Updated: Dec 20, 2022
“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
In November of 1970, a chaplain at the University of Maryland was ordained in the campus chapel. It was a festive affair, with ecumenical colleagues and denominational heads in attendance,
Full of scripture and hymn singing and words of exhortation. It was history in the making, for the ordinand was Elizabeth Platz, the first Lutheran woman ordained in the US.
As with all historic moments, this ordination was the result of many seeds that had been planted over the years. Women’s organizations in the Lutheran church had been providing leadership and training opportunities For decades. Women were included among the missionaries sent abroad by the Lutheran church. Lutherans were responding to the women’s movement in the broader culture And questioning whether the long standing prohibition of women serving on church councils should stand. Theologians from multiple seminary studied the issue, but none of the panels included women. Nonetheless, the seeds that were planted in women from all over the country were taking root, Due to the efforts of women and men over the decades tilling the soil.
In this year of 2020, we celebrate 50 years of women’s ordination in our church.
The seeds of this ministry were planted in the soil of New England, too.
This photo is from the New England Synod Women In Ministry Retreat in 1992.
Many of you will know two women in the photo. The first is in the back row, fourth from the left is Rev. Vera Arndt Bush. Pastor Bush was the second woman to be ordained in the NES.
It was tough in those early days to find placements for women—
Even though the church had voted to ordain women, most churches still didn’t want them in their pulpits. But St Matthew was on the forefront of this issue, and stepped up to host Pastor Bush as an intern. Later, Pastor Bush made St Matthew her retirement home, and inspired many other women in this church and throughout the Greater Hartford Conference.
The second is Krysia Robinson, the farthest on the right, longtime music director here and rostered leader in the New England Synod. Her ministry was church music and more:
For on Sunday mornings, in the children’s choir rehearsals, and in co teaching education classes, Krysia planted seeds of care and spiritual nourishment in choir and congregation alike.
The year of this photo is also the same year I came to New England for seminary
because of seeds that had been planted in me. Seeds were planted by people like Elaine Ramshaw, the leader of the assisting ministers at my church in Cols OH, Who invited me to lead the prayers in church and told me I had a natural presence at the altar. It was the seeds planted by Mary Hammond, the American Baptist pastor in my college town, Who showed me what ministry looked like from a woman’s perspective, modeled authentic faith,
and shared her deep love of Jesus with me.
I was born in 1970, the year women were ordained in the Lutheran Church, and from a theoretical perspective There has never been a time in my life where I was not allowed to be a pastor. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until I was 21 years old that a woman pastor put communion bread into my hand. I wept at the beauty of seeing for the first time what I could become.
I think of the women in this photo and the other women who have gone before me.
Women who hand-altered men’s clergy shirts to make room for their feminine shape.
Women who camped outside of men’s restrooms at seminary because there were none
in that building for women.
Women who were overlooked for internships and first calls and larger parishes,
Who were paid less than their male counterparts with fewer years of training,
Who had to prove themselves in every meeting, every sanctuary, and every bedside,
Even though we all believe the words of the prophet Joel repeated on the day of Pentecost:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’ (Acts 2). I stand on the shoulders of these women, and I am so grateful for their tenacity and faith. I am so grateful to God for the privilege of continuing the planting of seeds that were first planted in me.
That’s why I also want to tell you about the other anniversaries that we celebrate this year in the ELCA. This is the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in our church
But it is also the 40th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman of color in church
And the 10th anniversary of the vote to remove barriers to ordination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.
Like the parable in today’s lesson, God the sower casts seed into all kinds of places.
People and ministries unimagined a generation or two ago are now blossoming:
Right here in Greater Hartford we have two Spanish speaking ministries—
One at Grace Lutheran, headed up by Pastor Alba Perez, and one at Nueva Creacion in Manchester, Led by Rev Persida Rivera Mendez. Some of our most creative and talented new pastors are LGTBQ persons—
Including the wonderful pastor Rachel Anderson, whom I had the privilege of mentoring in my last parish. These are people in whom the Lord, through hands like yours, has planted the seeds of the kingdom, Who are sowing more seed in all kinds of soil.
It is exactly the multiplication and abundance that Jesus talks about:
These seeds bear fruit and yield, “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
But the soil is not always ready for the seeds that God has to sow.
10 years after the ordination of women, there was so much resistance to women pastors,
many thought the decision might be reversed.
Our former bishop Margaret Payne said at that time:
“Too often, when female clergy meet and share, the air is filled with anger, frustration and pain. The stories are sad, the discrimination is outrageous, and the joy comes mostly
From sharing little moments of warmth with a kindred soldier before leaping back into battle.”
Today there is much less discrimination against white women clergy in our church,
But it is still rough going for women pastors of color and clergy who are LGTBQ.
Less than 10% of our clergywomen are women of color,
and they continue to experience race and gender prejudice in our church.
As evidenced by the disproportionate wait time for their first calls
compared to their white counterparts, male and female.
Clergy who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender also have a hard time finding calls in our church. The New England Synod has welcomed LGTBQ clergy, but many synods remain unable to embrace their ministry, since their congregations are unwilling to consider an LGTBQ candidate. As such, many seeds that are ready to take root and flourish are choked out by fear While others lay dormant on hearts packed hard by discrimination.
On this 50th anniversary year of the ordination of women in our church, I reflect again on what it meant to me To see someone like myself reflected in the leadership of my church.
For me, this isn’t just about who is allowed to be clergy—it’s about who is welcome in the Lutheran church. I want our youth of all races and gender identities and sexual orientations to have the same privilege I had:
To see themselves reflected in our church leadership
To see themselves as worthy and fully included
To believe they can be authentically themselves and authentically followers of Jesus Christ at the same time.
I want them to catch a glimpse of what they might become as part of the Body of Christ.
I don’t want any more un-germinated seeds without a place to take root.
We have a lot of tilling to do, church. Breaking up the soil and removing the weeds takes considerable study, prayer, effort, and action. But already we are on the way.
You welcomed Vera. You mentored Kurt. Some are exploring faith based community organizing in our area, some are planning a book study on racism, Others are intentionally inviting our youth to be part of our ministry and still others sending cards to homebound members. It all adds up. It all part of sharing the good news of the kingdom, that each person is a unique and beautiful child of God Called to carry out the kingdom work of mercy and justice and love in this world.
Together we are planting seeds, and trusting that God gives the growth.