Reflections on the beauty of being a non-ordained woman in the church

I remember when I was a child, some truly well meaning adults asked me if I were happy with Lutheran worship services, and if I felt included enough. I was completely baffled by their questions. Worship was worship! I knew by the conduct of my parents that something really serious was going on and I couldn’t wait until I could read so I could join in on all of the responses. Even before then I memorized a lot of it and it never occurred to me that that might not be enough. I responded with the congregation, I sang the hymns, I joined in prayer, I (tried to) listen to the readings and sermon. As we continued with the conversation their point became clearer when they asked me if I felt cheated that I wasn’t allowed to read any of the Bible readings in church. It had never even occurred to me. But now my pride and ego were roused, as well as my suspicion  – why couldn’t I read in church?  Gosh, if it meant that not doing the Bible readings would leave me with a second rate or lesser worship experience, then I definitely wanted to read them!

As I matured, there were more such messages that came my way, but not because I was a child, but because I was female. If I wasn’t up the front in a leadership role, then obviously I was missing out, and wasn’t I angry about that? And even if I didn’t want to do that myself, shouldn’t I be angry that other women couldn’t?   Apparently, being a pastor was all about getting to the top of the churchly “corporate” ladder, and this is a role that should obviously be available to both sexes. How confusing, though? This was incongruous to what I had learned as a child about the pastoral office; the pastor being a servant to the church, and a servant of Christ (as all Christians), and representing the Heavenly Bridegroom. Shouldn’t I, as part of the Bride of Christ, the Body, be honoured and humbled that Christ served me in this way? That He chose men to serve in this way, instead of women, who the world always expected service from? How was I missing out? All the while, there were so many women who worked tirelessly at church and helping others, and it was pretty obvious that many parts of church life just wouldn’t happen without the work of women. The message was coming through that these other acts of service were somehow lesser than the service of the pastor. I was saddened that the female-ness I had always respected and thought beautiful, was not honoured and cherished but was considered an obstacle to true fulfillment.

In the ordination discussion, there are many laypeople who are offended at the implication that if they are not pastors, then they are not considered equal.  I know that this offense is not purposely given, but it is a logical consequence. The pastoral office is, indeed, one of many different ways to serve God, His church and the world. Likewise, we certainly do not consider men, or women, who have not borne children, to be less equal to women who have been called to bear children. Women have played vitally important roles in the church over the centuries, and to see their work diminished and considered unequal is simply not biblical. We seem to be using a worldly way of measuring things that is inconsistent with the humility of Christ.

‘…a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ (Luke 22:24-27)

Last Sunday in worship, I marveled at the unexpected, upside-down ways of Christ. I was watching Pastor and the elders set up and give communion. A Man (Christ) prepared this Feast and then a man served it; honouring us, His Bride, at this table, because of His Love. A female friend I discussed ordination with said to me, ‘honestly, do you think Christ honours us less because He won’t let us be pastors?’ The answer seems simple to me. ‘No’, I said, a little cheekily, ‘He honours us more’.

Vanessa Kohrt