In Celebration of Women in Ministry

Hearty congratulations to Presiding Bishop-elect Elizabeth Eaton and congratulations to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for calling a strong and prophetic leader!

There are any number of bloggers and journalists writing about +Elizabeth’s election and call to the office of presiding bishop, the ELCA’s religious head. Some voices are abuzz–positively and negatively– that +Elizabeth is a woman, the first woman called to this position in the church. Other voices are prophesying (falsely, I hope) the inevitable demise of the ELCA, citing any number of reasons, the last of which is not the fact that the new Pastor-in-Chief wears a skirt.

While I am very pleased that my faith community has elected a woman to the office of  Presiding Bishop, I think that it is important to look at the women who blazed the trail for the Church to call +Elizabeth to this office:

1639 Mother Marie of the Incarnation and two other Ursuline nuns became the first women religious in America, founding a convent in Canada.

In 1851 Mother Benedicta Riepp became the first Benedictine prioress in America and in 1857 founded the largest monastery of Benedictine women in the world.

In 1935 Regina Jonas was ordained by the Liberal Rabbi’s Association in Germany as the first female Rabbi.

In 1944 the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained an Anglican priest to serve the short-staffed Anglican Church in China.

In 1970  the Lutheran Church in America (which would eventually merge with other American Lutheran bodies to form the ELCA in 1988) ordained the Rev. Elizabeth Platz as the first female minister in American Lutheranism.

In 1972  Sally Priesand was ordained as the first female rabbi in Reform Judaism and the first female rabbi in America.

In 1974  Sandy Eisenberg Sasso was ordained as the first female rabbi in Reconstructionist Judaism.

In 1974  the Rev. Merrill Bittner, the Rev. Alison Cheek, the Rev. Alla Bozarth (Campell), the Rev. Emily C. Hewitt, the Rev. Carter Heyward, the Rev. Suzanne R. Hiatt, the Rev. Marie Moorefield, the Rev. Jeanette Piccard, the Rev. Betty Bone Schiess, the Rev. Katrina Welles Swanson, and the Rev. Nancy Hatch Witting were ordained irregularly as the first women in the Episcopal Church.

In 1980  the Rev. Marjorie Matthews was elected to serve as United Methodist bishop of Wisconsin.

In 1985  Amy Eilberg was ordained as the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism.

In 1989 the Rt. Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris was consecrated as Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

In 1992 the Rev. Dr. April Ulring Larson was called as bishop of the La Crosse Area synod of the ELCA.

In 2006 Dr. Ingrid Mattson was elected the first President of the  Islamic Society of North America. She was also

In 2006 the Most Rev. Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori was elected as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Additionally, she became the first female Primate in the Anglican Communion.

In 2009 Sara Hurwitz was ordained as the first female rabba in Orthodox Judaism.

In addition to the many firsts in religion, there are countless women serving in parishes and religious communities across the world. The majority of these women faithfully serve without thanks, some without pay, and some without recognition of any sort.

In celebration of +Elizabeth’s election and call, I want to honor the many women in ministry who have shaped and formed me in ways that I can only begin to describe.


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