Johanna Baur Early Leader of Deaconess Witness in Pennsylvania

This article is reprinted from the monthly “UCC Roots” email blast, August 2018. SIGN UP to receive UCC Roots in your inbox each month. The story below is by Caroline Dunleavy.

Johanna Baur

The deaconess movement, rooted in the early church, was a non-ordained ministry for women. In the 1800s it was very popular among German immigrants arriving in North America and spread among churches in the Midwest. In the United Church of Christ we often hear about German Evangelical Deaconesses, but there were also important developments in the German Reformed Church.

Johanna M. Baur, born in Michigan in 1862, had a conversion experience and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. At a camp meeting in 1891, she heard about the importance of deaconesses. Soon she moved to Cincinnati to join the Elizabeth Gamble Deaconess Home and Christ Hospital. She became associated with the German Methodist Mother House and Bethesda Hospital in Cincinnati. In 1900, she was asked to go to Terre Haute, Ind., to found a nursing school.

Meanwhile in eastern Pennsylvania, a German Reformed pastor, Abraham Koplin, suggested that the German Reformed Church needed to bring deaconess services to eastern Pennsylvania. By 1903, three “Classes” of the Eastern Synod – Lehigh, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Tohickon – were granted a charter to incorporate the “Phoebe Deaconess and Old Folks Home” (in Allentown). “Phoebe” is a deaconess mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

After property was purchased in 1904 Johanna Baur was called to serve as the first house mother. Two local deaconesses were consecrated in 1908. Although Baur was not paid, the Phoebe Home sent the Bethesda Hospital $30 a month for her services in Allentown.

Unfortunately, in 1910 Baur left Phoebe Home to care for her mother, yet her pioneering work lives on. Phoebe Ministries continues today as an organization affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

It is amazing what one woman can accomplish when guided by the Spirit. Johanna Baur always said, “I never regret that I had the pleasure of organizing the Phoebe Home. The Lord stood by me and the undertaking was a success.”

About Johanna Baur

Baur on her bicycle, early 20th century.

This information comes from the Phoebe Ministries website.

Miss Johanna M. Baur, Phoebe’s first house mother, arrived in Allentown in September 1904, “convinced it was the life work for me.” She had 12 years of deaconess experience behind her, and she immediately took charge. Miss Baur outlined a course of instruction and raised the educational level of training. Within a year the number of deaconess applicants doubled. Though Miss Baur was sent from Ohio to fill in temporarily, she almost single-handedly ran the affairs of the home for six years. She wasn’t paid, but the Bethesda Hospital in Ohio, who’d sent her, received $30 a month from Phoebe in exchange for her services. On February 3, 1910, Miss Baur returned to her home in Cincinnati to care for her mother. Her energy and dedication carried Phoebe into the next decade.

Phoebe Ministries is celebrating its 115th anniversary from August 2018 through August 2019. CHHSM will be running the latest anniversary news from Phoebe Ministries during the course of the next 12 months. Read about Phoebe’s history.

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