Joan (Davies) Sandy


Joan Gwendolyn Sandy
Surname as Student: Davies
Education: United Church Training School

Designated: June 10, 1961
Where: Maritime Conference
Denomination: United Church of Canada
  • 1936 - Born
  • 1968 - Disjoined
  • 1988 - Reinstated

  • 1968: Disjoined because of Marriage
  • 1996: Retired, Saskatchewan Conference

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As I look back over my life I realize that growing up in the midst of the coal mines in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia (I was born November 18, 1936) helped prepare me to face the difficult times, as well as the joys that come from a close family, good friends, and a simple life. My mother was a full time homemaker, a wonderful cook and baker who enjoyed putting on a “spread” for friends and family. My dad, my grandfathers, and most of my relatives worked underground in the coal mines – a difficult life!! I had three sisters and a brother, who kept life very interesting. We didn’t have a lot of “worldly goods” but we weren’t conscious of that! We didn’t own a car, and our holidays consisted of attending the Sunday School picnic and Church Camp. But our door was always open to family and friends, and there were always neighbour kids playing in our back yard.

While growing up the Church was the centre of our social and religious life.  I attended youth groups, Sunday School, and worship services.  My friends and I always enjoyed our groups – the recreation, study times when we could freely express ourselves, the special projects, and all the Church highlights.  Then when we got into the Canadian Girls in Training (CGIT) Program, besides our regular meetings there were conferences, rallies, camps, including CGIT Camp Council which was such a highlight.  We so enjoyed going to other churches in our area and meeting old and new friends.  When I graduated from CGIT I was soon recruited to be a leader in my home church and at CGIT camps.  That was a wonderful challenge.  I attended leadership events and took correspondence courses.

I was also much involved in the Young People’s Program – – being on the executive in our congregation, Presbytery and Conference.  I attended special events, including the National Young People’s Conference. CGIT and Young People’s Programs truly challenged me as a member and as a leader to struggle with the faith issues and my purpose in life as I planned for the future.

As I look back on my life in the Church as a child, youth and young adult I see it all as a part of my preparation and call to ministry.  I will always be indebted to the many ordained and lay leaders and teachers of my home congregation of Warden United Church, in Glace Bay, who had such an impact on my life. I appreciated their commitment and excitement of working within the Church and sharing their faith.  Those leaders made our experience within the Church a happy and challenging one. They certainly made me feel I was special and loved by God and by them. They encouraged me to consider Church work as a career.  Our WMS Workers – the late Bessie French, the late (Deaconess) Donalda Jardine and Judith (Moore) von Sicard – made an impact on my understanding of the Christian faith, and my decision to become a deaconess. Their leadership and the support and guidance of my parents and grandparents helped me to carry it through. So my decision to go into ministry began when I was very young. When I went to take Teacher Training I also saw that as part of my preparation to going on to ministry.  My years at the United Church Training School (UCTS) and my work on the Pastoral Charge served to remind me that I made the right decision.  That decision was only made with a lot of prayerful thought and God’s guidance throughout my life.  I thank God for the privilege that was mine.

I attended Teacher’s College in Truro, Nova Scotia from 1954-55 and taught school in Glace Bay for four years. Then it was time to make the decision to leave the comfort of home and family and head for the big city of Toronto to fulfill my dream … what a scary thought. In September 1959 I set out. My two years at the UCTS, now the Centre for Christian Studies, were good years of preparation and a meaningful experience in Christian Fellowship. When I decided to go into ministry my intention was always to complete the diploma and become a United Church Deaconess. I had thought of only two types of deaconess work. The first, overseas work, but I quickly came to the conclusion that since I found languages difficult that would not be a good choice. The other idea was urban or suburban congregational work, working with an ordained minister. I was far more familiar with that type of work because of my home congregation and my field work placements while at the United Church Training School.

However, I was fortunate to be placed as a summer student on the Yorkton (SK) Rural Charge and this opened up another avenue of interest for me. The late Evelyn Mathews was the WMS worker on the Charge and her love for the work in the rural area of Saskatchewan surely rubbed off on me. I will always be grateful for her example, her words of wisdom, her friendship over the years, and how she exemplified the Christian faith. So during my 2nd year at UCTS, I gave that work much more prayerful thought and decided to apply to the Woman’s Missionary Society, who made the appointments for rural work. I was appointed to the White Fox Pastoral Charge, Prince Albert Presbytery (now known as the Torch River Pastoral Charge) in Saskatchewan, a setting and work similar to  my student field. This sea coast Maritime girl was now going to be a dry land prairie dweller.

I was commissioned as a missionary and designated as a deaconess at Maritime Conference June 10, 1961.  Upon joining the Order of Deaconesses I was given my Deaconess Pin by Tena Campion, the Executive Secretary.  I was installed as the Deaconess for the 4 small congregations of White Fox, Love, Garrick and Pinetorch on July 14, 1961. My classmate, Eleanor Geib conducted the service and Deaconess Florence Ward gave the address. I only spent six years (1961 – 1967) in the professional ministry of the church but many interesting issues and changes were taking place during that period of time. I was privileged to attend the last Dominion Board of the WMS and was one of the last candidates to be appointed by that Board. The WMS supported a large number of rural pastoral charges and appointed the ministry staff to the “aid receiving charges”. The highlight of receiving my appointment was being there with Bessie French who was a dear friend as well as a former leader of mine. Bessie was retiring after many years as a WMS Worker. She had greatly influenced my decision to enter ministry.In January, 1962 the WMS Workers were transferred to the Home Mission Board of the United Church, and I must admit I recall a twinge of loneliness at the change. (Editor’s note: see below for more on the end of the WMS)

At the time we also experienced the inauguration of the United Church Women (U.C.W.) as the 2 former women’s groups, the Woman’s Missionary Society and Women’s Auxiliary, were amalgamated. Some of the other highlights during my ministry centred around our White Fox congregation being named a testing church for the New Curriculum. The New Curriculum was a significant undertaking in Christian Education in the United Church and we were involved in the ground breaking of that venture. We were also very involved at the local level with discussions on Church Union with the Anglican Church, and with the decision of the National Church to proceed with a new joint hymn book, a decision received with both excitement and apprehension. The most thrilling experience for me was to be at the General Council in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1964 when deaconesses were finally accepted as members of the Courts of our Church. For all the WMS Women Workers and Deaconesses it was frustrating to be serving a four point Pastoral Charge and not have the privilege of voting or being a member of the congregational boards, the Presbytery or the Conference. It was an important step toward the full recognition of women’s ministry. One realizes that our Church does move slowly – – from the acceptance of the first single, ordained woman until the acceptance of deaconesses into the Courts of the Church took 28 years.

In the 1960s the number of women who were ordained in the United Church was small. Saskatchewan, however, had a relatively large number of women in the pulpit, both ordained and those working with the WMS (either Women Workers or Deaconesses). I did not experience discrimination as a woman on the Pastoral Charge. Ferne Graham, then a Woman Worker and later a Deaconess, was there for two years – and the first woman to serve at White Fox. She was a great person to set the pace. Florence Ward was in the same Presbytery and we had a great group of colleagues in the Presbytery. However, I had heard of other women not being so fortunate.

My six years on the White Fox Pastoral Charge in Saskatchewan were meaningful, challenging, and, sometimes frustrating. The work was full of adventure and rich in reward – never dull!! It was a privilege and a joy to work with those folks – to visit in their homes, to share with them in their joys and sorrows, to share our faith at Sunday Services, in Study Groups, at the hospital bed or around their kitchen tables. It was heartwarming to see the commitment of Board Members as they struggled with how to best serve the Church in such a large rural area, and how to meet their financial obligations. The fun and fellowship of Vacation Schools, Camps, Youth Groups, Sunday Schools, training session, UCW meetings, teas, suppers and family nights helped us to get to know each other as a church family. There was the joy of the marriage of a son or daughter, and the tears shed at the death of a loved one. But there was also the frustration for me, of preparing the parents for Baptism, and then on Sunday having to go to the Pastoral Charge of my Supervising Minister and conduct his services so he could come to our Charge to baptize our children and serve Holy Communion. I wasn’t even present to witness the event. I would also conduct Marriage Preparation sessions and take the rehearsal, but it was the Supervising Minister who conducted the Marriage Ceremony.

There were also the times of fellowship shared in the community. I was instrumental in getting a senior citizens’ organization formed, which provided much needed programming in the area. There were special events, Sports Days, School Graduations and on the list goes. Much time also had to be spent in events in the wider community, Presbytery and Conference. There were never enough hours in a day!

There are so many people I remember with gratitude – the leaders, teachers, organists, and Board Members who were always so kind and helpful, the families in whose homes I was always so warmly welcomed, the concern over my personal safety because of the road conditions and storms, the gifts of baking and garden produce, the warmth and acceptance of a “green Easterner” from the coal mines of Cape Breton who knew nothing about gardens and farming – and who was a woman!

After completing six years on the Charge, in 1967 I left on furlough. Both WMS and United Church appointed missionaries were entitled to a year away from the assignment (about every 7th year) for renewal, further training and for deputation (speaking about mission work to the rest of the church). I returned to Nova Scotia to visit my family, do deputation work and take a year of studies at Pine Hill Divinity College in Halifax. During the Christmas break George Sandy, a “special friend” from Saskatchewan, came to visit me and we became engaged. We excitedly made plans for me to complete the requirements of my furlough, then get married the following summer.

But to my dismay, when I notified the Home Mission Board of the United Church of my engagement, they immediately ended my furlough and cut off all funding. The reason stated: I was getting married. Up until 1960, deaconesses were disjoined from the Deaconess Order when they got married, but this was 1967. Even the Deaconess Order did not disjoin women for getting engaged! The WMS did not employ married women, but while I had been initially appointed by the WMS, my work had been transferred to the United Church’s Board in 1962. This was 1967. I did complete my year of studies and other deputation work, but the unexpected financial hardship made life very stressful and extremely difficult.

Our Church has come a long way in recognizing the gifts of leadership women have to offer, but the changes have been slow, and we still have a long way to go. The fact that women no longer have to resign when they get married, and that those who were “dis-joined” could be reinstated takes away some of the pain we suffered. Dr. Harriet Christie, who was both a deaconess and ordained, had a big influence on opening the church for women. She was on the staff of The United Church Training School and served as the Principal. She was also the first woman to be in a senior position in the United Church national office. In her words: “We can examine our own attitudes to see whether the full dignity of being human persons is acknowledged and encouraged for both women and men.” It is only as we strive to be liberated people that we are enabled to develop meaningful relationships. Dr. Christie was one who showed us, and shared with us, a meaningful relationship as a friend and teacher.

George and I were married in my home church on July 3rd, 1968.  We had a wonderful celebration with family and friends. After a short honeymoon in Cape Breton, we drove back to our farm in Saskatchewan. George was a wonderful partner and very patient with his “green Easterner” as he attempted to teach me about farming. I taught school for three years in the area. In 1971 we were blessed with the arrival of our chosen son, two-month old David George. What a joy he was and continues to be today. In 1973, I began my work with Saskatchewan Social Services. One piece of work I am proud of is establishing Meals on Wheels, coordinating the efforts of several community groups until it was eventually taken over by the government. My interest in people needing assistance lead me to be involved in creating the Nipawin Home Care Society and the Nipawin Sheltered Workshop for adults with mental and physical limitations. George and I always worked together in leadership with youth groups and Sunday School, assisting with Sunday Services (when we had no minister), and I was involved with the UCW groups, visited the hospital, etc. Our family continued to volunteer in the community and church activities and at our Presbytery Camp. It was disconcerting to know that the church was very willing to accept the volunteer work of a former Deaconess, but did not see her as fit for “paid” ministry.

When we sold our farm, we moved to Nipawin, 25 miles away. After High School graduation our son went to the University of Regina. David is a geologist and worked for an oil company in Regina for several years. He now works for an oil company in Calgary and has done well in his vocation.

In February 1987, with encouragement from George as well as some diaconal friends who were also unhappy with the action of the Church regarding the disjoining of married women, I decided to pursue my heart’s desire of reinstatement into diaconal ministry. By then the term Diaconal Minister had replaced Deaconess, in recognition that both men and women were now serving in the role.) I had hoped that reinstatement would happen relatively smoothly since the rules regarding disjoining had actually been changed 7 years before I was disjoined. But what should have been an automatic reinstatement was fraught with obstacles.

First, the guidelines governing reinstatement were not at all clear and it took months to get a final answer from the National Office as to what protocol I needed to follow. Once the procedure was clarified, I then had to go through all the same testing as any novice candidate – Interview Board, Psychological Testing, etc., etc. – testing I had already gone through years before. It was extremely frustrating. Finally, almost a year later, in March 1988, the Interview Board recommended to Presbytery that I be re-admitted to the status of Diaconal Minister in the United Church of Canada.

The following May (1988) I was reinstated at the Saskatchewan Conference held in Nipawin where I was living at the time. The Diaconal group of the Saskatchewan Conference were very supportive and made every effort to make it a meaningful experience for me. In truth, it was a victory for them as well as for me. The rest of the Conference delegates, however, were less than enthusiastic.

In 2006 the United Church apologized to disjoined deaconesses, through a worship service held at the General Council Executive meeting in Toronto. I was not in attendance as it was too far to consider the travel. When I received the letter from the National Church announcing its intention to apologize and asking if I was one of the women affected, I immediately responded as requested by giving my information to the Saskatchewan Conference Executive Secretary. The letter said that all the women affected would receive an apology. It wasn’t until nearly 3 years later that I received a letter in the mail from the Moderator at the time, David Guiliano. I thought that since I am possibly the last woman officially disjoined by the church, I was the last to get my letter! but we all had waited that long.

Nevertheless, whether recognized by the Church as diaconal or not, whether working as a school teacher or a Social Service Worker, I feel that I worked thirty-seven years in ministry. Instead of Professional Ministry it was labeled Lay Ministry. And to this day I continue in ministry, as a volunteer within the Church and community.

In 2002 George and I moved to Saskatoon. Condo living has been a happy experience, and we soon became very comfortable in our new Church family. Later that year George was diagnosed with cancer. We were able to care for him at home until the end, with the help and support of the Palliative Care Team, Home Care Workers, neighbours and friends, and the Pastoral Care Team from our church. David came home as often as possible and he was with us for those last two weeks. George was quiet, patient, gentle, hard-working and a very positive person who taught us much throughout life about the importance of strong values and strong faith. In his living and in his dying his faith never faltered. David and I were privileged to travel part of that journey with him.

George died the day after our 36th wedding anniversary. He was a wonderful husband and father and, even had I known back in 1967 that I was going be ‘fired” for marrying him, it wouldn’t have changed my decision. Sharing life with him was still the best decision I could have made.

David and his special friend Nadya were married in August, 2005. George and Nadya had the privilege of getting to know each other, but how we missed him at their wedding, and still today. I now have the privilege of being “Nana” to my precious granddaughters Clara Elizabeth (b. Oct. 2007) and Evelyn Sophia (b. Oct. 2010).  I visit them often and on my last visit Clara gave me a picture she made of “Papa George.”

So in closing I would say I have no regrets regarding the paths I have traveled. They have not always been easy but they have been challenging, exciting, frustrating and meaningful. I am thankful for the love and support of my family, my neighbours and friends, and my church family. Most of all I know I am loved by God.

My wish for the Church is that we will continually strive to become an even more caring Church by renewing our faith in God, our belief in people, in love and goodness, in freedom and truth, and a life-style which expresses our belief that God loves us with an “unconditional love.”

Written by Joan Davies Sandy, June 2012

Editor’s Note:
Joan wasn’t the only woman to feel a sense of loss at the integration of the WMS into the structures, and authority, of the United Church.[1] The motivation for the integration was a decade in evolving. By the early 1950s, the topic of the Changing Roles of Men and Women in Church and Society was on the agenda of many churches. A significant report from the World Council of Churches in 1952 was challenging the churches to look seriously at how women’s leadership could be respected and utilized for the whole church, not just in gender specific spheres of influence.  The Commission on the Work of Women in the Church had reported to the General Council in 1958 with a recommendation that, “both men and women should be adequately represented on Boards and Courts of the Church”, but the report was thin on details and targets.  In 1960, the decision was reached to bring together the work done by the Board of Overseas Missions, the Board of Home Missions, and the WMS. For single women missionaries, like Joan, it meant relating to a whole new set of structures.  Amalgamation of the two national women’s groups, the Women’s Auxiliary and the WMS into the new United Church Women (UCW) resulted as well.

Evolving social factors influenced the decisions. Times were changing for women, there were fewer volunteers available in the women’s organizations in the church, as options for women, including professional work, were changing.  In addition, the face of mission, especially overseas, was changing too.  There was an awakening awareness that mission work required reciprocity and a mutuality of relationship, and having two United Church agencies for overseas partners to work with seemed to add unnecessary burden, both at home and abroad.

In the ways that the change could be called an amalgamation, there was benefit.  Women moved into leadership on the boards of the church, they became Elders, served communion and took on other visible roles.  These markers of public ministry significantly effected an evolution in culture.  But in the ways that the merger might be called a takeover, there was loss.

Women did step into leadership, but they also encountered barriers, including glass ceilings and closed doors reinforced by overt resistance and intransigent sexism. Many still lament the loss of an organization focused on mission and mission education, although it could be argued that in the changing times, a decline in interest in mission was inevitable.  In integrating the Christian Education work of the church, mission education had to compete for priority.  The concurrent introduction of the New Curriculum was hopeful, with its emphasis on Christian Education for the whole church, not only select groups. But the vision never really took hold and the “usual suspects” found fewer resources on mission work. Finally, as the decade of the 60s roled into the 70s there were distinctly fewer women with the time to devote to the work of general budget fundraising and hospitality which was formerly the sphere of the Women’s Auxiliary. Those women who previously identified as WMS, and felt a call to study and support mission, had less time for that vocation as they pitched in to meet local needs.

For the women workers themselves however, the most distinct loss was the sense of family that the WMS provided. Katharine Hockin, a missionary in China (and Deaconess) said of the WMS, “You never felt you were an employee. You felt you were all sisters.”[2]  Mrs. (Isabel) Loveys, one the WMS staff person who related to the workers, was a real mother figure.  She knew the women and cared for them, in acts of kindness that the workers deemed appropriate and welcomed. The same could be said of other staff, like (Dr.) Ruth Taylor and Esther Highfield.

The WMS were brilliant communicators.  They orchestrated regular reporting, like, for example, their annual publication Missionaries Reporting, that featured informal yet informative glimpses into the work and the women workers. They were like letters from an aunt.  The relational connection between the WMS groups across the church and the workers fostered interest and involvement in policy setting and governance.  In the new structure, passionate individuals still engaged in the domestic and overseas work, but the numbers were smaller.  The church was not able to replicate the broad based community with a sense of belonging, that the WMS had developed.

Caryn Douglas

[1] I am indebted to Donna Sinclair’s book, Crossing Worlds The Story of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the United Church of Canada, The United Church Publishing House, 1992.

[2] Donna Sinclair, Crossing Worlds The Story to the Woman’s Missionary Society of The United Church of Canada. The United Church Publishing House, Toronto, 1992, p12.