by Rev. Racquel Ray
Associate Minister of Congregational Life
Have you ever wondered why ‘women in ministry’ is such a divisive issue among Christians? Have you questioned why certain denominations exclude women from serving as clergy? Have you thought about why so many biblical women are depicted as prostitutes? Have you been enthralled by stories or sermons about Mary or Elizabeth? Have you ever gotten confused over the ‘Marys’? How many are there, anyway?! Have you wondered what the ‘Children of Hagar’ means? Why is Eve blamed for the Fall of Man? Why are so many women unnamed in the bible? Have you been outraged by Christian division based in gender bias?
At a recent BCCUCC Deacons meeting, Rev. Dale offered a reflection on women of the bible sharing an article from Woman’s Day magazine. (SULLIVAN, 2022). The article, 20 Amazing Women in the Bible to Learn From and Admire, gave a brief paragraph about twenty biblical females. Each Deacon was asked to read the stories and choose a biblical woman whose story stood out to them. The group was asked to share their choice and why they chose that character.
It is clear to me, as it was to our Deacons, that each of us has a favorite female biblical story. Our favorites come from fond childhood memories of stories from church school, confirmation, or worship. Many have fond memories of Mary, the mother of Jesus, from either the Nativity story of Christmas or from an upbringing in another denomination that venerates St. Mary, the Blessed Virgin. Many of us can identify with the story of Lazarus’ sisters, Jesus’ friends, Mary and Martha. Some will identify as, “I’m a Martha” who tend to be busy at church rather than quiet and contemplatively studying Jesus’ words as a ‘Mary’ would. Many of us admire the courage of Miriam or the faith of Elizabeth, or the fierceness of Deborah. And, someone asked the question, “Were there ever any female pastors/priests in the bible?”
The answer is YES. There were female elders in the early church and throughout the biblical narrative of God’s people. There have been and continue to be female leaders in churches since. And there will still be female leaders in the church to be revealed in the future.
So, why are recent news reports highlighting the Southern Baptist Convention and their bias to exclude females from the role and title of Pastor? And why would the SBC exclude any church that has female leadership from their membership? And, why would they chose to exclude a church with over 20,000 members, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California? The denomination argues that women in pastoral roles is not biblical. And, although they had been ordaining women since 1964, they stopped doing so relatively recently in 2000 (Wikipedia, 2023). When my 8-year-old heard the news report, she said, “What about Mary?”
Beloved, if an 8-year-old can understand this so should we. The biblical her-story is clear. From Eve to Mary, to Martha and Mary, and to the female disciples at the cross, the tomb, and into the ministry of the early church including the Acts of the Apostles, women are equal participants in the ministry. The early church saw profound mysticism and writings from St. Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, and Hildegard de Bingen. Modern leaders have been seen in St. Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, Sarah Coakley, Evelyn Underhill, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Karen Armstrong. And we currently have amazingly strong female leadership in many Christian denominations including Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Velda Love, our Area Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Patty Kogut, Rev. Dr. Sarah Drummond, Founding Dean of Andover Newton Seminary at Yale, and the incoming UCC President Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia A. Thompson. Rhode Island is home to dozens of very gifted women in pastoral and chaplaincy ministries. I’m sure you can add to this brief list!
The Congregational Church which has merged into the United Church of Christ first Ordained women beginning with Antoinette Brown Blackwell in 1853. The Church of England Ordained women in March 1994. The Episcopal church began ordaining women in 1975. In 1970 the Lutheran Church began ordaining women. The Presbyterian church began female ordinations in 1956. A list of the timeline can be found on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_women%27s_ordination
Women have been in pastoral ministry throughout history/her-story. So, why is there so much controversy surrounding the question of women in ministry? Is there a reason why women are excluded? Is there an untold story?
Join Rev. Dale and Rev. Racquel as we tell the stories of 11 female leaders through the Women of the Bible Preaching Series this summer.
July 2 Eve – Racquel
July 9 Sarah and Hagar – Dale
July 16 Jochebed and Miriam – Dale
July 23 Deborah – Racquel
July 30 Ruth – Dale
Aug 6 Hannah – Racquel
Aug 13 Esther – Racquel
Aug 20 Mary and Martha – Dale