Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia


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.

  • Dianne1 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


  1. we have not used the real names of our friends [return top ↩]

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