The topic of women in ministry has been in the news of late.
In early April and for the first time in 183 years, a woman led the closing prayer at the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Then, last week, a former nun from Kentucky was "irregularly" ordained into the priesthood by a dissident group of American Catholics.
At present, at least half of American Protestant denominations do allow for the ordination of women, but that has been the case for a relatively short period of history. When I was a young girl, a vocational path toward ministry was not in the realm of possibility, and hey, I am not that old! The situation did not keep me from engaging in my favorite make-believe game, which I called "Playing Preacher." I would line up my dolls and stuffed animals on the bed and deliver unto them very heartfelt "sermons." I have never had a more attentive congregation. Not a muscle moved. Not an eye blinked.
To be sure, much progress has been made in terms of women being accepted into all the offices of ministry, but much is yet to be realized. For example, women can be ordained as priests in the Church of England, but they cannot become bishops. Seminaries are full of qualified female students, but they often have a more difficult time than their male classmates in receiving calls from congregations.
Reform and Conservative Judaism allow women to be rabbis, but Orthodox Judaism does not. Orthodox Christian communions do not permit the ordination of women. Though Islam does not have ordained offices as such, the role of imam is customarily limited to men. In some instances, women are allowed to lead prayers for other women but rarely for men or mixed groups.
I think of the millions of women throughout history who have been excluded from spiritual leadership because of gender. I think of those who want to serve now and still find the door of priestly/pastoral vocation closed to them. Of course, throughout the ages, women have served God in countless ways. They have studied theology and taught the Bible. They have cared for the children, led mission work and ministered to the sick. In the Hebrew Scriptures we encounter women judges and prophets and saviors of the people. In the Christian Scriptures women are close followers of Jesus Christ and are the first witnesses to the resurrection. We've been there all along but often disregarded or relegated to secondary status.
In 1893, Antoinette Brown told a gathering of the World's Parliament of Religions,
Women are needed in the pulpit _as imperatively and for the same __ reason they are needed in the world . . . because they are women. . . they [are] indispensable to the religious evolution of the human race. _
I pray for the day when women and men, who are already equal in the eyes of God, will be equal in the eyes of their faith communities. It's way past time.