women, ordination of

women, ordination of
   During the 1970s, the issue of the full ordination of women as professional clergy swept through Christendom. All the major Protestant bodies were forced to consider it, if only, in some cases, to reaffirm the traditional practice of barring women.
   The question was in part a deferred inheritance of the Reformation, which abolished most female religious orders, one of the few arenas in which women could exercise some religious leadership. By the beginning of the 19th century, the first waves of feminism, coupled with the need for preachers for the emerging revivalist movements, created a new environment for the rise of female leadership.
   The first group to make room for women in the ministry appears to have been the Society of Friends in both England and America. In 1666, Margaret Fell, wife of Quaker founder George Fox, penned her manifesto: Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed by the Scriptures, all such as speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus. Though Quakers did not ordain ministers of either sex, they allowed both men and women to assume preaching duties, as the movement of the Spirit abided among women as well as among men. The success of female Quaker preachers later provided a model for Methodists.
   The Primitive Methodist Church, an offshoot of the Wesleyan movement, brought American-style camp meetings to England. Allowing women to assist in its revivals was in a sense an extension of the enhanced role Methodism assigned to laypeople in general. Women began as prayer leaders, then became exhorters, and finally preached. Since most meetings were held outdoors and preaching was done without a reading stand, the objections of those who might have been offended if a women stood behind a pulpit were eased.
   In 1813, the Primitive Methodists recruited 19-year-old Sarah Kirkland (1794-1880) as a fulltime salaried missionary. Following her marriage in 1818, both she and her minister husband were appointed to work at Hull. Eventually, more than 100 women were employed throughout England as ministers (traveling preachers). one of these women preachers, Ruth Watkins, was later part of the initial contingent of Primitive Methodist preachers sent to America in 1829.
   Within the more established Protestant denominations, the issue surfaced only with the rise of the 19th-century women's rights movement. The demand for women's ordination was part of the general drive for women's admission to colleges and professional positions. At the very first women's rights gathering, at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, one of the grievances aired was that "with only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church." In 1852, Lydia Sexton became the first woman to receive a license to preach - from the Church of the United Brethren (a Methodistlike body of German extraction, now a constituent part of the United Methodist Church).
   In 1853, Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921) became the first woman to be ordained a fully recognized minister. She served as pastor of the Congregational Church of South Butler, New York. Congregationalists practice local church autonomy; each congregation ordains its own ministers, and Brown did not need approval from a judicatory Brown's ordination sermon was preached by Rev. Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection.
   A decade later, Olympia Brown (1835-1926) was ordained by the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists, the first woman to be ordained by a church judicatory. One other church, the Advent Christian Church, had authorized the ordination of women by that year, but had not yet acted on its decision.
   Throughout the last two decades of the 19th century, a spectrum of churches began to ordain women, the most important being the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches U.S.A.) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) introduced female ministers to the Holiness movement, though it was already exposed to outstanding female leadership in the person of Phoebe Palmer (1807-74), who in 1860 had penned her support of female ministers, Promise of the Father. Catherine Booth (1829-90), the wife of the founder of the Salvation Army, wrote one of the early books advocating women's ordination, and the Army joined the list of churches with female ministers (officers, in their case).
   In the same era, the drive for ordination received an unintended boost from the new deaconess movement, which amounted to a reintroduction of an ordered female community into Protestantism. The modern movement was founded by Theodore Fliedner and his wife, Friedericke Munster, who opened the first deaconess motherhouse in Germany in 1836. The movement spread through the European Lutheran churches. In 1884, seven deaconesses arrived in Philadelphia to manage the German hospital. The spread of a Lutheran deaconess movement in America inspired Lucy Rider Meyer (1849-1922) to found the Methodist deaconess movement in Chicago. The Episcopal Church had instituted a deaconess order even earlier, and in 1855 the bishop of Maryland formally "set apart" two women for their new ministry. That act is now seen as the beginning of the drive for ordination in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
   Many more Protestant denominations opened the door to women ministers in the 20th century, though few were actually allowed to walk through that door. For example, in 1939 the Methodist Church approved legislation allowing women in the ordained ministry, but many of those ordained were the widows of ministers in a specialized ministry, which the wife continued after his death. one sign of continued exclusion was the emergence of several new denominations created and led by women - most notably the Pillar of Fire (Alma White) and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (Aimee Semple McPherson).
   A more successful effort to open the remaining denominations to women's ordination, and to ensure equal treatment of women ministers where they existed, began in the 1970s. In 1972, for example, the new United Methodist Church passed extensive legislation to improve the status and role of women at every level of church life. With the exception of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, most of the other large Protestant groups followed suit.
   Much of the publicity concerning women was focused on the Episcopal Church. Like their fellow Anglicans around the world, Episcopalians had worked hard to cultivate legitimacy alongside the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, none of which had female priests nor seemed inclined to accept them. On the other hand, as a member of the burgeoning Ecumenical movement (both the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the u.S.A.), the Episcopal Church was closest to the other liberal Protestant bodies that were already allowing women to be ordained. The church also had to face growing internal support to ordain women.
   The issue reached a crisis point on July 29, 1974, when 11 female deacons were ordained to the priesthood by three bishops, two of whom were retired and the other of whom had resigned his post. The church's sitting bishops subsequently labeled the ordinations invalid. That action was reversed in 1976 by the next General Assembly, which regularized the ordinations. Bolstered by the earlier ordination of women in Hong Kong and by the Canadian church's approval of ordination for women, the Episcopal Church had finally accepted the practice as a reality. By the end of 1977, more than 100 women had been ordained Episcopal priests.
   In 1978, the bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion gathered for the Lambeth Conference and approved in principle the ordination of women. since then, most Anglican churches around the world have ordained women. At the same time, a dissident movement of traditionalists emerged in the United States; it set up new jurisdictions that rejected women priests along with a host of other recent changes. Traditionalist bodies soon appeared in England, Canada, and Australia. The gap between the traditionalists and the Anglican Communion has widened over the succeeding decades, but the traditionalists have been unable to agree among themselves and are now divided into more than 50 small denominations.
   While women were entering the ministry, parallel efforts were made to open high-level lay positions in the various denominations to women, and to appoint female bishops in the episcopally led churches. In the 1890s, two women, first Alma White (1862-1946) and then Emma Curtis Hopkins (1853-1925) assumed the role of bishop, but they had both founded their own churches. In the 1980s, attention turned to the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church, where women were already serving as ministers.
   The United Methodists elected Marjorie Swank Matthews (1916-86) a bishop in 1980. She served but one quadrennial term, but a number of others soon followed her. With the 1984 election of Leontine T. C. Kelly (b. 1920), the first African-American female bishop, it was felt that all the barriers had been broken, at least in principle. In 1989, the Episcopalians elected their first female (and African-American) bishop, Barbara C. Harris. The following year, Penelope Jamieson was consecrated as bishop of Dunedin in the Anglican Church in New Zealand. The years since have been marked by initial ordinations and consecrations in Anglican churches around the world, with the last pockets of opposition found in southern Asia and central Africa. There were 11 female bishops in attendance at the last Lambeth Conference in 1998. While the Church of England has ordained women since 1994, they had not elected a female bishop as of 2003.
   The southern Baptist Convention remains the largest Protestant body in North America that staunchly rejects ordination of women at the denominational level. However, being congrega-tionally organized, local southern Baptist churches may ordain women without reference to the convention. As of 2003, there were an estimated 1,600 ordained Southern Baptist women ministers, though only about 100 served as congregational pastors. However, as recently as 2000, the convention passed additional legislation against churches ordaining or hiring female ministers. Some ministers, such as Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of popular evangelist Billy GraHAM, have become evangelists and now speak regularly to large audiences across the United States.
   Further reading:
   ■ Janet Wilson James, ed., Women in American Religion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980)
   ■ Edward C. Lehman Jr., Women Clergy: Breaking through Gender Barriers (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1985)
   ■ J. Gordon Melton with Gary L. Ward, eds., The Churches Speak on Women's Ordination (Detroit: Gale Research, 1991)
   ■ Geoffrey Milburn, Primitive Methodism (London: Epworth Press, 2002)
   ■ Paula D. Nesbitt, The Feminization of the Clergy in America: Occupational and Organizational Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)
   ■ Carl J. Schneider and Dorothy Schneider, In Their Own Right: The History of American Clergywomen (New York: Crossroad, 1997)
   ■ Barbara Brown Zikmund, Adair T. Lummis, and Patricia M. Y. Chang, An Uphill Calling: Ordained Women in Contemporary Protestantism (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1998).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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