As a minister in Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I have the privilege of having been ordained for 25 years. In this denomination women have been ordained for well over 100 years. We look back to such women as Melissa Garrett Terrell ordained in 1867, Ellen Grant Gustin and Emi B. Frank ordained in 1873, and Clara Hale Babcock ordained in 1888, (often acknowledged as the first woman ordained to preach). The ordinations of these women and many others did not mean that women were easily accepted and called by congregations. Strong resistance based in a distortion of scripture has remained a barrier for women throughout the years. Many congregations today will not call a woman as senior pastor. Still we have watched the ministry of women strengthen and grow. With that growth, the church is changing. In 2005, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was the first mainline denomination to call a woman (The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins) as General Minister and President.
Last week, I had the privilege of participating the ordination of a woman who is truly a gift to the ministry of the church. I was moved by the fact that both of her parents are ordained ministers and participated in the ordination. We have reached the point to see and celebrate generations of women responding to God’s call to ministry.
This past Sunday, November 11, we in St. Louis celebrated the ordination of two women in the Womenpriest movement in the Roman Catholic Church. I grieved that I was unable to attend, but I have several colleagues who did attend and I have followed closely the reflections and reports on this historic and controversial event. Many previous Womenpriest ordinations have taken place off-shore for the protection of those involved. This ordination took place in synagogue of Reformed Judaism, Central Reformed. This was a courageous act of faith and hospitality on the part of the Rabbi and the synagogue. It was a decision made with prayer and intention. What an amazing moment of interfaith relationship and connection in God’s vision for shalom, when the Mass took place and these two women were ordained in this synagogue. Unfortunately, representatives of the St. Louis Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church have condemned the synagogue and threatened to break off inter-faith conversations if they proceeded to host the ordinations. (The Archdiocese, on the one hand does not acknowledge these as ordinations, yet on the other hand threatens to break off dialogue if they are carried out. Sounds to me like it is the Roman Catholic hierarchy that is threatened!)
In her reflection on the service, Mary Ann Reese, a co-member of the Loretto Community wrote: “Before long, in front of the altar stood a petite woman with long, curly dark hair and a yarmulke. She expressively recounted the story of Abraham and Sarah, who were standing at the door of their tent in the heat of the day when three strangers came. From the act of welcoming these strangers sprang the Jewish tradition of hospitality. “Brothers and sisters,” Rabbi Susan Talve proclaimed, “We are standing in the heat of the day.” With that, a thunderous applause broke out. In news accounts, Rabbi Talve had explained that she and CRC’s board (which had voted unanimously to host these ordinations) were compelled by their tradition’s mandate to extend hospitality—even though it meant taking heat from the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well as some Jewish brethren.”
Then the 600 people in attendance celebrated with joy and tears the ordinations of Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath. The Church is brighter today because of the courage of these women and the courage of the communities that surround and support them. Archbishop Raymond Burke has indicated that the two women will be excommunicated. Yet, they will pastor a congregation in St. Louis. They will proclaim God’s abounding love and grace to those who gather in faith. They will celebrate the Eucharist with joy and hope. And nothing that the Archdiocese does will prevent that!
I celebrate that God’s call is more powerful than the limitations and prejudices of our institutions.