Celebrating 45 years of ordaining women

Rev. Taryn Montgomery making the sign of the cross on her daughter's forehead at the Bread of Life Lutheran Church in Minot, North Dakota, United States. Photo: ELCA
Rev. Taryn Montgomery making the sign of the cross on her daughter's forehead at the Bread of Life Lutheran Church in Minot, North Dakota, United States. Photo: ELCA

ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton gives thanks for women pastors

CHICAGO, Unites States/GENEVA, 24 November 2015 (LWI) - In marking the 45th anniversary of the ordination of women into the ministry of the Lutheran church in the United States, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) gave “thanks for my sisters who were the first women pastors.”

Eaton, the church’s first female presiding bishop, was ordained in 1981. This was 11 years after the first Lutheran woman, Rev. Elizabeth A. Platz, was ordained by the Lutheran Church in America, one of ELCA’s predecessors.

“Even as a young girl I felt called to service in the church, to word and sacramental ministry,” said Eaton, who serves on the Council of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). “In the face of sometimes vehement opposition, I questioned it. My ordination was not a feminist statement but a response to an irresistible call from God to serve.”

This November, the LWF member church is highlighting the anniversary as an occasion to celebrate the gifts women bring to the ELCA, said Rev. Cherlyne Beck, program director for the support of ELCA rostered leaders.

Today women make up 35 percent of active clergy in the 3.7 million-member ELCA. In the past five years, 49 percent of those ordained clergy were women, while the number of women and men currently preparing for ministry is about equal.

Lutheran women clergy serve as pastors, campus ministers, chaplains and missionaries. Nine of the ELCA’s 65 synod bishops are female and 86 women serve as senior pastors in contrast to 456 men in that role.

For Rev. Elizabeth Ekdale, lead pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, the anniversary is both a reason to celebrate and reflect on the gifts of women clergy. “I’ve seen more opportunities for women but the struggles are still there,” she said. “We need to keep working for full inclusion and equality.”

Bishop H. Julian Gordy of the Southeastern Synod said the synod works to nurture and celebrate the gifts of women by inviting them to take on leadership roles in all areas of synod and congregational life. “We are getting closer to that place of equality to which God has called us.”

For Rev. Dr Cheryl Stewart Pero, growing in inclusion is especially important for the ELCA when it comes to ordained women of color. A professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Pero was the second African American Lutheran woman to be ordained in 1980.

She is working together with Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA executive for administration, on a project to highlight the voices of women of color as the church marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. “In the years to come, I would hope that we will achieve much more equity and parity,” Pero added.

Nearly 80 percent of the LWF member churches ordain women, and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge has emphasized that the global communion understands ordained ministry as being open to men and women.

 

(Edited from an ELCA News article by Erin Strybis, associate editor in ELCA Mission Advancement).

 

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