Encouragement for ordained women
Maria Jepsen elected the first female Lutheran bishop 25 years ago
(LWI) - Maria Jepsen was elected bishop in Hamburg 25 year ago. She was the first woman to be elected bishop in Germany and the first Lutheran woman bishop worldwide. Jepsen served first as bishop in the Hamburg district of the North Elbian Church, and later in the Hamburg and Lübeck district.
“Liturgically and under church law, the election of Maria Jepsen accomplished something that has become theologically grounded normality for us Lutherans: the full participation of women in the ordained ministry and thus also in episcopal ministry,” said Bishop Gerhard Ulrich, Presiding Bishop of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD), on the occasion of this silver anniversary. “This election encouraged women the world over to take on leadership responsibility in the church.”
On 4 April 1992, Jepsen was elected bishop to succeed Peter Krusche, and inducted into office on 30 August of the same year.
Great achievements in Germany and worldwide ecumenism
Bishop Ulrich paid tribute to Maria Jepsen’s great work in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Northern Germany, in VELKD and in the worldwide ecumenical movement. He underlined her clear theological positions, which entailed conflicts at times, her advocacy for the vulnerable, her high-profile preaching and her deep rootedness in Scripture, precisely in the Hebrew Bible, as the basis and guideline of life and faith.
Ulrich remarked that Maria Jepsen had always strongly supported the cooperation of men and women in the church on an equal footing. “For us Lutherans there can be no difference between men and women in a spiritual sense. After all, every Christian shares in the same way through baptism in the priestly office of Christ. The wide-ranging participation of women in the ordained ministry, as promoted by the Lutheran World Federation, is thus an expression of a profound insight into the theology of Martin Luther. It continues to be our mandate as Lutherans to work for women and men to share the ministry of proclamation on an equal basis.”
From 2003 until 2010, Bishop Jepsen also served as a member of the LWF Council.
The way to full equality is still long
Kirsten Fehrs, the present bishop in the Hamburg and Lübeck church district, also praised her predecessor Maria Jepsen as a courageous pioneer of equal rights for women and men in the church. “In her ministry, Maria Jepsen went towards many people who had hitherto not been seen or who had even been actively excluded,“ Fehrs said. She added that Bishop Jepsen had taken up the cause of social changes and promoted them from her heart and with clear words. “In all this, her work as bishop was always founded on her firm faith.” It was admirable how unswervingly Maria Jepsen had pursued her path, Fehrs remarked. “There is always a first one, and this first one has a very hard time of it. She had to fight battles and put up with things that have greatly benefited the second one and will so for all others to follow.”
Fehrs, who congratulated 72-year-old Jepsen on behalf of the whole ELCNG, also highlighted the lasting significance of that election 25 years ago. “It was - and I use this term advisedly - epoch-making.” It is still far from a matter of course that a woman can become a bishop, she said. “But I am overjoyed to see that by now it makes little difference in the parishes whether a man or a woman is the pastor.”