‘Of course’ — Reflections on the Elizabeth Eaton installation
My first reaction to Norma Cook Everist’s article in the “Living Lutheran” on Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s installation as Presiding Bishop of the ELCA was the journey that has brought the ELCA to this historic and significant moment in time. As I read the story the second time through, Norma’s words and reflections took on a deeper meaning for me. As a woman and as a final year seminary student I paused and took time to reflect on my own journey of faith towards ordination.
The first steps for me began when the ELCA was yet a dream. It was in 1963 and I was a seventh grade student attending a fall confirmation retreat. I remember the inside of the church and the pew I was sitting in with many of the other students. Our intern pastor was standing on the chancel floor in front of us by the communion rail and talking with us about listening to God’s voice and answering God’s call to ministry. Intern Hullett told us that God had spoken to him as a teenager; and that God might also be talking to one or more of us during this retreat. As he ended his discussion, Intern Hullett asked if any of us felt God’s calling, and if so, he would like to pray with us about it. As I sat in that pew, I felt a voice calling me. I wanted to go up to talk with him. Instead, I felt confused, and scared, glued to my seat in the pew – praying God would show me what to do.
It was a time when there were no women pastors in the Lutheran Church in America. There were no role models for me to follow in my church body. In fact, when I found the courage to talk with my pastor about becoming a pastor, he laughed at me and said, “Are you crazy? This is not a job for a woman. Only men become pastors.” I felt alone, without strength, without courage, and without support from anyone to go forward. This view was further reinforced by my sophomore English teacher when she gave me a failing grade on my term paper. The assignment had been to write on what career path we would take after completing high school. I had written on becoming a pastor. The teacher’s rationale for failing me was that becoming a pastor was not considered a viable career for a woman at that time. I was then sent to our high school guidance counselor and told to consider the more appropriate careers of teacher, nurse, secretary, or wife and mother.
How the world has changed. How I have changed. The seeds of God’s calling which were planted over forty years have grown, matured, and blossomed. That young girl is no longer confused and scared. That young woman has walked out in faith. Today I have found the strength and courage to answer God’s calling to Word and sacrament ministry. Today I have found those role models and a support system that were lacking so many years ago. Today I have a pastor who believes in me, encourages me, supports me, and mentors me as I travel on the journey God placed in my heart so many years ago.
“Of Course,” doors have been opened. Hearts have been changed. Women are now embraced as they begin seminary. “Of Course” there is still work to do. As I remember the paths along my journey, I appreciate the “Of Course” moments along the way and embrace my final year of seminary, anticipating my ordination next year.
Donna Runge, final year M.Div.
People from across the country and from as far away as Jamaica, South Africa and Australia responded on facebook and by e-mail to the “Living Lutheran” article. Here are a few of their comments:
While the decades roll on, I look forward to the day when even those opposed to the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church of Australia will look at each other and say, “Of course.”
Tanya Wittwer, Adelaide, Australia, WTS graduate
Leigh Newton also wrote from Australia: Thanks so much Norma. Yes, this is significant across the world. Some of us are far behind. We have been functioning in fear for so long. I used your article as inspiration this afternoon for our congregation’s motion on calling suitably qualified women or men when we need to call pastors. “Can’t you wait just a few more years?” The motion was carried, 21 to 7! Significant in a church that doesn’t ordain women. Let’s see what this means for the broader church down the road.
Leigh Newton, Adelaide, Australia
I loved the article! Of course, of course I did! I had no idea all of the pain women must have gone through to pave the way for future women of the church. I had no idea at all and I appreciate you sharing it with everyone.
Terese Touvelle, 2nd year WTS diaconal ministry student
Paula wrote: The Spirit of God, RUAH, herself was present though out the millennium, bringing wisdom (Sophia) and Shekinah (glory) to each corner of our world and lives, Of Course! Thank you for being in the vanguard with us from our corner of Lutheranism (LCMS) to the ecumenical and interfaith days to which we now proclaim the Gospel that God has said, “Yes, I love you all, always.”
Rev. Paula Hepola Anderson, WTS graduate
This past weekend I performed a wedding for one of my college roommates, and yesterday I had to take the marriage license to the post office. The clerk saw the envelope and congratulated me on my marriage. I explained that I did not get married but instead that I was the pastor at the wedding. My heart dropped just a little as I saw the look on the clerk’s face, not fully understanding what I had tried to explain.
“Of course…” “Of course…” Your words reminded me of the long way we have to go, but yet how far we have come and that gender does not define the Good News proclaimed from my own lips or anyone’s lips.
Rev. Shannon Arnold, WTS graduate
I just read your article about the installation. I cried while reading it. For the first time in my life, I’ve been experiencing what it is to be a “woman” in ministry. A man stopped me on the street because he had never seen a woman in a collar before, and he had “questions.” Another man purposely neglected asking me to participate in a community event as a religious leader because I was a woman. I’ve always shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’ve never been treated differently than anyone else,” whenever anyone has asked me about my being in ministry, but I forget that the very act of being asked that question is telling. I am newly inspired and energized by the article.
Jen Dahle, WTS Intern
I remember when I wanted to be a Lutheran minister years ago. I was told, “Women aren’t ministers.” And before that I was told, “Girls aren’t altar boys.” Your extremely important narrative about the history of women in the Lutheran church brought chills to my skin. I remember. Let us not forget the sisters who went before.”
Rebecca Crystal, Unitarian Universalist Seminarian
From South Africa: [My wife] Solveig printed out your piece, “Of course,” and I read it slowly—grinning and often at the point of tears, not sure nor really caring whether they were tears of joy or sorrow. And all the way through, your words pulled up memories of Connie Kleingartner. She was one of our first. We saw her move from tentative decisions about whether she should really try to do “regular” ministry or perhaps a “special ministry,”. . . to her decision to be part of Wartburg’s first House of Studies in Denver. . . [Connie was ordained in 1977 and served in many places, including as a professor at LSTC] to the news of her battle with cancer, to the quiet report of her death. For us, an unforgettable part of the larger narrative.
Rev. Dr. Peter Kjeseth, WTS professor emeritus, and “Dean of Women Students” at Wartburg in the early 1970’s