Gloria (Kilpatrick) Nettle


Gloria Nettle
Surname as Student: Kilpatrick
Education: United Church Training School
Graduation Year: 1955
Designated: 1955
Where: Maritime Conference
Denomination: United Church of Canada
  • 1932 - Born, May 28
  • 1957 - Disjoined, because of marriage
  • 2018 - Died, December 6

  • 1955-1957: Director of Christian Education, St. Paul's United Church, Fredericton, New Brunswick

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“Although it is a long time ago I remember very well my decision to go to the United Church Training School in 1953.  I had become very involved in my home church teaching Sunday School, leading CGIT, Young Peoples’ Union (YPU), etc. and wanted to do something worthwhile with my life.  I was working as a secretary in Amherst, Nova Scotia and was not too thrilled with my job and when I saw a film on the Training School, in which Jean (Schurman) Carr was featured as one of the students, I decided I wanted to work as a full-time church worker.  I had a very naive wish too, to maybe go to Africa, but was told I was too young, at 21 years, the youngest in my class, so quickly put that out of my mind.

Nearing graduation in 1955, two things happened.  I was interviewed by a very nice minister from Fredericton and since I wanted to stay in the Maritimes I was very happy to accept his offer to come to St. Paul’s United.  I was hired as a secretary/C.E. Director.  And, about a week before I graduated I met Howie [Nettle], the brother of one of my classmates.  We had a few dates, he took me to the train to go home and then we started writing to each other.

I was designated as a Deaconess at Maritime Conference in Sackville and got into my work.  It was a very busy job.  I worked with the Sunday School and youth leaders but my main focus was with the Young Peoples’ Union.  I feel my work with them was very worthwhile and I have remained good friends with a few of them even to this day.  While at St. Paul’s I spoke at the World Day of Prayer service, led a workshop for Vacation Bible School leaders and preached one sermon (scared stiff but got through it okay).   Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) I wasn’t there very long before leaving to be married.  The same thing happened to the girl who followed me so they decided to hire male youth leaders after that!

When I was designated Howie and I had only exchanged a few letters so there was no thought about marriage standing in the way of full time church work.  As time went on we wrote, and visited on holidays, and in 1957 we became engaged. [i]

There was no little choice between marriage and a career as a Deaconess for Gloria.  The disjoining rule, requiring women to resign from their positions accompanied by the revoking of their status, was still in place in 1957.  But, the disjoining rule was under scrutiny and it was crumbling.  Women had been given exemptions, and not been forced to leave after marriage, as long as they continued to work for the church.  It was however, a fairly well kept secret.

Gloria knew what was expected so she wrote to Tena Campion, the Executive Secretary of the Order, with her resignation. The minutes of the 1957 Spring meeting of the Committee on the Deaconess Order note “wedding bells will ring … for Gloria Kilpatrick who is resigning from the Order.”[ii]

However, Gloria was still interested in working, at least for a few years until she and Howie had children.  As she anticipated her move to Toronto, where Howie lived, Gloria took some action to try and secure a job.  As she explains:

I wrote to Mrs. Campion to see if she knew of any secretarial jobs available in the Toronto area and luckily she was in need of a secretary, so I went to work for her[iii] …I just thought, ‘wow, I’ll still be working for the church,’ and since I planned to continue to work for 3 or 5 years or so after we got married I was pretty happy about that.[iv]

By the time the Committee on the Deaconess Order next met in the fall, they noted their congratulations “that the office secretary, Gloria Kilpatrick, became Mrs. Howard Nettle. Mrs. Nettle will continue to serve as office secretary.”[v]

Gloria was not aware though that exemptions to the disjoining rule were being granted in 1957, for exactly the kind of situation she was in, where married Deaconesses were continuing to work for the church.  Precedence abounded for the position of secretary in the Order’s office qualifying as acceptable church work for the retention of Deaconess Status.  Many Deaconesses held such administrative positions, not only in congregations, just as Gloria had done at St. Paul’s, but in other church agencies such as the Woman’s Missionary Society.  But few people were even aware that the exemptions were being given.  Tena Campion knew however.  Gloria says:

It would never have entered my mind to ask if I could be Mrs. Campion’s secretary [as a deaconess appointment], and she never suggested it to me. I don’t recall discussing the issue of disjoining with her. … she seemed very disappointed when I [later] resigned from working for her.[vi]

This story demonstrates that the church’s policy of disjoining married Deaconesses was not only about protecting the view that a woman’s primary vocation was that of wife and mother.  Clearly, the church was willing to employee married women; Tena Campion, a lay woman who was married, was the full time Executive Secretary for the Order for over two decades.  One wants to ask why Tena Campion didn’t invite Gloria into the position as a Deaconess.  Despite Mrs. Campion’s long service, and the large number of women who knew her, few can say much about her perspective.  As Gloria says, she “was a very private person, not someone you easily could get to know, although she was very kind to me.”[vii]  In the documents from the period leading up to the removal of the rule, it is Jean Hutchinson and Harriet Christie, both on the staff of the United Church Training School, who advocate openly for the modernization of the Order’s rules and call for the just treatment of women.  Tena’s perspective is not clear.  Gloria’s story illustrates just one of the many ways the Deaconesses were poorly treated, not just by those in the church power structures who were at a distance, but even by the very groups and individuals who might have been expected to keep the women informed of their rights and opportunities.  There is no evidence throughout the 1950s in the newsletters in which Tena communicated to the Deaconesses that she kept them informed about the discussions at the Committee level and at the General Council about likely changes to the disjoining rule.  Even after the rule was revoked in 1960, there is no formal communication to the women, at least in the archival record.  The fact that many women recount stories of being disjoined for marriage for several years after the end of the rule lends support to the evidence that they were kept in the dark.

The disjoining rule was a tool in shoring up clericalism and its close ally of patriarchy by excluding women from ministry. The Church feared two things about Deaconesses: that married women working would destroy the family, and, that Deaconesses might be considered to be ministers.  While movement on the first fear happened in 1960 with the removal of the marriage bar, shaking loose the grip on the second took another couple of decades.

Ministry was essentially the work of men, even after the United Church began to ordain single women in 1936.[viii]  Deaconesses were lay women, they were never considered to be in ministry. 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.” [ix] In fact, the responsibilities of the Order would customarily be defined as, “all aspects of church work except for ministry.”  Allowing women to retain their status would be admitting something life-long about their vocation, and, theologically speaking, it would have acknowledged something ontological[x] about designation as a Deaconess, resulting in many women being in ministry.  The handful of women ordained between 1936 and the early 1960s were of little threat to the status quo.  But Deaconesses were much more plentiful.  The removal of the disjoining rule is a step on the pathway towards shifting the diaconate from a lay Order to an Order of Ministry, as Diaconal Ministers, which occurs in the early 1980s.

With that recognition of the diaconal vocation as ministry comes a stronger sense of vocational identity for Diaconal Ministers.  Most commonly the women who became Deaconesses were making a choice to be a Church Worker.  It didn’t matter so much whether that work was undertaken through designation as a Deaconess or as a Woman Worker, the title given to those women who were commissioned as missionaries with the Woman’s Missionary Society.  As Gloria remembers, as she was entering the Training School, “As far as the word “deaconess” is concerned I really can’t remember whether it was known to me at the time or not.  I just knew I was going to be doing full-time church work.[xi] Bearing this context in mind, it is also possible that Tena Campion didn’t extend the option to Gloria to be retained in the Order because the key point was for women to be engaged in church work.  Gloria also points out, “I am not aware that anyone was upset when they had to leave, most of my class seemed to marry ministers, they just continued doing church work.  It was just what was expected at the time.”[xii]  But the times were beginning to change.

Gloria devoted her energies for many years to raising her family and contributing to the ministry of the church as a volunteer.  She never sought reinstatement nor a return to Christian Education leadership.  She writes, “It’s ironic that at age 50 I was again hired by the United Church of Canada as administrative assistant at Bedford United Church [in Nova Scotia].  So I ended by working life in church work, as a secretary, after all.”

Gloria and Howie, now in there 80s, are retired. (Photo of Gloria) Recently they moved into an apartment and have had some health issues.  However, Gloria reflects, “We feel fortunate that we still are able to enjoy our grandchildren and our summers at the shore, get out to church and other activities.  Many our age have not been so lucky.”

Gloria died December 6, 2018.

This biography was written by Caryn Douglas, March 2013 and updated 2019.

[i] From email correspondence to Caryn Douglas, February 28, 2013.

[ii] The United Church of Canada Archives (Toronto) Fonds 501. Minutes of the Committee on the Deaconess Order and Women Workers, May 8, 1957, 7. 82.292C, Box 2-5.

[iii] Gloria Nettle, email to Caryn Douglas, February 1, 2009.

[iv] Gloria Nettle, interview by Caryn Douglas, by telephone, February 6, 2009.

[v] The United Church of Canada Archives (Toronto) Fonds 501. Minutes of the Committee on the Deaconess Order and Women Workers, October 17, 1957, 5. 82.292C, Box 2-5.

[vi] Gloria Nettle, interview by Caryn Douglas, by telephone, February 6, 2009.

[vii] Gloria Nettle, interview by Caryn Douglas, by telephone, February 6, 2009.

[viii] The church only ordained single women until 1957, and there were very few ordained women prior to the mid 1970s

[ix] 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

[x] Meaning here that the act of putting someone into ministry changes the essence of their very being, which can never be undone.

[xi] From email correspondence to Caryn Douglas, March 1, 2013.

[xii] Gloria Nettle, interview by Caryn Douglas, by telephone, February 6, 2009.