By Pastor Blair Lundborg, Assistant to the Bishop
In 1970 the predecessor bodies of the ELCA [American Lutheran Church (ALC) and Lutheran Church in America (LCA)] approved the ordination of women. In November of that year Elizabeth Platz became the first woman ordained by the Lutheran Church in America. It was a huge milestone in the life of our church. It was also long overdue.
It has been 45 years since Pastor Platz was ordained. Today, there are approximately 16,000 ordained clergy, of which about 25% are women. In the ELCA’s eight seminaries, the numbers of women and men preparing for ministry are about equal.
I have a confession to make. I thought the challenges of women in ministry had passed. In my naiveté I assumed that after 45 years our church would have fully embraced women pastors. I was wrong. Women clergy continue to face discrimination, condescension, and outright sexism.
It can be subtle. Sometimes it comes in an honest concern from a member of a call committee. I’ll hear things like- “Well, Pastor Blair, I’m not sure our congregation is ready for a woman pastor.” When I ask why they think that’s the case, the answer is almost always, “We’ve never had a woman pastor before”.
Sometimes it’s not so subtle. After considering a slate of candidates, half of whom are women, I’ll get a phone call asking if I could send them more names of male candidates. I’ve never had a request for more women candidates. Interesting.
We all know change is hard, especially in the church. Change also comes slow in the church. We could discuss the reasons for that, but for now let’s just say, “change is hard and it’s slow”. For women in ministry it must feel dreadfully slow. After all, it’s been 45 years since the first woman was ordained. One would think that by now the church would be gender blind when it comes to calling pastors.
On a positive note, we are making progress. When I moved to Brenham, Texas in 1995 there was only one woman pastor serving in the area. She did amazing work and I learned a lot from her. Today, there are four women pastors serving congregations in the Brenham area. In addition, there are two women providing interim ministry. As I reflect back, I can think of at least a half dozen women who have served and moved on to new calls since 1995. Currently in the Gulf Coast Synod there are 72 male pastors and 32 female pastors. We can celebrate the fact that 30% of our actively serving clergy are women; that is a bit ahead of the national average of 25%. It will be a day of real celebration when we no longer have to count.
Even with this progress, we still have a ways to go. I think it’s not so much about asking congregations to consider calling women pastors. It is my hope that one day the question becomes irrelevant… that we don’t even think to ask the question. Now that will be real progress. I just pray it does not take another 45 years.