Lorraine (Roberts) Mountford was born August 12, 1928, in St. John’s, Newfoundland , but, as she explains, “I grew up at [Gower St. United] Church. I did everything possible, from Mission Band, CGIT, everything as a girl and when I got older I was the leader, I’ve been doing church work all my life really.” Lorraine remembers well Young People’s: Gower Street was full of young adults. “Things were different then, back then young people wanted to be part of the church. It was a lot about friendship, it was. I had a lot of friends, a lot of very close friends. St. John’s was smaller too, and there weren’t the things to do like today.” Gower Street employed a deaconess to do work with children and young people. One of the deaconesses was Frances Lodge (Steele), who had a life time influence on Lorraine. “We were quite close, we worked together and she taught me a lot about what church work was about.” Lorraine and Frances kept in touch until Frances’s health failed a few years ago.
Lorraine wondered about professional church work but her family didn’t have the financial resources for her to even consider going to the Deaconess Training School in Toronto. The Newfoundland education system was based on the English model and only went to grade 11. Before even applying to the Training School she would have to get her grade 12. With her hopes dashed, Lorraine took a business course in her last years of high school and became a secretary. “I worked in an office – I hated it! It wasn’t for me. I’ve always been one to like a challenge and an adventure.”
Newfoundland deaconesses Ruth Tillman and Nancy Edwards saw potential in Lorraine and a future as a deaconess. Ruth travelled all over Newfoundland, Nancy was assigned by the Woman’s Missionary Society to Twillingate Presbytery. CGIT camp brought together deaconess leaders and girls from all over the province. (In 1956 Nancy was recruited to Berkeley Studios, the audio visual enterprise of the United Church where she worked on Christian Education programs for children, but that is another story.) Lorraine volunteered in leadership roles and worked along- side the deaconesses. Ruth in particular, was a strong influence on Lorraine. “She was a real pusher. If she wanted you to do something you pretty well knew you’d end up doing it, and, she wanted me to go to the Training School.”
In 1955, in her late 20’s, after saving money, and with Ruth’s encouragement, Lorraine took her grade 12 at United College in Winnipeg, where her older sister lived. The United Church College offered an adult upgrade program that was just right for her. Winnipeg is a long way from Newfoundland, but Lorraine wanted to be away from her many volunteer activities and focus on her studies. She applied to the Training School and anticipated entry in the fall of 1956, but her application was rejected. Lorraine explained, “I was quite small, barely 4’10”, and the women at the Training School thought I wasn’t big enough, not strong enough to carry on the work, so they turned me down. I knew it was ridiculous, I’d been doing church work forever. You can imagine, when Ruth [Tillman] got wind of that she wasn’t going to let it be. She was determined I would go. They were needing deaconesses then, Ruth was always trying to recruit girls into it, here was me, wanting to go, and Ruth … she advocated for me.” Lorraine returned to St. John’s while a successful appeal of her admission was undertaken. “Things were different back then, for women, it wasn’t like today. Ruth was a pusher, but women weren’t always as strong.”
The summer of 1957, just before her first year of school, and then again for her field work between first and second year, Lorraine was a Caravaner in rural Newfoundland. “It was marvelous work, but hard. There weren’t the roads we have today, we travelled to the outports by boat, walking the hills. People were sure glad to see you. When we arrived in a community we would be responsible for preaching on the Sunday and work with the young people. We’d gather them together, have a barbeque, talk to them you know, get to know them. We did Vacation Bible school, that was for sure, and we would do whatever seemed good for the community. The communities welcomed us. For many of the children that week was the highlight of the summer, maybe the whole year. … I worked with Ruth [Tillman] and others, they trained me in that work, trained me well.”
United Church Training School further developed Lorraine’s skills. “Ours was a big class in 1957, and we came from every province. I really enjoyed it.” (Click here to see UCTS 1959 Student Yearbook.) Upon graduation in 1959, Lorraine was presented with her Deaconess pin, and designated as a deaconess. “When I first began to study, I wasn’t sure what I would do. Ruth was my model, she was a deaconess and she worked for the [Woman’s Missionary Society], so I went to the WMS too. … I was sent to Kingston Presbytery, in [north eastern]Ontario, a 3 point pastoral charge, Plevna, Ompha, and let me see, what was the other … it was a long time ago, … yes, Canonto. It was isolated, especially in the winter, the roads weren’t good back then.” When asked what she did Lorraine was succinct. “I did everything, I was the minister! I just came out of the Training School and got right into it. I didn’t really have the experience I needed to do that kind of work, but I had been well trained, especially in my volunteer work. … I had a WMS car to get around, there were 2 services each week, work with the women was important, but I tried to work hard to get the men coming to church. The church had become a women’s group. The previous WMS woman was very evangelical, she worked with the women, she made more of a women’s group than a church. I tried working with the Anglican church too, I was ecumenical, that is how it was in Newfoundland, we all had to work together there, so it just seemed natural to me. Between the United and Anglican’s we got the youth together, to make a group big enough to interest the young people.”
Lorraine’s next appointment, in 1960 was to Lakeview United Church in what is now Mississauga. It was another WMS position working along with an ordained minister in a new church development in a working class community. Her work was in pastoral care and with young people. It was at Lakeview that she met Vincent and in 1963 they were married. When Lorraine became pregnant with their first son, Paul, the minister at the church told her she would have to resign and be dismissed from the Deaconess Order. “It was the way it was, the minister could just tell you what to do, women were definitely treated as second class. When my kids were small [a second son, David] the church had me doing pastoral care, they missed the work that I had been doing, they gave me $50 a month … [the deaconesses who had to leave the Order], we did all the work but never got the recognition. But, I carried out my work despite what the church said or did. I kept my deaconess pin, they didn’t get that!” After Loraine lost her status she didn’t identify herself as a Deaconess. “I was just with the people,” she explains, “I didn’t want to seem different from them, so I suppose not very many knew.”
Loraine raised her family and was an active leader in the congregation, doing pastoral visiting, UCW and for 18 years she was involved in palliative care in the hospital. She found the palliative work rewarding, a good challenge to use the skills she had developed over the years and a “break from the kitchen, I was tired of that.”
When Vince, her husband retired from Canada Post in 1992 they moved to Tillsonburg, Ontario, first to a seniors development and they are now in a smaller apartment there. They attend St. Paul’s, although at 83 Loraine has slowed down. Her two sons still live in Mississauga. Loraine misses Newfoundland, the water and the hills. “It was a powerful place to grow up.” She doesn’t expect to return again.
In 2010, Lorraine gifted Gower St. Church with her Deaconess pin. She refused to return her pin when she was disjoined, although that was expected by the church. “I carried out my work [as a Deaconess, just as a volunteer] despite what the church said or did, [so] I kept my pin.” Loraine wanted the pin to rest with the community that had nurtured her into leadership, as a reminder of the strong and capable women Deaconesses in Newfoundland.
Biography written by Caryn Douglas, November 2011