Inez Morrison Flemington was a woman of integrity and dedication with a tremendous fountain of knowledge. She inspired and helped many persons around the world by her charity, her passion for justice and human rights, her kindness, her wisdom, her frankness and her deep social concerns.[i]
Over her lifetime Inez demonstrated that her call to diakonia combined service and action for social change, primarily through her engagement as an educator. She had a commitment to “mutual empowerment through education”, enacted in Trinidad, Canada, Korea and China.
Inez was born in 1916 in Ferland, Saskatchewan, and received her early education there. As a child, she was encouraged to read, question, and learn about life in her community, in Canada and in the world. Living on the prairies at the time of the depression and the drought greatly influenced her life. She saw the plight of the homeless, the hungry and the bereaved and became very frugal in terms of her own needs and very generous to those who were in greater need. Inez knew the deep grief of loss at an early age, as her fiancé never returned home from the battle field in World War 2.
Following her teacher training, Inez began her studies at the University of Saskatchewan. She financed the courses by teaching one year in a prairie school and going to university the next. In 1946 she completed the courses required for her degree in Chemistry. It was during her time at University she became interested in the church. She was an active member of the Student Christian Movement. SCM provided her with opportunities to explore her faith intellectually, and to become active in social justice work as an extension of that faith. Following her graduation she enrolled at the United Church Training School in Toronto, to take the one year program designed for women who already had an undergraduate degree.
Inez had hopes of serving overseas with the Woman’s Missionary Society at graduation, but due to some health problems she was unable to do that. Instead, she was designated as a Deaconess and began in the fall of 1947 at St. Andrew’s United Church, Moose Jaw, where her work had a focus on Christian Education in the booming years following the second World War. She must have been excited to be back in Saskatchewan, where she had initially been exposed to the socialist ideals of a young Tommy Douglas. Her social gospel theology motivated her to be an advocate for those who were victimized by society in all the work that she did.
In 1953, Inez left Saskatchewan for a short-term missionary appointment with the WMS as a teacher at the Archibald Institute, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
In her 1954-55 submission to Missionaries Reporting Inez wrote:
A year in Trinidad: a year of learning and listening, of planning and praying, of trying and of failing to try but a year which has been rich in experience. A good year but too short for much of real understanding of the life and work of the people of Trinidad.[ii]
Inez’ work at the Archibald Institute involved pastoral care: visiting at the Sanitorium and arranging for recreation and church activities for the patients; volunteer support: particularly working with the committees and boards of the organizations supported by the Woman’s Missionary Society (Archibald Institute Board, Naparimja Girls’ High School Board, Girls’ Work Board, Interim Committee for Women’s Work, Home and Family Council, Mission Council and Sunday School Committee; and community work: arrange for and instructed adult education programs at the institute, such as crafts and cooking.
Inez also taught Sunday School, including one group of children 8 years of age and under at the Aramalys Church in Tunapuna. She describes her experience this way:
The children come with their eyes sparkling and clad in shining clean clothes. They are extremely well disciplined so that behavior is no problem. Most of the children attend Mission School so have regular religious instruction during the week. This leaves Sunday for summing up and for special emphasis on worship and singing. This has been my only regular contact with young children and it has been good for me.[iii]
Another aspect of her work was with WMS groups while another missionary was on furlough. Inez reflects about both her own work and that of another new missionary:
With our small knowledge of Trinidad and our blunt Canadian ways we have not done what we would like to have done but at least we kept in touch with them. The contacts with the schools in these areas have been easier since the children are more accustomed to us but perhaps the women’s work has taught us more.[iv]
The WMS was brilliant at communicating, orchestrating regular reporting from their overseas and domestic missionaries, such as their annual publication Missionaries Reporting that featured informal yet informative glimpses into the work and the women workers themselves. They were like letters from an aunt, fostering a relational connection between the WMS groups across the church and the workers. With this objective the tone of the majority of the reports is positive. The hints then, offered by Inez that some of the work was difficult are due more note than might otherwise be considered. I get the sense that Inez was a thoughtful woman, and able to employ a critical analysis. Merrill Brown, herself a long term missionary with the WMS, (Japan) knew Inez in the late 1950s when Merrill was a student at the Training School. Merrill remembers, “She was a lovely woman, and really very intelligent. She was the kind of woman you remembered even if you didn’t know her well.”[v]
Perhaps more aware of herself as a learner from her experience in Trinidad, Inez applied for and was awarded the Kaufman Scholarship, an award given by the United Church Training School. It was sufficient to enable a full year of academic study abroad. In 1955-56 she studied at the Divinity School in Cambridge, England, receiving her diploma in Religious Studies from the University of London.
Upon her return to Canada she became personnel secretary with the United Church’s Board of Women, with responsibilities for recruiting women for the work of the church at home and abroad. The church was chronically in need of women workers, particularly to serve the huge Christian Education needs of the baby boom phenomena. In this task she worked closely with other women, such as the Field Secretary at the Training School and even inter-denominationally, as this 1959 report describes.
With “Jobs Unlimited” as the theme, Miss Inez Morrison, Secretary of the United Church Personnel Committee, is now in Western Canada, a member of an Interdenominational YWCA team recruiting women for full time work. [After stops in 9 western centres] Miss Morrison … [with several other women] toured the Kootenays and Okanagan Valley before joining others in Victoria. A follow up to the successful tour of the Atlantic Provinces last year, this journey is aimed at interpreting to Canadian women from 16 to 60 the wide career opportunities open to them in this area.[vi]
Later that year though, Inez traded in the hectic schedule of a Personnel Worker to assume the role of Dean of Women and a Lecturer in Religious Studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. She married a widower twenty years her senior, Rev. Dr. Ross Flemginton, who was President of the University, in May, 1961. It is at this time that Inez disappears from the Deaconess List.
From the beginning of the Deaconess Orders they were only for single women. After nearly a decade of work by mostly women advocating to remove the rule, in 1960, the General Council lifted the “disjoining” for marriage rule. Then one might ask, why does Inez disappear from the Order? It is possible that she elected to withdraw. In the 1960s many middle class women removed themselves from the work force when they married, especially if they had children. Shortly after her marriage she and her husband moved to Ottawa so he could assume a position as Director of Education with the External Affairs Department. There are no references to what Inez did while she lived in Ottawa. She did become a step mother, but to young adult children, unlikely requiring her to be at home.
It is quite possible that Inez was removed by the church from the Deaconess Order when she married. In many places it took several years for the official policy of the church to have an impact on the practice of the church. Sadly, the minutes of the Deaconess Committee for the period from 1960 to 1962 are not in the archives, although even the existing Committee Minutes are spotty on recording actions taken with individual women.
It is also possible that Inez was disjoined for another reason. Cessation of work with the church also resulted in disjoining. Status could only be maintained when working for the United Church, or in para-church work that the Deaconess Committee approved, such as YWCA or the Canadian Council of Churches, for example. The Church feared two things about Deaconesses: that married women working would destroy the family, and, that Deaconess might be considered to be ministers. While movement on the first fear happened in 1960, 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.[vii] 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.” [viii] 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 about designation as a Deaconess. The removal of the disjoining rule for marriage though, is a step on the pathway towards shifting the diaconate from a lay Order to an Order of Ministry, which occurs in the early 1980s.
What happened to Inez is a mystery without more research. There was significant precedence for teaching and administering in a United Church school being acceptable for retaining status. Indeed, Inez served as a Deaconess in that capacity for three years prior to her marriage, however, since her work in the period beginning in 1961 is unknown it hard to speculate. Notably, only a few years after Inez’s name disappears some women are retained in the Order by the decision of a particular Presbytery, even though they are not working. This is particularly the case in the west, where the traditional grasp on clericalism is eased sooner than in the east.
Interestingly, in 1981, a year before the Order of Diaconal Ministry evolves officially out of the Deaconess Order, Inez appears again in church records as a Deaconess. She is recorded as retired by Woolastook Presbytery in Maritime Conference. I speculate about the reasons for that move below.
In 1971, following Ross’ death, Inez moved to Saint John, New Brunswick and became the Executive Director with the YWCA there. Retiring from that position in 1976, Inez again ventured outside Canada. Under appointment with the Division of World Outreach, she was at the Korean Christian Academy, in Seoul, teaching English.
Deaconess/Diaconal Minister Willa Kernan, who served in Korea for her whole career, remembered Inez from this time. Inez did not learn Korean, since she was only serving for a short period so her work was done primarily in English. Willa recalls that lnez had lots of creative ideas to help her students learn English. But a memory for Willa that stands out was Inez’s farewell banquet, which the United Church’s partner, the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, (PROK) hosted for her. Like most retirement parties, her colleagues offered stories and kudos for her work, and like most retirement parties, she was given the opportunity to address the gathering. Willa recounts: “But during her speech, she told them things that needed to be changed. And soon! They were a bit astonished. That kind of thing didn’t happen!” When asked, Willa thought Inez’s statements had been helpful for the Korean people to hear, “It just wasn’t something that was done.”[ix] You can draw a line from the somewhat revealing report that Inez made about her time in Trinidad to this feedback to the Koreans. Maybe she gave her colleagues in Trinidad the same direct assessment, as even in her obituary it is noted that she “helped many people around the world by her charity, her passion for justice and human rights, her kindness, her wisdom, her frankness and her deep social concern.” [emphasis mine] .
Inez, like others in the missionary community, was actively supportive of the struggle for human rights in Korea. The four years she was in Korea were ones of great political and social unrest in the struggle for democracy. The PROK was at the forefront of the resistance movement, and leaders in the church were persecuted for their commitment.
In Seoul, lnez was sharing accommodation with another Diaconal Minister, Marion Pope. They were providing sanctuary for a church leader, a woman at risk for her political activity. One day, Willa remembers, lnez, Marion and she were off to church, leaving the protected woman in the apartment. As they left their building they saw a Korean soldier nearby, suspiciously “strolling around”. Marion said audibly to the others, “Wait here, I’ll be right back. I’ve forgotten something in the apartment,” a guise to return to warn the woman in hiding. Although as Willa explained, women in the movement for liberation were seen as less threatening to the structure than the men, they were all still in danger.
It is upon her return to Canada in 1980, that Inez must have pursued reinstatement to the diaconate. Maybe it was the influence of the Deaconesses (later Diaconal Ministers) with whom she laboured in Korea. Maybe her reflection on injustice prompted her to take action, especially if the status had been taken from her initially, rather than surrendered at her initiative.
Inez also jumped into the support of many community organizations in Fredericton. One organization she devoted much talent and time to was the Community Kitchen, a transition house for abused women and a shelter for refugees. She was also involved in international policy and education work through the United Church and with groups like Amnesty International. She wrote many briefs and articles and was sought after as a guest speaker. She was noted as both an informative and entertaining speaker. She was a member of St. Paul’s United Church, secretary of Woolastook Presbytery, sat on Maritime Conference Interview Board and was a member of the Division of World Outreach at the General Council level. In addition, Inez gave time and attention to her five grandchildren, 5 great grand-children and many nieces and nephews.
The calibre of Inez’s contribution to the community was marked by the conferring of an Honourary Doctorate by Mount Allison University, at their Convocation in 1986. (The following is an excerpt from the Mount Allison Record, Spring 1986:
May 12, 1986, at the university’s 123rd Convocation, Mount Allison will honour Inez (Morrison) Flemington, widow of the school’s sixth president [with an Honorary Doctor of Laws]. Mrs. Flemington is linked to Mount Allison by her profession, by her marriage, by her long and continuing service to the United Church of Canada, and by her instincts. A church deaconess since 1947, she came to the university as Dean of Women and a lecturer in religious studies in 1959. Later, after the death of her husband, Ross Flemington, she went to work in Saint John, N.B. with the Young Women’s Christian Association. She was on the Mount Allison Board of Regents when she resigned in 1976 to assume an appointment with the Korea Christian Academy in Seoul. Now living in Fredericton, NB, Mrs. Flemington remains active in church and social action affairs [from her home in Fredericton] as a member of the Woolastook Presbytery of which she is secretary and as a member of the national United Church Task Force on Human Rights.”
In June 1986, at the age of 71, Inez again went overseas for a one-year teaching assignment, this time in China, on the southern coast, at a location where there was a former Methodist mission school, Hwa Nan Women’s College. This school, begun in 1985, is similar to a community college, teaching vocational and language skills to young adults, many of whom were children of the former mission school students. Inez taught English to three classes of forty students each. Conditions were pretty rustic, but Inez just took it all in stride.
The week before her sudden death, while at the Community Kitchen of Fredericton, where she volunteered each week, Inez fainted. People tried to call for an ambulance, but Inez refused. She insisted that when these spells happened at home she would just rest. She further insisted that if she had to seek help she would rather take a taxi. “After all”, she said, “if we, who can afford it, do not use taxis, how will they earn a living?”[x]
Inez died January 15, 1997. Later that year the Fredericton YWCA awarded her their Peace Medal posthumously.
Written by Caryn Douglas January 2013
[i] Lives Lived column, The Globe and Mail, no date. Courtesy of Maritime Conference Archives, The United Church of Canada.
[ii] Missionaries Reporting, 1955 Edition, Woman’s Missionary Society, United Church of Canada, Toronto, 1955.
[v] Interview with Merrill Brown, January 26, 2013, Winnipeg.
[vi] “They’ve got Jobs for Women”, United Church Observer, February 1, 1959, p 27.
[vii] The church only ordained single women until 1957, and there were very few ordained women prior to the mid 1970s
[viii] 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
[ix] Willa’s remembrances are from an unpublished paper written by Heather Sandilands, while a student at the Centre for Christian Studies, 2004.