Women in the Pew, but Destined for the Pulpit

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How many women, I wonder, will glance at the title of this article and wonder if it will address what they have a notion it might. The article is a message for women who have an uncanny “stirring” in their spirits to answer a call to pastoral ministry. It is also a message for their pastors and church leaders who carry the responsibility to recognize and nurture the call these women are sensing. Our denomination’s official sanctioning of women in pastoral leadership has barely left its infancy. But already two of our women who have faithfully served in pastoral leadership have retired from active ministry (Rev. Esther Snyder and Rev. Martha Lady). Who will pick up the mantle these women have carried?

 

Extraordinary strides need to be taken in order for any congregation or group of denominational leaders to think “woman” when the word “pastor” is mentioned. Recently, I have read several articles written within the denomination which highlight examples of only men in pastoral illustrations, and others which never include any pronoun but “he” in speaking of a hypothetical pastor. More is needed than decrees passed at General Conference which sanction the licensing, ordination, and calling of women for pastoral ministry. Because:

 

for the most part, there is no reason why persons in a congregation should believe that the Scriptures do not prohibit women from pursuing and filling pastoral ministry and leadership positions in the church. Likely few persons in one’s congregation:

— have heard one sermon which would condone and affirm it,

— have seen or read a book or an article condoning or affirming it,

— have known any female pastor to serve as an exemplary role model,

— have been exposed to responsible principles of biblical interpretation

on the controversial passages about women, such as studying the

statements in context; understanding the difference between

descriptive and prescriptive passages, and carefully examining the

general tenor or direction of Scripture in order to arrive at the

meaning or principles to be applied to the specifics, etc.

(J. Peifer, Pastoral Theology Lecture Notes, 1992)

Thankfully, there are numerous exceptions to the above within the denomination. But generally, the premise carries with more regularity than one might expect after fifteen years of having accepted the Women and Ministry statement in the 1982 General Conference.

 

Who is actively looking for the young and middle-aged women in our congregations who display gifts and talents which would point toward pastoral ministry? Which of these women have had models of women clergy to assist them in hearing their own call? (This in no way negates the importance of looking for the same in young and middle-aged men. But that happens with much less effort.)

 

My own call sought activation during the era when there were no women clergy in the denomination from whom to garner support. Several lay women and both ordained and lay men provided important support for me. I clearly remember the “burning in my bones” to speak what God impressed upon me during days when there was no outlet. Once in those troubled times, as a matter of conscience, I boycotted a lecture series by a sought-after woman who, speaking before hundreds and thousands of people, was telling the women to go home and be happy and submissive wives and mothers. The total incongruence reached beyond my level of tolerance.

 

Some women, with little or no encouragement from pastors and church leaders, embark on biblical and religious studies on the college or seminary level. Their male counterparts frequently have the privilege of a supportive pastor who will report to the denominational office that a parishioner is pursuing ministerial studies. More than one woman has shared with me that she called the denominational office herself to inquire about required core courses and report her current studies. Women students, caught in current systems of family and work, will benefit from understanding denominational leaders who allow for leeway in the time protocol for completing requirements for ministerial licensing.

 

I gratefully report that the Brethren in Christ Church, as a result of Leadership Council action, is an official member of the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy organization which plans and conducts a biennial conference at numerous locations in the United States. Information on the April 23-26, 1998 conference in San Antonio, Texas has been and will be published in the Evangelical Visitor. Those interested in a brochure or more information may contact me: Janet M. Peifer, 1341 Asper Drive, Boiling Springs, PA 17007; or Jpeifer@aol.com. The web site for Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy is: http://www.messiah.edu/hpages/facstaff/sstanley/home.htm

 

Other organizations of note for interested women and church leaders are:

 

Christians for Biblical Equality

122 West Franklin Ave, Suite 218

Minneapolis, MN 55404-2451

E-mail: cbe@minn.net

Web Page: http://www.goldengate.net/mall/cbe

 

The Center for Christian Women in Leadership

Eastern College

10 Fairview Drive

St. David’s, PA 19087-3696

 

 

Hidden, unused, or discouraged gifts of women hurt not only the affected women, but the cause of the kingdom and the denomination. I believe the Lord would have us work diligently at naming and affirming those women whom he has already called.

 

Janet M. Peifer, married to Elvin H. Peifer, serves as associate pastor at Messiah Village. She is currently completing her Doctor of Ministry degree at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Recently she completed nearly six years of service as associate pastor at Landis Homes Retirement Community in Lititz, Pa. She also served in lay and pastoral ministry at the Refton Brethren in Christ Church, Refton, Pa., for 25 years.

 

Peifer, Janet M. (October 1997). Women In the Pew, But Destined for the Pulpit. Evangelical Visitor, 8-9.

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