The feature article this month lifts up prominent women in the New Testament. Rev. Dr. Kristine Ruffato does an excellent job of telling stories about the women who were active and influential in Jesus’ life and ministry and in the life of the early church.
It’s almost unbelievable that it has taken so long for the stories of these faithful women—named, un-named and conflated—to be given prominence and recognition.
On the other hand, from this female National Bishop’s perspective, it is sometimes unbelievable that it took so long for us to recognize the gifts of women in rostered ministry as pastors, deacons and bishops.
I grew up with a strong sense of call to ministry but since our church was not ordaining women at that time, I integrated that norm of “being a pastor is a man’s job” into my self-understanding. It was not to be (or so I thought!). By the time Rev. Pamela McGee, the first woman Lutheran pastor, was ordained in 1976, I was well into preparation for another career.
It took a long time, and very persistent nudging from the Spirit as well as friends, for me to listen again to that voice calling me to ordained ministry. I give thanks to God for the women who served as role models and encouraged me to claim my identity as a woman pastor, especially my internship supervisor, Rev. Bonnie Scharf.
I remember the excitement of a lot of the firsts—the first ordained woman to serve as a dean, the first ordained woman to serve on National Church Council, the first woman bishop. I’ve been a couple of those firsts—the first woman to serve as an assistant to the bishop in the Eastern Synod, and the first woman National Bishop.
But 43 years into a history of ordaining women, we are at thirty-nine per cent of women in active rostered ministry. It’s a long way from zero but we are still not at fifty percent. Further, the average salary of women rostered ministers is nine per cent lower than their male counterparts. There may be other factors than gender to account for this difference, but it is worth reflecting on.
Our church has worked to address gender justice issues in a variety of ways: the #ThursdaysInBlack campaign that speaks out against gender-based violence; required coursework on boundaries for all rostered leaders; a robust parental leave policy; and a new code of conduct for all events sponsored by the ELCIC.
Is there more to do? Yes! My hope is that by the time we hit the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in 2026 we will be able to report on a church that reflects Paul’s words to the Galatians, As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27–28).
In the meantime, who can you encourage in ministry? Who are the women in our church who have inspired you? Who are the women, not just in scripture, who have been “women of courage and initiative, of stalwart faith and dedicated service, integralto the growth of the church?”
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada