June 29, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the vote by the Lutheran Church in America (one of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA) to allow women to be ordained as pastors.
As a young woman in the 1990’s, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be, that no professions were barred from me due to my gender. I remember sitting in confirmation class as an 8th grader and learning that there were some churches that did not allow women to be pastors. While I had no intention of being one, I was shocked that women would be barred from ordination simply because they were women. While we did not specifically study women in Scripture, I knew that Miriam had led and prophesied alongside Moses and Aaron. I knew that the first people to the tomb on Easter morning were the women. While there were many male leaders in the New Testament, I also knew of Phoebe and Lydia and Priscilla.
As my own sense of call developed, I struggled to see myself as a pastor. While I had no doubt that a woman could be a pastor, I had never met one. As a camp counselor, I finally met a few and was intrigued, but they did not fit into the picture of a pastor I had formed. Even though I was comfortable leading worship and sharing stories of my faith as a camp counselor, a music ministry team member and a youth minister, I continued to struggle to connect my life with what I had observed in the pastors I knew.
Finally, I could no longer ignore God’s call to ministry. Not knowing what my life would be like or how I would navigate the challenges of gender and calling, I answered God’s call. Perhaps as a confirmation that this was possible, quickly after I began seminary, my home synod elected a female bishop and the ELCA elected the first female presiding bishop. While in seminary, I had several professors who were also female clergy and many opportunities to meet other women in ministry. I began to learn that being a pastor did not mean that I needed to lead in the same way or preach in the way or act in the same way as male pastors, but that I would serve God most faithfully if I could be the person who God created me to be and to bring all that I am to serving as a pastor.
While my time as a candidate for ministry and my time serving have been marked by times I have been dismissed because of my gender or asked inappropriate questions or faced unwelcome remarks, I am glad to be a woman serving as a pastor. I am grateful for the women who have gone before me, paving the way for my ordination and I pray that I can encourage other women to answer how God may be calling them.
In the abiding hope of the Risen Lord,
From Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton:
2020 also marks the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color and the 10th anniversary of ordaining openly LGBTQIA+ clergy. You can read their stories and reflections: