I probably did women in ministry backwards to most women. The Presbyterian church where I grew up had one of the first two women ordained in the denomination in Australia as its assistant to the minister (while she was training) and assistant minister (when she was first ordained and her husband was finishing his training), and many women guest preachers, so it never really occurred to me that there was any problem with ordaining women. When I felt a call to ordained ministry, the fact that I was female wasn’t something that came into my calculations.
By the time I started my training, all the denominations which joined to form the Uniting Church had been ordaining women for well over a decade, so the theological college I trained at didn’t bother much with justifications. Apparently some of the male candidates were less convinced than the hierarchy, but for some reason they didn’t subject me to the same tirades as they did other women. I don’t know if they were cowed by my perceived theological acumen or scared that I’d complain to the Principal. For whatever reason, though, I really had not much idea about any biblical justification for ordaining women.
In 1989, though, I was in my second year as a minister in the Wimmera district of Victoria (Australia) when I got a notice saying that some American Baptist called David Scholer was offering a two week intensive on Women and Leadership in the New Testament and it sounded like a good excuse to get back to Melbourne and do some more biblical study. We were offered the opportunity to stay in the house of the parents of one of my parishioners while they were overseas and if I audited the course rather than doing it for credit, I could just afford to go.
I thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks and found David’s insights into early Christianity fascinating, as was studying the biblical material that underpinned the validity of my call in a systematic way. It was also really eye-opening to hear the stories of the discrimination that other women had experienced in answering their call to ministry. For all of us, it was wonderful that a male minister felt that the issue was important enough to spend time on at what was probably considerable risk to his academic reputation.
Several years later, when I was a university chaplain in Gippsland, Victoria, the feminist theology discussion group that I belonged to watched and discussed the video series that David made with his wife Jeanette on the same issue. Again, it was validating to all of us, since we all had leadership roles in the church, although I was the only one ordained. Another member went on to be one of the first women ordained in the Anglican church in that diocese, having worked as a lay chaplain in schools for a number of years.
It was thus with much sadness that I read of David’s death, and especially of his six year battle with cancer. I think of Jeanette, whom I never met but felt I got to know somewhat through the videos and also his daughters and their families as they mourn the loss of a very special man. God be with them all.