by Linda Post Bushkofsky—
2020 is quite the year of celebration! ELCA congregations are commemorating 50 years of Lutheran women being ordained in the U.S., 40 years of Lutheran women of color being ordained and 10 years of LGBTQIA+ individuals being able to serve freely. Amid these observances, let us also remember the key contributions made by our predecessor women’s organizations. We need to celebrate their work as much as the work of those who would follow as ordained pastors.
Back in 1995 when the church celebrated the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women, Women of the ELCA published a book of essays entitled, Lutheran Women in Ordained Ministry, 1970-1995. Now out of print, the book captured the stories of those who championed women’s ordination, those who were among the first to be ordained, those in churchwide and seminary ministry, and those in theological studies.
In one essay, Margaret Barth Wold, a former executive director of American Lutheran Church Women, recounted her service on the ad hoc committee studying the ordination of women for the American Lutheran Church. She and Evelyn Streng were the only women on the committee.
“We requested and were each given permission to address the committee,” Wold wrote. “In 1969, many Lutheran lay women were searching the Scriptures for all the evidence we could find of our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. We were reclaiming our identity as persons made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), affirming our liberation by Jesus from patriarchal proscriptions imposed on our God-given physiological processes (Mark 5:25-34; see Leviticus 15:19-30), and acting on our conviction that Jesus had given his blessing to women as bearers of the Word of God (Luke 11:27-28).”
Dorothy J. Marple, a former executive director of Lutheran Church Women, shared the story from the Lutheran Church in America perspective in her essay. “The Spirit moves where it will,” Marple wrote. “The inflaming and renewing spirit worked for women’s ordination throughout the history of Lutheran Church in America’s Lutheran Church Women (LCW) and its predecessor groups. But the catalytic experience that gave the final push to women’s ordination was a workshop on racism. These three streams—the work of the Holy Spirit, the legacy of predecessor women’s auxiliaries, and the workshop on racism—paved the way for the statement adopted by the LCW Board of Directors in support of women’s ordination. The statement laid some of the groundwork for the 1970 Lutheran Church in America (LCA) convention action that made the ordination of women possible. It gave public notice that Lutheran women intended to unite and open doors to ordained ministry long closed to them in the church.”
Many of you, dear readers, lived through these days and can add your experiences to our collective understanding. For the younger readers among us, as well as those who are church history buffs regardless of age, we have made the essays of Margaret Barth Wold and Dorothy J. Marple available online. Read these essays to honor our foremothers and the paths they opened for all women to follow. Consider setting aside a meeting of your circle or your congregational unit to celebrate this important anniversary. And remember our commitment as Women of the ELCA to “support one another in our callings.”
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This article is from the May 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.