A dream comes true in India’s church ministry

Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo declares Rev. Elizabeth Prasad an ordained pastor of the Madhya Pradesh Lutheran church, one of the first women to be ordained in the church. In the foreground, Rev. L.K. Khakha, another of the four women to be ordained by the church for the first time. Photo: ELC-MP/Nima David
Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo declares Rev. Elizabeth Prasad an ordained pastor of the Madhya Pradesh Lutheran church, one of the first women to be ordained in the church. In the foreground, Rev. L.K. Khakha, another of the four women to be ordained by the church for the first time. Photo: ELC-MP/Nima David

Four women in historic ordination in Madhya Pradesh Lutheran church

(LWI) - After a long wait a “dream has come true,” for Rev. L. K. Khakha from Tumsar, a small town in India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh. On 1 November, she and three other women became the first ordained female pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Madhya Pradesh (ELC-MP).

“It’s a proud moment to celebrate the pastors’ ordination, which includes four women for the first time in the history of the ELC-MP, just two years ahead of the 500th anniversary of the launching of the Reformation in 1517,” said ELC-MP Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo. He presided over the historic ordination during the church’s 91st Synodical Council meeting at St John’s Church, Chhindwara.

Addressing the newly ordained clergy who included four men, the bishop described them as “reliable soldiers of Christ bestowed with the responsibility of pastoral ministry and diakonia.” In addition to Khakha, the other women pastors were Rev. Sundeepa Martin, Rev. Elizabeth Prasad and Rev. Isha Smitha.

Prasad, who completed her theological training in 1976, said she was “overwhelmed” to be a part of the historic ceremony. “I saw the change now when I got ordained as a pastor after such a long time. It has been a struggle to deal with the rigid patriarchal mindset and to create a space for women in church,” she noted.

For Rev. Dr Augustine Jeyakumar, General Secretary of the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI), the occasion was an opportunity to reiterate the churches' commitment to women’s participation in the ministry of the church. “It is important for all the Lutheran churches in India to ordain women as pastors, [as this is] taking a step towards gender justice.”  

The UELCI brings together 11 churches that are members of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). It ordained its first female pastors in September 1991. Ten of its member churches ordain women.

“Women’s issues need to be addressed for the emancipation of the woman, which is not so easy to achieve in the Indian patriarchal context,” Jeyakumar emphasized.

Those who witnessed the Madhya Pradesh ordination included Rev. M. G. Basanthi, the first woman to be ordained by the Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church in the eastern state of Odisha. “To my surprise, I never faced problems serving the church or the congregation. Now we have 11 women pastors in our region,” remarked Basanthi, who retired in 2009 after 35 years of work in the church.  

The reality of women’s exclusion in the patriarchal context in India had meant almost two and half decades of introspection and dialogue before the Madhya Pradesh church could arrive at the historic day, said Rev. Dr Chandran Paul Martin, South Asia regional representative for the Global Mission unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Commitment to inclusion

LWF executive secretary for Women in Church and Society Rev. Dr Elaine Neuenfeldt expressed “great joy” upon receiving the “good news” from the Madhya Pradesh church. She noted that the great majority of LWF member churches are ordaining both women and men, thus endorsing the “Lutheran communion commitment towards inclusion.”

Making reference to LWF’s preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, Neuenfeldt said women’s leadership in the ordained ministry affirms the sempre reformanda [on-going reformation] aspect of Lutheran identity. “Ordination of women expresses the conviction that the mission of the church requires the gifts of both men and women in the public ministry of word and sacraments,” she added.

 

A contribution by ELC-MP member Dr Nima David, research associate at the Center for Women’s Studies and Development in Nagpur, India.

 

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