In the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a deaconess is a woman who performs various roles in the church and visits the poor, sick and elderly in the community. The deaconess office is the only lay role in the AME Zion Church for which the person must first be consecrated.
In addition to community services, deaconesses help prepare the sacrament and also help the pastor administer Holy Communion. Two deaconesses should stand at the entrance to the church with the pastor so that they can help greet and take care of new members. Two deaconesses also must be on duty during funerals and to assist with baptisms.
Each AME Zion Church has a Deaconess Board, consisting of several deaconesses. The church recommends that the average member age of the Deaconess Board should be around 40 years old, and it should include both younger and older women.
The AME Zion Church is historically an African-American Christian denomination, which was formed in New York City in 1821. The church began when African-American members of the John Street Methodist Church were subjected to discrimination and decided to create their own church. The first church, named Zion, was built in 1800, and soon after many more similar churches were built. However, it wasn't until James Warwick was ordained the first bishop that the AME Zion Church became an independent denomination.