Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

TIME FOR A NEW SONG

Sing a new song unto the Lord‘ Psalm 96.

Not only do we accept new songs to worship the Lord, we are encouraged to use new and enriching ways of praising Him and spreading the good news of our great God.

Over the years, we have seen women of great faith and abilities using their God-given talents in His worship and service. And we have seen them unstinting in their faithfulness and devotion in caring for all types of humans in need! Read more »

A QUESTION OF UNITY

The question of whether the LCA should ordain women as well as men has generated debate and intense feeling, almost without precedent in the 30-odd year history of the LCA. Although this has been a painful experience for many people, and a somewhat threatening issue for some, in many ways it has also brought some important benefits to the church. We have engaged passionately in theological debate (I guess it takes a theologian to highlight that!); we have had to think through our approach to many matters connected with church and ministry as well as the role and status of women in the church; we have perhaps realized how little we understood some of the things we simply take for granted; many people have taken steps to become better informed.

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PASTORAL MINISTRY AMONG GOD’S FORGOTTEN PEOPLE

She looked at me through the glass door, perplexed, frustrated, lost, questioning. Why was the door locked, why couldn’t she come out? It was a beautiful hot summer day with the temperature around 35 degrees.

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HOW THE BIBLE LEADS ME TO SUPPORT THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN

Interpreting the Bible

How do we know what we know? How do we know about God, about God’s will, about living as God’s people? Our first learning is from those who incarnate God for us by showing us love and talking of a loving God — our parents, maybe a pastor or teacher, a special friend, a partner. We also learn from being in the community of faith and participating in the liturgy and ritual of the church. We learn from the direct teaching of our parents, our Sunday School teachers, our pastors. And we learn from our own life experiences as we walk in relationship with God. Alongside all of these, the Bible shows us God’s will. We believe it to be ‘divinely inspired’, given to us by our loving God. But there is a problem.

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THE GOSPEL AND WOMEN IN MINISTRY

Introduction

The role of women in the ministry is an important issue within the Lutheran Church of Australia. The Church’s document, Women in the Ministry, was produced to facilitate study and discussion of this issue. This summary is intended as a constructive contribution to a candid and prayerful exploration of women’s role in ministry of the LCA in the late twentieth century.

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DISCIPLES, COMPANIONS, WITNESSES: Women in the gospels

One of the main arguments used to oppose women’s ordination is that Jesus only called men to be his disciples and he only commissioned male apostles. Surely Jesus would have included women in their ranks if he had wanted women to become pastors in the church.

To this it must be said that the twelve disciples do not represent the clergy in embryo and hence God’s design for a male clergy. They are first and foremost the new people of God, as the twelve tribes of Israel were God’s people of old. The call and commission of the disciples is the call and commission of the church, not the clergy. Secondly, not one word from Jesus’ lips could be read as excluding women from the public office or as a call to submit to male clergy. And thirdly, Jesus and the evangelists who record his ministry take great pains to portray an array of women disciples in a vastly more positive light than the twelve men, in what can be read only as a deliberate attempt to counteract the privileging of males at the time of Jesus. Their discipleship is practised at his direction, their exercise of apostleship at his behest, and their servanthood in imitation of their Lord.

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BIBLICAL COMMANDS

By ordaining women is the church disregarding commands of Jesus and Paul?

The Lutheran church has always acknowledged that there are biblical commands that remain in force ‘for a time’ and ‘to avoid offence’ (Augsburg Confession 28), and then the commands lapse for a number of reasons.

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A NEW WAY OF SEEING

I was baptised at five weeks of age, and in forty years of growing up in the Lutheran church, I accepted unquestioningly the restricted role of women in the Church. Even when I became interested in theology in the 1970s, and took some subjects at Lutheran Teachers’ College, it simply did not occur to me to question the status quo of the male-only pastorate. Although there had been some debate about women’s ordination at that time, I was not interested. I remember seeing a woman presiding at a worship service on television, and actually feeling repelled by the idea of a woman ‘usurping’ a position which had always been exclusively male. Read more »

A NEW ROAD TO TRAVEL: MY WALK ONTO, AND ALONG, THE WOMEN’S ORDINATION HIGHWAY

When asked to write down why I favour women’s ordination, it became clear that it was one of my most difficult assignments. Along the way, my reading has come from both sides of the argument, and there are many good arguments on the negative side. Against this, it was also necessary to weigh up where I was ‘coming from’. What ‘baggage’ in my past life was influencing me, one way or the other? Why, even changing to a female doctor took me quite a few years. Well served by males, there seemed no reason to change. But I did, and haven’t regretted it – and probably wouldn’t change back.

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WHO WILL DO THE COOKING FOR THE FELLOWSHIP LUNCH?

We have often heard people talking about practical concerns regarding women’s ordination. They have been asking questions like: what happens with pregnancy and maternity leave? How can a woman pastor be on call or sufficiently available when she has children and a house to run?

In other fields of work, and also in churches that have been ordaining women for some time, these issues have been grappled with and solutions found. Over time the LCA has seen some changes for male pastors and their spouses in church and family life.

It seemed to be quite straightforward in times past. There was an expectation that the pastor (male) would be fully focussed on church life, always on call, and that his spouse would give her full support to make this happen. As well as running the home, and being the main carer for children, she was expected to be actively involved in church life, and to not have outside employment.

There was an expectation in many parishes that she would chair the women’s guild, play the organ, organize the Sunday School. One pastor’s wife shared with us how she had already been elected chair of the women’s guild before arriving in the new parish, without any consultation with her. Pastor’s wives often functioned as secretaries, typing bulletins, worship orders, parish messengers. The church office often functioned from the manse, without paid secretaries as many congregations now have. With the expectations placed on the pastor’s wife, really the congregation employed two church workers for the price of one, without acknowledging that. A retired pastor recently shared that he wished that his salary could have been split with his wife – partly for tax purposes, but especially to acknowledge her major contribution to parish life. Even so, many pastor’s wives found satisfaction in serving in this way, as partners with their husbands, even though there was rarely recognition for their service.

This was a neatly ordered way of life that ‘mirrored’ society, where, for example, a woman working in a bank would resign from her employment when she married, and be a support to her husband in his career. It was the commonly held view that a married woman had her role – to run the home, be the main carer for any children, and support her husband. Women were seen as ancillary to their husband’s career, and rarely were seen as having a career of their own.

Some single women had “careers”, but often in roles that supported men, who were seen as having the more important roles – like male doctors and female nurses, and male managers and female secretaries. Many people’s interpretations of the Bible supported a strong male headship model for society, church and home.

Now many pastor’s spouses in the LCA have careers, and there has been gradual acceptance by the church. These women now have more freedom to choose how they will be involved in the life of the church, like other lay people.

Regardless of the outside work the spouse is doing, we think that many church members still regard the pastor’s work as having priority or precedence over the spouses’ work, and that women are still seen as the main providers of care for the children of the family. These days there is much more consultation between pastor and spouse when a call comes to another parish, but it’s generally the spouse who would give up her paid position and look for work in the new location. It’s still quite rare that a pastor would follow his wife with her work move.

This kind of thinking raises further questions about women serving as pastors:

  • If the woman pastor is married, would her role now have priority over her husband’s work, especially for being on call for the needs of the parish?
  • Would her career have priority when considering a call, and her husband need to follow her from parish to parish?
  • Would her husband take over being the main carer for any children?
  • Who would do the cooking/baking for the fellowship lunch?
  • Who would be on the cleaning roster?

Actually, these questions come from a “priority” way of thinking, with quite rigid views about roles: the man’s career has priority over the woman’s, who supports his work, but with the woman being a pastor, the work of the ordained person has priority over that of the lay person, who supports the pastor.

We believe that there is a need to do away with priority thinking and to become more flexible, more partnership oriented. This means to cultivate partnership between male and female, and between pastors and lay people, including the pastor/spouse marriage. True, it is not as clear-cut as it used to be. It takes more energy to work it out, and to keep working it out, but it is far more freeing, more creative, allowing God more space to call people into the use of the gifts they have been given in family, church and society.

It’s a challenge well worth grappling with.

We believe that introducing women’s ordination into the LCA will be a major step to freeing up structures and challenging thinking to bring a new wind of freedom for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and living it.

We have done some grappling ourselves.

We were open to Tim giving up pastoring for a while and Mary doing full time work, although at this stage we have not found this to be an easy option. Our most ideal, especially when the children were younger, would have been for both of us to work half time in our respective careers and to more equally share the parenting and the inside and outside household chores. At the present time, Tim is working full-time as a pastor, and Mary half time as a registered nurse. As our children are getting older our team approach to the mundane everyday duties now can include them, and that is exciting. We have tried to become more multi-skilled and we are bringing up our three boys the same way. Tim is very capable of running the place and caring for the children. If Mary is at work and Tim gets an emergency call out of regular hours (which rarely happens) he can arrange back up care for the children. Both of us believe that our life calling is firstly to each other and our children and then to our respective work; we have heard too many stories of pastor’s children who have felt neglected by their pastor fathers. This doesn’t mean that we take our work lightly, and that we don’t work hard at it. Like many people in our busy technological world we are constantly juggling our time with each other, with our children, time to be by ourselves, time with work. Within this we are constantly communicating and reevaluating. It isn’t always easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Actually, we find it very enriching.

Every family needs to work out what is best for them.

We would like to share a little about some U.S. friends.

  • Dianne and Michael are both pastors. After they graduated, Dianne worked full time in a Lutheran Domestic Violence Centre and Michael’s position was a part time one in an inner city congregation.
    When children came along Dianne cut back her hours for a while. Now that their children are at school, they have moved to another city, where Dianne is a full-time University Chaplain and Michael is a houseparent and part time musician. Down the track Michael may choose to accept a call to a full-time pastoral position.
  • Another couple, Melinda and James, are both pastors, with 2 children. Melinda works part-time in a parish team ministry and James works full-time as associate pastor to the local bishop.
  • Our friend Juliet is a pastor, who works full-time as a high school chaplain, and her husband Enrico is a house-parent, providing the majority of the care for their three children at this stage.
  • In an Anglican parish in Adelaide, South Australia, there is a clergy couple who share one salary, each working half time.

There are many ways of working which can vary for each family through the years.

We feel the LCA and its congregations needs to develop greater flexibility in how pastors are employed, regardless of any change in ordination practice. Should women be ordained there would need to be provision for maternity leave. While pregnancy and giving birth are not illnesses, the existing provisions for male pastors who need to have some time off for health reasons give us possible models for maternity leave.

Yes, increased flexibility leads to increased complexity, but there will also be more scope for the involvement of lay people in ministry, working in partnership with their pastors. And our LCA will be far richer when it allows the variety of experience and gifts that pastors of both genders will bring to ministry. Like other lay people, the female pastor’s lay spouse will be free to choose his involvement in the church.

It’s a wider picture that we believe does not in any way conflict with the Bible, but is a wise response to being in ministry and mission in our modern world.

Mary and Tim Muller

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