Ordination of women in partner Churches

The questionnaire on the ordination of women has been surveyed in those partner Churches of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland that practice the ordination of women (the majority has been practicing it for at least 40 years now; the Church in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia have been practicing it for over 60 years).

15 Churches took part in the questionnaire: the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia, Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Church of Westphalia, Evangelical Church of the North, Church of Sweden, Evangelical Church of the Rhineland, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria, Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Evangelical-Lutheran Church in America, Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland, Lutheran Church in Great Britain, Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary.

The questionnaire consisted of open-end questions, with no closed-end questions. The questions concerned theological issues, discussions taking place in Churches and congregations, practical side of introducing the ordination of women and experiences, legal regulations that had been introduced together with the ordination of women.

Theological arguments


While introducing the ordination of women or discussing this issue various arguments occurred, that were either supporting this idea or contradicting it. Both the supporters and opponents quoted various biblical verses.

The opponents quoted the verses from 1 Corinthians 14:34: “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.“ They also quoted Genesis 1-2, from which they derived God’s order of creation. The creation story found in Genesis 2 shows two different ways of creating a man and a woman; one can draw a conclusion that each sex is given different gifts, differs in talents and the way they can be used. The opponents highlighted that men and women, before falling into sin, were different from each other and that was Savior’s idea from the very beginning. Here is where the differentiation of the roles of men and women comes from. Men are to be the leaders, women are to focus on the “maternal” roles, meaning care. If God’s idea for men was to play women’s roles, then He would enable them e.g. to give birth to children. God is the one who is sovereign and not the sinful people. The Bible speaks about unity, however it does not concern the situation between men and women – a woman is subservient to a man. The Christian community where God is the Head should have the patriarchal order, what, according to the opponents, is described in 1 Timothy 2 and Colossians 3.

Although women played a meaningful role in the early Church, men were the only disciples, therefore they are the only ones who can be present in the service of the Word and sacraments and women are not allowed to represent Christ. The opponents mentioned arguments connected with cultural roles that women should play, claiming that they are not able to fulfil pastor’s service, are too emotional, too weak psychically and physically. They were also worried about feminization of the Church which they foresaw as a consequence of introducing women into the office of the ministry. The last argument mentioned by the opponents was the fact that 4/5th of all Christians do not ordain women and the practice from the last thousand and nine hundred years of Christianity shows that this was not Jesus’s will, though He used to break various barriers and stereotypes present in His times.

Among the arguments supporting the ordination of women were the following Bible verses: Galatians 3:28; Joel 3:1; Acts 2:17-18 and the first description of creation in which God creates a woman and a man to His image and resemblance (Gen 1:27). The supporters underline the role of biblical women, such as Maria Magdalena. They also mentioned the calling for women in the New Testament and their activity in the early Church. The next arguments supporting the ordination of women were connected with the Lutheran ecclesiology and Lutheran understanding of ministry. They pointed at the Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession, THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH, as supporting the ordination:

“That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.“

According to the representatives of the Churches that filled in the questionnaire, women should not be discriminated due to their sex. Competences should be the only determinant of admission to the office of the ministry; these were confirmed e.g. during the second world war when women were the ones who took care of the congregations. God is the one who calls therefore the office is not associated with a person. The importance of ordination and sacraments does not depend on the pastor’s sex. The Word and the sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit is given, make the office meaningful. In respect of Martin Luther, the questionnaire was also mentioning his teaching on the common priesthood of all believers. All Christians are called, in the power of the Holy Baptism, to proclaim the Good News about Jesus. The anthropological issues were an important argument for the ordination of women. Women pastors can positively influence the Christian anthropology, and  gender justice is seen as an important element of the Evangelical identity. The Churches are the ones responsible for changes that can happen in the society. 

Analysis of the debate in the Churches


In a few Churches, the impulse for discussion about the ordination of women was the lack of men (in the postwar period) and lack of callings (especially in the 60’s with the decrease of pastor’s status).

In the majority of Churches women were actively involved in the debate on the ordination of women. They participated in the debate as students already (they were given such opportunity due to the introduction of the vote and the possibility to study theology in the beginning of 20th century). Then they engaged in discussions in the parishes, in their circles, but they also boldly presented their opinion in the decision-making bodies. They expressed their attitude also through discussion in the church press.

An important issue was also the fact that despite women themselves, also scientific circles were expressing their opinion, although not all of them supported the ordination of women. Also some biblical scholars were against the ordination of women (especially those specialized in the New Testament) – they underlined that introducing it would be contrary to the Scripture. Supporters were found mainly among the systematic theologians who were pointing at full women’s rights for serving as pastors. The academic discourse helped to deepen reflection and made both the supporters and opponents more sensitive to their mutual arguments. The positions, which were worked out on some theological faculties, were also meaningful. Moreover, information coming from the theological universities helped in searching for such a solution that would be both in accordance with the Lutheran confession of faith and taking into account contemporary perspective. Sometimes the scholars presented their opinions on the ordination of women during church meetings and synods.

Changes in the Church and congregations


The partner Churches had various experiences in introducing the ordination of women. The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland can refer to many of them. The majority of interviewees pointed that women are 30-50% of all pastors. The changes have been happening in the last 50 years, usually not causing any visible problems in the functioning of the Church. The Churches participating in the questionnaire led the discussion in various ways and introduced practical changes in the way their community was functioning. Not all of this happened immediately, sometimes it was the result of a long-term process, campaigns led both in the whole Church as well as in the particular parishes. For example in Finland and Hungary the decisions were made during the synods and changes were introduced consequently in the whole Church. In the Church in Germany the changes were introduced gradually – at first, women were allowed only to perform additional functions, were not ordained but “blessed for the service” and obliged to maintain celibacy. Sometimes the situation forced some legal changes, such as in the war time and postwar period when women, due to the lack of men pastors, performed the funerals and were more engaged in the parish work. The interviewees mentioned that the reason for which the Churches wanted to introduce changes was mainly pragmatic – the lack of pastors. They noted that the changes in the society also influenced the way the roles of women were perceived. The sex issue many times influenced the situation. It happened that at the beginning the number of ordained women was limited and this issue was widely discussed. The engagement of e.g. diocesan bishops in the discussion was also meaningful. Where they were in the opposition, the process was slower and stymied.

The most serious obstacles, which occurred while introducing the ordination, were connected with the arguments mentioned above, given by the opponents. Pastors who were against refused to cooperate with women, diocesan bishops did not want to ordain women; presiding when celebrating Holy Communionwas the most questionable issue. In one of the partner Churches the group of the most conservative opponents created even a separate Church. That was a very difficult moment, however it did not stop the ordination of women. Those Churches that were introducing the ordination did not silent the discussion, they still were listening to the arguments of the opponents, but their decisions were unchangeable.

It is worth mentioning that the reactions on introducing the ordination were sometimes very extreme. On the one side, there were the opponents and doubts (usually bigger among the pastors), on the other side, there were positive reactions, especially among ordinary members. Due to the fact that women worked as pastors, those who had doubts used to change their opinion.

Generally it was agreed that this change had a positive influence on the Churches. In one of the Churches there was even an increase in the number of people attending services since the introduction of the ordination of women, however it is difficult to say if they expressed their acceptance in this way or were just curious.

Introducing the ordination brought the solution of the lack of pastors: vacancies rejected by men could be taken by women. The number of people leaving the Church in the result of introducing the ordination of women did not increase visibly (except the Church where the new Lutheran community was created). There were some problems in the congregations with accepting women as pastors – some members did not want to accept the Holy Communion from a woman or were whining that their parish is led by a woman pastor. Therefore, in the beginning women were sent to the parishes with lot of anxiety, taking into account the possibility of negative reception (they tried to choose such women that were respected or known and valued by the members of a certain parish). In some of the parishes, in order not to evoke bigger sensation, women’s duties were limited only to services for children. There were also parishes that consequently refused the ordination of women and did not want to accept women pastors. They were reminded, however, that members choose their pastor themselves therefore they can decide who would be administrating the parish and organizing counseling work.

Time influenced the situation in the Churches. Not only more women were being ordained, but also more women were becoming main pastors and bishops. The structure of the parishes also changed – the number of lay women in the parish councils and synod increased. It was also noted that the presence of women among the Church authorities influenced the relations between the people positively and helped to make the customs more gentle.

Together with the introduction of the ordination of women, members of some Churches started to notice women’s issues. For example, they started paying attention to the fact that the presence of both men and women in the Church is important, and the words of the bishop Ragnar Persenius support this view: ”I think it is a blessing for the church which becomes evident in the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed by women priests. They have given us new perspectives, a broader and deepened language and a more inclusive relation to both men and women in Church.”

Ecumenical relations


After the introduction of the ordination of women some ecumenical tensions occurred, especially in those countries were the Roman-Catholic and the Orthodox Churches play a big role. In the beginning, it introduced some complications in cooperation in the projects that had been led for some time already. The ecumenical partners who were against women pastors expressed their opposition, disappointment and underlined that only men are called for such service. The protestant ecumenical partners (especially those who had ordained women before) did not create additional difficulties. The problems occurred sometimes when women became bishops and the ecumenical partners did not want to participate in the consecration.  

Legal results

 


The last important issue connected with the questionnaire concerns the legal side of the ordination of women. Together with this introduction, the changes in the Church law were also introduced. A few Churches, in addition to the state law, introduced also the issues of gender justice into their programs, together with the changes in the access of women to the authority positions in the Churches.

There were also regulations introduced concerning maternity and paternity leave with the right to the social security during that period and the ability to come back to work after that time. Some of the Churches underlined that both women and men have equal rights, women are not favored or treated preferentially. All of the decisions refer to the regulations used in the given country.

Depending on the Church and the country, the issue of parental leave is solved differently. It can last from 6 weeks to even a year and a half, and usually a parent receives financial support from the government. The situation differs also in the aspect of retirement (the time of parental leave is not added to the initial capital, it is counted as half of the working time or is counted as the working time). In the majority of the Churches, both the mother and the father have the right for a two year-long parental leave. What is interesting, these regulations created some controversies when being introduced, however they were not referring to women but to men who wanted to take paternal leave. In the situation when the pastor (a woman or a man) goes for parental leave, usually another person is appointed as the replacement. This decision is made by the deacon, bishop or the parish council in agreement with the bishop. In most cases the pastors are not allowed to stay in the apartment (if the Church allows the pastors to live in the Church apartments at all), sometimes the condition is to pay the rent. Only few Churches allow the pastors to stay in the apartments for free.

The Church offers job for a married couple if both are pastors. The parishes decide on the form of employment, duties, whether it is going to be a full-time job or a part-time job. The proposal is presented to the couple. If the parish is small, sometimes there is a need for one of the spouse to work in a different place/parish or engage in a different job. However, many issues are analyzed depending on the individual situation of the pastors.

Together with the marriage issue, there are also questions concerning the work relations and divorce. All of the Churches participating in the questionnaire declared that the marriage of two pastors is possible, but it should be avoided to enter relations e.g. between the superior and a vicar. The Churches have various ways of actions, some of them allow the superior to marry an intern, others do not. Similarly, there is not one solution in the issue of parish internship done by the spouse (majority of the Churches accept such possibility, three do not take this under consideration, in one it is possible if the bishop agrees). However, basically all matters are discussed and regulated individually. A marriage of a bishop and a pastor in the same diocese is possible in the majority of the Churches. It happens that when the decision concerning the spouse-subordinate has to be made, the bishop is not involved in it.

Not all of the partner Churches can share their experience in the issue of divorce. Each case is very individual and it is difficult to introduce some standards or legal regulations. In one of the Churches it has been noticed that such situation does not start the disciplinary procedure. More often than not (where such cases happen), it is suggested that the divorced pastors do not work any longer in the same parish. The decisions are made by the parishes or superiors e.g. diocesan bishops.

Summarizing the questionnaire, the Churches underlined that the ordination of women perfectly fits into the Reformation jubilee and the slogan “Ecclesia semper reformanda est.” From this perspective, the discussion on the ordination is not only necessary but also profitable for the Church.                                                                                        

 

Agnieszka Godfrejów-Tarnogórska

 

 


 


back