The Bible states that women who wish to be deaconesses should be sober in speech and dress, should not slander others, and should not be indulgent. They should be faithful to the poor, to the church and to God in all things. Specific qualifications for a deaconess differ by church and denomination.
Deaconesses are usually women that provide pastoral ministry but are not ordained as pastors or priests. The word derives from the Greek word "diakonos," which means "servant" or "helper." The office of deaconess began in the early church and declined in the fifth century in the Latin church and the 12th century in the Greek church. Some people argue that Christian art reveals that deaconesses held central leadership roles in churches, including administering the Eucharist, teaching and baptizing.
The role re-emerged in the 19th century, starting in Germany and spreading amongst Lutherans and Anglicans. Secularization in Europe weakened church women's groups and the movement faded by the 20th century.
In contemporary times, the issue of full female ordination is widely debated in many churches. Many mainline Protestant churches ordain women as ministers and priests, including the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. The United Church of Canada ordained its first woman minister in 1936.