice duly given to the Committee under whose direction she is labouring.”  Theologically there was no ontological aspect to their designation. The vocation could only be expressed when a woman was employed by the church, it was unlike ordination which was irrevocable. Allowing women to retain their status when disjoined for marriage, or if not working, would be admitting something life-long about their vocation, defacto recognizing it as ministry. The United Church may have ordained a handful of women by 1951, but there was continuing ambivalence about whether women truly belonged in ministry. The enthusiasm of the Langdon Pastoral Charge, clearly supported by the Superintendent of Missions in passing on their observations, which he was not obligated to do in his report, indicates that Jean’s aptitude and abilities were significant.
During her years of study Jean only lived in the UCTS residence for one year. The large building on St. Clair, built in the early years of the century, had space to accommodate missionaries on furlough and students in other programs, but it was sold in 1942. The student body at the time was too small to justify the expense of such a large building. The school was operating out of two smaller buildings, houses really, one on St. George Street and one on Bedford Road. Post war, with the beginnings of the baby boom and the sweep of optimism that moved through Canada the interest in Deaconess work grew rapidly and there were too many students for the facilities. The class of 1952, the year that Jean graduated, was the largest ever. The United Church Observer featured the class in a cover story. (see article and photo) Because Jean lived off campus, she wasn’t integrated as well into the life of the school and she did not get to know many of the other students well. Interestingly, she is not in the formal graduation photo for 1952 either. Elsie Rosenburg though, who became a life long friend, overlaped with Jean at the school. Pearl Willows was another close friend, she was a UCTS graduate from 1938. All three women were in Vancouver at the same time later in their careers. Both Pearl and Elsie died in 2002 and that was a blow to Jean.
Jean did reach out to participate in the diaconal community after graduation and she was a regular attender at the bi-annual meetings of the Deaconess Association, later the Association of Professional Church Workers in the United and Anglican Churches, into the 1970s. (Jean with other Deaconesses and Women Workers in Vancouver around 1964) She was not as active however in the 1980s, when the Association ended as the new Diakonia of the United Church of Canada began in 1984. By then Jean was nearing retirement; and she was ordained. During that era Deaconess who were ordained often felt discriminated against and sometimes had an experience of being shunned. The move from diaconal to ordained status was a progression, not a lateral move. Deaconesses were still not officially ministers and it was the offical and widely unquestioned view that any identity as a Deaconess was set aside with ordination. In an interview about the disjoining of Deaconesses when they married Jean commented,
There were mixed feelings about the girls who got married, like they were jumping ship. At the [annual Deaconess Order] meetings you would hear the news of who was getting married and you would think, just a bit, what a waste of their training … the old girls like me were left, we had each other.
When asked if she felt a similar view was held about women who left the Order to be ordained, Jean responded,
It came at me from both sides. The men, ordained men, not all, wouldn’t take me seriously [as a Deaconess]. [The] thinking was that we were helpers, and I wanted to be a leader. I was always more for Christian Education but that wasn’t up there so we weren’t up there. It was also because we were women. I got ordained to get a job, I didn’t have a man to look after me, you could be married like many of the girls were, or you could be the assistant, taking that pay, or you could make a decision to be ordained. But you know, some [of the Deaconesses] wouldn’t even talk to me after that. … In the end I only could get a job as an assistant, after all that education to be ordained, mind you I didn’t regret [the education] truly. I was educated but I was still a woman.
In her 2003 Christmas letter Jean wrote, “I used to always go to the Biennials [of the Deaconess Order] but now I think all my contemporaries are mostly serving on the other side of the pearly gates. Jean’s heart for being involved was lost when the “old girls” were gone. She did however, retain an interest in the Centre for Christian Studies, for example, hosting a tea in her home in honour of the Principal in 2002.
After her graduation in 1952, Jean returned to the west and took a position with the Religious Education Council of Alberta. The Council was supported by the Baptist, Presbyterian and United Churches. Work encompassed direct support of church school and mid week group leaders; Sunday school, CGIT, Boy’s Parliament; coordinating training programs and cirulating resources. She also worked on camping programs. The position ended as the Council gave way to separate denominational organizations dedicated to youth work, motivated by the rising number of children in congregations. Jean worked for one year for Alberta Conference of the United Church, in the role of Girls’ Work Secretary, with very similar tasks, before leaving for New York in the fall of 1957 to attend Union Seminary.
Many other Canadians, including Anglican and Presbyterian Deaconesses as well as United Church ones, pursued graduate studies in the area of Christian Education at Union. There was no option for study in Canada at the time and Union was viewed as having a progressive perspective on the adult education movement, which was in its early stages of emergence at this time, and was theologically in keeping with the United Church.
Montreal’s West United Church attracted Jean upon her return to Canada and she assumed the role of Director of Christian Education. The roster of Sunday school teachers (numbering in the 100s) was larger than most Sunday schools these days and the work of the Director was to support the key volunteers who in turn coordinated the various Sunday school departments organized to accommodate 600 – 700 children! Through her four years in Montreal and then four at West Point Grey in Vancouver, (Jean in her West Point Grey office) Jean was instrumental in providing resources and training leaders, working herself with CGIT and other mid-week groups and being staff resource to the Christian Education Committee. She was involved in implementing the New United Church Curriculum, which appeared in 1964. It was truly “new” in both its educational approach, emphasizing life-long learning, and its liberal theology, encouraging children and adults to engage their intellectual analysis and curiosity in faith development.
Jean’s next move took her away from the congregational setting to work with young adults teaching Old and New Testament as well as Christian Education at Mount Royal College in Calgary. Jean began within days of the 1966 transition from a United Church institution to a public college. Over the three years she was there, the campus was expanded and plans were launched for a major re-development. The school is now a University. It must have been an interesting context to work in. In recounting her life work, Jean didn’t say much about Mount Royal, it was her next position that held a prominent place in her life story.
For nearly seven years Jean was the Associate Director of the Education Division of the Methodist Church in New Zealand, centred in Wellington. In her own assessment she left a part of herself there and carried some sadness that she didn’t stay. In her work there she was involved in education programs for “The Connexion”, training lay leaders for leadership and providing continuing education for ministers. She wrote materials for the Australian and New Zealand joint Board curriculum, one similar in scope to the New Curriculum in Canada. She had opportunity to travel, remembering particularly the South Pacific Women’s Conferences. While in New Zealand Jean completed the final credits for a Bachelor of Divinity she had been working on along the way.
Returning to Canada in 1976, Jean felt that the opportunities for her as a Deaconess were limited. The baby boom demand for Christian educators had declined and she knew that it was more difficult to be accepted as an equal in a team without the credential of ordination. While working as a supply minister she fulfilled the academic requirements of the United Church, underwent clinical pastoral care training and was granted an MDiv degree. From 1978 to 1984 she was the Associate Minister at Knox United Church in Vancouver. Her work included pastoral care as well as Christian Education. (Jean at Knox United Church) She then took a position in Ontario, at Northminster United in Oshawa, again in a team ministry role. She remained there until her retirement in 1988. Sadly, this last ministry Jean deemed as the most difficult one she had in her career. There was a lingering bitterness over how she perceived she had been unfairly treated.
A family inheritance enabled Jean to buy a house near Knox United Church in Vancouver when she arrived there in 1978. She remained a resident of the south Dunbar district until about 2009. In retirement, she was active first for a few years at Dunbar Heights United Church and then for her last decade in Knox United Church where she had continuing and important friendships from her time of ministry there (‘78-’84). She assisted with mid-week worship leadership and also volunteered as a hospital visitor. Travel to visit friends in Pemberton and Summerland gave shape to her year. She hosted guests from New Zealand and Canada. She swam in the local harbour beaches from spring until fall.
As she aged, and her friends and former colleagues died, Jean’s world became centered on her dogs Kia and later Rua and her cat Tiki. Rua was her connector to her neighbors, who kept an eye on her. On her 80th birthday, in 2003, the neighbors held a birthday party for her, inviting all of Rua’s four-legged friends and their owners.
She regularly walked her dogs in the local park – to which she gifted a dog-fountain for all the neighborhood pets. Her health began to fail and in 2008 she experienced some heart problems. Then her memory began to slip and she could no longer live on her own. She became a long term patient in the Purdy Pavilion of the University Hospital at UBC. As the many months passed, she slipped irretrievably into Alzheimer’s Disease. Some of her Knox and neighborhood friends visited her there through her final years. Jean died April 22, 2013 at the age of 90. A Memorial Service was held for her in Knox United Church on May 4th, 2013 where over 50 friends gathered to remember her fondly.
This biography was written by Caryn Douglas, April 2013. Resources include The Historic Issue of The Newsletter, Association of Professional Church Workers, 1988, an interview with Jean in 2006, archival records from the Centre for Christian Studies and The United Church of Canada, and photographs and information from Gordon How, Vancouver South Presbytery and Knox United Church, Vancouver.
Click here for a pdf version of this biography
 The supervisor is not named in the report. Centre for Christian Studies files.
 Report from Thomas Hart, Superintendent of Missions, Alberta Conference, November 15, 1951. Centre for Christian Studies files.
 Report of the Deaconess Committee and Board of the Presbyterian Missionary and Deaconess Training Home, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1924 pg 178
 For more on the story of disjoining visit https://uccdeaconesshistory.ca/disjoining-2/disjoining/
 Jean Angus, interview by Caryn Douglas, February 25, 2006.
 2003 Christmas Letter from Jean Angus, sent to the Centre for Christian Studies.