Isabella Gilmore is credited with opening the way for the revival of the deaconess movement in the Church of England. Widowed at the age of 40, she trained as a nurse, but felt God's call to ministry in the text of a sermon: 'Go, work for me today in my vineyard'.
She responded to the call and began to prepare for her new ministry, being ordained at the age of 45.
Isabella was brought up in a middle class family. Her brother was the socialist and artist William Morris. Her decision to become a nurse shocked her family, but her training, and leadership experience as a ward sister helped to equip her for her work as deaconess.
Up to this time, deaconesses had lived and worked in communities, but Gilmore saw the need for them to be part of the parish system. She also thought that deaconesses should be trained, not only in nursing and domestic work, but in theology.
She bought a house in Clapham Common, later to be named Gilmore House in her memory, which remained as a theological college training women for ministry until 1970. In her 19 years of service as head deacon in Rochester diocese she trained head deaconesses for at least seven other dioceses.
To read of the ministry of Isabella Gilmore is to be reminded of God's heart for the poor. On one occasion, when a probationer recoiled as Isabella was dressing the infected wounds of a teenage girl, she responded to her, 'Jenny is Christ.'
Gilmore is one of so many women whose stories are hidden, unknown. Had you heard of her before? Do you know of others who have had such an influence on the church today, yet who are virtually unknown?
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