Huldah at the table: reflections on leadership and the leadership of women.

Author:Achtelstetter, Karin

It follows from this argument that all are consecrated priests through baptism, that there is no true, basic difference between laymen and priest's, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the Gentian Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (1) I Women at the table--leadership in The Lutheran World Federation: a short history--a long way

Within the ecumenical landscape, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has had a considerable record of accomplishment regarding the ordination and participation of women. Women are ordained in 103 of the 140 LWF member churches. In 1992, the German pastor Maria Jepsen became the first Lutheran female bishop in the world. Today, Lutheran women serve their churches as bishops, presidents, and leaders in churches in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America.

It is estimated that five of the 178 delegates, who gathered at the LWF's founding assembly in Lund in 1947, were women. (2) Over the years, the participation of women at LWF assemblies has increased slowly, but significantly. In 1984, the Seventh LWF Assembly resolved that 40 percent of delegates to the Eighth LWF Assembly should be women, with a goal of 50 percent for subsequent assemblies. In 1972, the Office for Women in Church and Society (WICAS) was opened in the LWF Secretariat.

The Seventh Assembly, held in Budapest, was groundbreaking in terms of women's participation. "The resolution also called for at least a 40 percent representation of women on the Executive Committee, the appointed advisory/governing committees, and in the group of officers. It was also resolved that the Executive Committee should exert efforts to increase the number of women employed as programmatic and supervisory staff until there was at least 50 percent representation in these areas." (3)

These decisions were the result of countless discussions about the leadership of women in the church and the understanding of ministry at regional, national, and local levels. The understanding of the Lutheran concept of the "priesthood of all believers" played a key role in these debates.

The seed and the flower--from the priesthood of all believers to the ordained (pastoral) ministry

In Lutheranism, the understanding of leadership within the church is closely linked to the Reformation's rediscovery of the biblical concepts of "'vocation" and the "priesthood of all believers."

While these theological insights of the Reformation may have broken "the back of mediaeval clericalism," (4) they did not significantly alter the church's practice during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. "They were there waiting like time bombs (seeds) to explode (flower) upon Christian praxis at some future date." (5) The flower the former LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs, Eugene L. Brand, refers to is the ordination of women and their leadership.

Priesthood--according to Martin Luther--is founded on baptism and belief. Before God all are equal: "There is no gradation between a believing peasant woman and a bishop in terms of their sanctity or closeness to God. Both of them are priests." (6) As the priestly concept derives from baptism and thus applies to all Christians, "No baptized person may be exempted from inclusion in the priesthood of all believers." (7) The priesthood of all believers has a christological (8) as well as a sacrificial and a service oriented dimension. (9)

It was just a matter of time until this "seed" would lead to the question about the relationship of the "priesthood of all believers," the "priestly ministry," and the ordained (pastoral) ministry or the ministry of word and sacrament.

As Brand points out, the "Lutheran concept of priestly ministry logically suggests a functional understanding of pastoral ministry. If the church's ministry is seen to involve the whole people so that all participate as priests, and if it is the vocational context which makes one's priestly ministry specific, then pastors would be Christian priests whose vocational context is ordained ministry. In other words, ordained ministry differs from other ministries only in function." (10)" He concludes: "On the basis of the participation in the baptismal priesthood, the assumption should be that, of course, the pastoral ministry is open to women (use as it is to men." (11)

Other key arguments in the debate on women's ordination are:

--the reference in Gal 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus";

--the reference in John 1:14, the word (the divine logos) became sarx (flesh), not male (against the incarnation argument, that Jesus was a man) (12);

--and the church's eschatological nature: the church as the sign of the kingdom to overcome cultural boundaries and considerations that prohibit women's ordination or leadership.

Shaping the table

Eugene's Brand passionate essay in favor of women's ordination and leadership acknowledges that the question of women's ordination is only the tip of the iceberg: "The problem of women in the priestly ministries, by and large, seems to be that of more equal sharing with men, and not whether or not women may serve. Church councils and other governing groups often have only token female representation. Member churches still tend to send men to international meetings." (13)

The LWF is still challenged in terms of ensuring a 50 percent quota of female staff in programmatic and supervisory roles.

Erika Reichle, the first female director in the LWF, summarized spiritual challenges facing women called to lead as follows:

It is still a daily experience of many women not [to] be listened to, to be ignored where power is involved, unless they are prepared to give up their identity and to accept that their gifts are used as instruments for the...

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