All the Saints, All the Time: Honoring Deaconess Harriet Bedell


Deaconess Bedell and Seminole friends, ca. 193-? Photograph courtesy of the Diocese of Southwest Florida.

Susan Guise, EWHP board member from the Diocese of Southwest Florida, celebrates the life and ministry of Deaconess Harriet Bedell, who joined the Church Triumphant on January 8, 1969. Susan notes, “As one of the newest members of the national board of the Episcopal Women’s History Project, I am honored to represent an area where she served so valiantly and hope we can work diligently to carry forth her spirit in this diocese. We need to do all we can to inspire our younger generations with her example of courage and concern for others.” From the Diocesan news release:

Deaconess Bedell Honored Each Jan. 8 (from staff reports, Diocesan Office, Parrish, FL)

EVERGLADES CITY – In preparation for the Jan. 8 celebration of Deaconess Harriet Bedell, the Diocese of Southwest Florida has posted a history of her life written by the Rev. Howard V. Harper, author of the book Profiles of Protestant Saints.

Deaconess Bedell, who died Jan. 8, 1969 [and whose feast day is January 8], is honored by being mentioned in Holy Women, Holy Men, published by Church Publishing.

Bedell ran the Blades Cross Mission and ministered to the Seminole Indians as an Episcopal deacon. At the new Diocesan House at DaySpring Episcopal Center, Canon Michael Durning suggested that a conference room be named after Bedell, who is the only person in our Diocese honored with a feast day.

Entitled “Always Welcome in the Great Chickee,” the essay is a sketch of the Deaconess’ religious life. It is a short, practical biography of Bedell, who, Harper wrote, “played all of life in the Key of C Major.”

It includes her recasting of the 23rd Psalm to be relevant at a tribal burial, where she was the first Anglo person to attend. She “translated” it thusly:

The Great Spirit watches over us. He is our Guide in life. If we can speak truly to Him, can we be empty in our lives?

He feeds us in our land and leads us beside the waters of comfort…

Bedell was not always an easy person; the story tells that women of the Diocese would “hide behind pillars” when they saw her coming at Diocesan Convention.

“They knew a meeting with her meant at least a half-hour of conversation, with a more than even chance that everyone there would come out of it with an assignment, “ Harper wrote. “Nobody would turn her down.”

There is much instructive in the Deaconess’ life. Below, her Rule of Life, which is as relevant today as it was in her time:

  1. God is first.
  2. Don’t worry. Put all in the hands of God. Don’t think or talk about your troubles.
  3. Don’t hurry.
  4. Don’t eat too much, or between meals.
  5. Don’t do two things at the same time.
  6. All life involves sacrifice.

Susan has her own memories of Deaconess Bedell and writes,

I had the privilege of meeting the Deaconess in 1958 when she was honored at the Triennial meeting of the Episcopal Church Women at the General Convention being held in Miami. I was a delegate then from the then Missionary District of the Panama Canal Zone.

This summer, your EWHP blogger was fortunate to see Deaconess Bedell’s native land near Buffalo, NY, and wrote about her and the NEHA conference at the Keller LIbrary blog. Find out more about Deaconess Bedell by following this link to the Florida Memory collection, which holds more than one hundred photographs of her ministry in its archives.

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