The effects of the disjoining rule extend beyond the women who were removed from the Deaconess Order because they married. A significant number of women prepared to be Deaconesses but were faced with the decision to marry for pursue their church vocation.
These women are not the primary focus of this project, however as their stories have come to light and been recorded, they are being added here. This piece of the project is under development. More stories will appear, along with a searchable feature.
Ina Farrow Cavers
served the God she loved for more than a century. At the time she was interviewed she was nearing 100 years old and while her body was slowing down, her memory was sharp.
Owen Sound, Ontario, was Ina Farrow’s birth place, but at 6 months old her family took up farming near Vanguard, Saskatchewan. Her father was the adventurer in the family, perhaps the source of Ina’s ambitions. Her mother never stopped missing the family back home. One of Ina’s earliest memories was early elementary school. “There were no qualified teachers really, it was a teenager, barely older than the oldest students, but I still remember the thrill of putting words together on a page to make a story.”
Success at farming eluded her father and when she was 12 the family moved into town at Grenfell, Saskatchewan. “There were trees, and a library,” Ina recalls, and “the first real church, a pipe organ.” Ina could not have imagined that many years later she would returned to Grenfell as the minister’s wife. “I never missed church, no programs for children, Sunday school was in the morning, we attended the service, the evening service, and we had service at home, every day after breakfast we read the bible and dad said the prayers. Forgive us for things done and things undone, he said that every day.”
When Ina was a young teen she skipped school to attend the WMS meeting to hear the visiting Deaconess from Winnipeg, “with her navy blue dress and little white collar.” As the Deaconess told them about her ministry with the urban poor, Ina recognized a call to serve. “She told us about caring for the needs of children, I heard the story of her hugging a dirty child, I knew right then that I was not clever but I could love people, I don’t think I thought I would ever be a Deaconess, but I would love like that whatever I did.”
The idea of being a Deaconess was planted however. When her family relocated to Stonewall, Manitoba the possibility of attending Manitoba College grew stronger. Money was a problem. Encouraged by her minister, she met with Dr. McKay, the Principal of the school who connected her with Mrs. Gordon, the head of the WMS. She was also impressed with Ina and found her a job, “nursing” someone who was ill in exchange for room and board. Later she lived with another family and did childcare on the same basis.
Ina loved her years in training. Her field work was at Robertson House in Winnipeg’s north end, working with the Eastern European immigrants who populated Winnipeg’s poorest neighbourhood. In the summer she worked at Robertson House and at the Fresh Air Camp at Gimli.
Ina was ready to graduate, with distinction, from the Deaconess program in 1928, but she was shy of the 21 years required to be appointed by the WMS, required before she could be designated as a Deaconess. Mrs. Gordon recommended she take a year of education. “I could have gone to Normal School,” Ina explained, “but I didn’t have any notion I was going to get married, I was going to do church work, so I followed the advice of Dr. McKay and took more theology.” She also confided that Dr. McKay told her she was a better theologian than many of the men and that was an influence too. Ina reflected, “as a young girl I never thought I could do this, how could I have been so brave?”
Ina took “bible with the boys” and that is how she met David Cavers, also a theology student. By the end of the year they were engaged and Ina’s hopes of a Deaconess career were ended: the church only accepted single women as Deaconesses.
Ina postponed marriage however because, as she said, “I was bound to have an experience of my own – to stand on my own two feet.” David completed his preparation for ordination and Ina served for a year in northern Alberta with the WMS. Ina enjoyed the responsibilities filling in for a furlough leave at the United Church School Home in Radway, north of Edmonton. Her experience at Robertson House was beneficial, as the majority of the 27 children in the residence were Ukrainian. (See Radway Home)
Ina was never designated a Deaconess, but had a lifelong ministry as a minister’s wife. For her, “Giving up being a deaconess might have been hard, if I hadn’t still been going into the church.” She is not bitter or even angry about the disjoining. She acknowledges that it was just the way things were for women back then. It is noteworthy that throughout the conversation Ina consistently spoke of the places “we” served.
David and Ina’s first daughter, Vinda, was born in 1932. Four years later they adopted Eleanor, who died before her first birthday. Ina was quick to say that even in her short life she had had a ministry. “The congregation we were serving [at the time] had a conflict, it was very bad, but this little baby, this fragile baby, everyone came together to support her and forgot their fighting.” In 1968 they adopted their third daughter, Barbara Jean. Sadly, Ina outlived all of her daughters.
“To tell you the truth,” she said, “I was just me, times were tough, I was a minister’s wife. I never wore anything bright or appeared to be better than members of the congregation. I was careful not to use what I had learned in college. It wasn’t like today. … When we were in Grenfell some of the other ministers and their wives would visit – they were lonely. We were never lonely. It was just part of me to be hospitable.”
While Ina might have been careful not to appear too educated, she did take services when David was away. “They just had to put up with me,” she said with a smile.
Ina was always conscious that she had never gotten any further education. After she turned 65, and university courses were free, she audited classes. “I never did the assignments,” she explained, “I wouldn’t want anyone to know I could do it, but I should have gotten my credits. have read Spong’sbooks, I even had my picture taken with him when he was at my church, and I agree with most of what he says …[theologically] things had to change and I’m happy I lived to see my daughter [Vinda] be a minister.”
Ina considered attending the Apology service to women affected by the marriage bar (disjoining) offered by London Conference, but at nearly 100, the distance was too great for her to travel.
As the interview ended, Ina said, “I never thought of going into paid work. Everybody is in ministry when it comes right down to it – if you are in the church. It seems to me that I have given so little, but I have heard from others, ‘you give so much’. I have been blessed by God, and I am thankful.”
Ina died in London, Ontario, June 29, 2010 in her 102nd year.
John Spong expresses a liberal theology that is critical of much of the Christian tradition in areas such as the treatment of women.