By The Rev. Dr. Beverly J. R. Aurand
50 years ago the Holy Spirit gave birth to a new thing in the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the ordination of women to the Office of Word and Sacrament was brought forth! Elizabeth Platz, LCA, was ordained on November 22, 1970 and a month later, Barbara L. Andrews, ALC, was ordained on December 20, 1970. These first women served in non-parish settings, with Elizabeth serving as Campus Pastor of the University of Maryland, main campus, and Barbara working with the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota on the St. Paul campus. The first Lutheran woman called and ordained to parish ministry was Judith Hird-Boal in 1972; she served Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Tom’s River, NJ.
The LCA and the ALC and later the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) did not come to the question of ordaining women without a great deal of theological debate. Gracia Grindal, in her article, “Getting Women Ordained”, published in Volume 32 of the Lutheran Quarterly (2018: 281-306) looked at the struggle the synods went through to review both the scriptural perspective of women as pastors and the theological impact which focused on how Lutherans traditionally understood the office and ministry of word and sacrament in the context of the Confessions. It all took place during a time of great social unrest in the 1960’s and the demand for women’s equality at all levels. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) pulled out of the debates and did not ordain women. At this time, too, women were commonly not included among church council members, worship assistants or ushers, and girls could not serve as acolytes.
Women were ordained as Lutheran pastors in a number of European countries, some going back to the 1940’s, but the Lutherans in America were much slower to include them as active pastors. At the same time, more women were attending seminary, at times taking the classes for pastors and at other times working on a more traditional Christian Education track (Wikipedia article on the Ordination of women in Protestant denominations.) Grindal notes that women were taking seminary classes as early as the late 1890’s. Women were finally invited to participate in the debates about the ordination of women. At the 1966 LCA Convention President Franklin Frye appointed three women to be part of the commission to examine the “research in the problem of women’s role in the church (Grindal). The ALC was ready to ordain women afterwards but did not push it at that point because many other Lutheran bodies were not prepared to ordain women; that final report was given at the 1968 convention. The churches were careful to not disrupt ecumenical progress.
The conclusion of the ALC’s research, adopted by the ALC in 1969 was that the Biblical material and theological arguments were found to be inconclusive, but that the issue of ordaining women should be decided by the individual Lutheran church bodies, after consulting with each other and other Christian churches to avoid giving offence.
There are many ‘firsts’, many struggles and many background stories behind these past 50 years and many of them will be lifted up in the coming year as the planning group for #CelebratingWomenPastorsSCSynod posts monthly “briefs” both in The South Carolina Lutheran eNews (sign up here) and on the synod’s social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube). There will also be several opportunities during the May 2020 Synod Assembly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women to the ministry of word and sacrament. All women pastors will be contacted in the near future with more information. The committee would like to have each of the women pastors in the South Carolina Synod share something of her own story of her call and experiences. We will get back to you with some ideas to share of how we can gather all of the stories of our sisters.