The Story of Sister Florence
In the 1930s, when the idea of women entering the priesthood was generally unthinkable, some nonconformist churches admitted women deaconesses into their ranks. Among these were the Baptists who had a training college in Putney, south London.
In September 1938 a lady, Florence Hill, described as the most capable student they had had in ten years, completed her training and was posted to North Baddesley. The Baptists had built Symes Hall in 1930 and it was their wish to increase their presence in the village.
Employing a deaconess would add £150 to their annual expenses, but they calculated they could find the money, and Sister Florence was duly appointed, her enthronement taking place in September.
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Sister Florence played a major role in church affairs, if Romsey’s announcer is any guide, and her role in the area became increasingly important as she settled. She was clearly very talented, preaching at services, playing the piano and singing, as well as organizing events and maintaining a steady stream of reports of Baptist activities for the announcer.
She remained at Baddesley for three and a half years, after which she took up a position in the King’s Cross area of London. His departure must have left a void in social work at Baddesley, as tribute was paid not only to his direct work in the church, but also to his visits to sick and elderly members of the congregation as well as to the help others in need. Ministers from other Baptist churches have also paid tribute to his work. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of her.
The increase in the number of Baptist Sunday schools in Baddesley has been phenomenal, growing from 18 to 89 and with a crib class of 36. I wonder how many of them drifted away once Sister Florence left them .
1942 was a traumatic year for Romsey Baptists. Sister Florence left in March and Reverend EFM Vokes retired in April after 30 years of service in Romsey. His wife, who had also been a tireless worker for the church, had died in 1940, although Mr Vokes and his two daughters continued to play a role in Romsey Baptist life. He died in 1963. Reverend Vokes was succeeded by Reverend William Harris in July, who took charge of the churches at Romsey and North Baddesley and thus began a new era in the life of Romsey Baptist worship.
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