Learning about Disjoining on this site
On this page is a brief outline of disjoining (when women were married and removed from ministry). Using the Disjoining Tab you will find a page featuring a few of the many stories of disjoining. Other stories can be found in many of the biographies of individual women, found under the Profiles tab (above).
There is also a page outlining resources available to explore this topic in more detail, including a video, study guide and workshop design, scholarly papers, media articles and primary documents.
What is Disjoining?
When the United Church of Canada Deaconess Order was formed in 1926 it was open only to single women, consistent with the practice in the Presbyterian and Methodist Orders. Members of the Order who married were “disjoined” from it and thereby forced to resign from employment and membership. Marriage bars in professions dominated by middle class women were common in the first half of the twentieth century. These bars prohibited women from entering training or a profession if married and from continuing in the job after marriage. Margaret Brown Wonfor, one of the disjoined deaconesses observed, “So many [church] people, when they hear what the church did to me, they try to excuse it by saying, ‘Oh, that happened to teachers too’ as if that makes it okay. I think they are saying ‘we don’t need to be accountable.’ ” Margaret continues, “But the United Church policy of disjoining was different, I don’t know if people can understand that, we lost our status too and that was the part that really stung.” Deaconesses were removed from the profession. The indignity was symbolized by the passing back of the deaconess pin that had been presented at the time of designation.
Effects of Disjoining
Any exploration of the United Church’s diaconal history quickly comes to face with the stories of disjoining, and its impact. Disjoining left a deep and long lasting negative affect on diaconal ministry in the United Church. Hundreds of women were affected by this rule, not only those who were removed from ministry, but also those who chose marriage instead of ministry. The practice of disjoining was continued by the United Church well into the 1950’s when it began to be overturned, but only for some. In 1960 the practice was officially discontinued, yet in 1968 Joan Davies Sandy was disjoined.
Disjoining contributed to the trivialization of the ministry of Deaconesses. Despite the significant and important work of the Order, much of their efforts and contributions were patronized and undervalued. They were poorly paid, viewed as expendable, hired on short term contracts, had inadequate pensions, and were excluded from being involved in making the decisions that regulated their lives. By and large, church authorities argued that Deaconesses did not require adequate remuneration or protection against
exploitative working conditions because they were only young women, giving short service until they assumed their vocation of wife and mother, and the financial support of a husband. Even though as many as half of the women designated as Deaconesses remained in the service of the church for their entire working lives, popular understanding highlighted that the Deaconess order offered a temporary staging ground for marriage. Disjoining entrenched into policy discriminatory, sexist and heterosexist attitudes.
United Church Apology to Disjoined Women
In 2006 The United Church of Canada officially apologized to the women affected by disjoining for the cost to their lives from the evil of sexism. Four disjoined women, Wilma (Unwin) Cade, Marion (Woods) Kirkwood, Ruth (Sandilands) Scott and Joan (Cheesman) Willis represented their sisters at the apology given by the General Council Executive. The women were appreciative of the effort of the church to confess and apologize, but they were also critical. LINK TO VIDEO SOON