Born: Early first century
Died: Mid-late first century
FEast: Sept. 3rd
women leaders, women in the church, hospitality
All we know of Phoebe is from St. Paul's letter to the Romans in which he praises her for her work. According to Biblical scholars, the translations say that he describes her as a deacon in the Church at Cenchreae, Greece, and that she may be the one delivering the letter to the Roman community, herself. He says that the community should welcome, trust, and respect her, because she has been a benefactor to Paul, himself.
The translation of the terms did not necessarily mean that she gave money, though it is possible she was a widow or a single woman of some means who contributed funds to the building of early churches and Christian communities. It also could suggest, however, that she was a leader, guardian, and/or protector in a religious sense. This suggests that she likely hosted a church in her own home, secretly, and gave shelter to Paul when he was in town.
Regardless of the ongoing debate as to whether she was a formally ordained deacon in the early Church or just another kind of servant, Paul's high praise of her is almost unrivaled in his other letters, letting us know she was an extremely brave, generous, and holy woman and early leader of the Church.
to be written about as a female leader of the early Church, you must have been pretty amazing. Overlooked so often even in the Bible because of men recording the stories, remind us that women’s roles in the Church are equally important and we cannot understand our faith without them. Let us also welcome all to our tables as you did, regardless of circumstance.
A key part of this icon was my goal to make Phoebe look as strong, confident in herself, womanly, and approachable as possible. I imagine she had all these characteristics as a leader. Her role was dangerous and yet she managed it well with the love and joy Jesus prescribed.