In the Baptist Church, a deaconess is often the wife of the deacon. However, in many instances, a deaconess is chosen so that there is a female to fulfill the role of deacon when a male deacon would be inappropriate.
The history of the church indicates that originally both men and women were appointed as deacons, and in the second and third centuries, there are records of deaconesses holding office. Then and now, deaconesses helped with baptisms, visiting the sick and communion.
As the role evolved, deaconesses began to advise especially the younger women of the church on matters of faith, as well as issues of decorum and practice within the church itself. As women are not allowed ordination in the Baptist church, and are not allowed to preach, there has been much disagreement as to what services a deaconess can provide, or whether females can approximate the role of male deacons at all. Biblical support has been marshalled for both sides; it is argued that Jesus’ all-male apostleship precludes the inclusion of women in the role of deacon. Yet Paul seems to acknowledge women in the deaconate in his first letter to Timothy. The role of deaconess survives, albeit variously interpreted by individual Baptist churches.