Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Women Beware Women

Tip o' the biretta to our favorite former librarian for this one. (And of course to Thomas Middleton).

Episcopal Life has an opinion piece by Alda Marsh Morgan, who describes herself as "a theologically-educated lay woman and a former lay church worker," regarding the 35th anniversary of the [DFMS of the] PECUSA's first ordinations of women. She suggests that perhaps all the observances need not be celebratory, and argues that in fact the ordination of women may have done some damage:

There were few of my church worker colleagues who wished to be ordained, once it became possible, not because they didn't approve of women priests, but because we felt secure in our own vocation as theologically educated lay professionals. What we found offensive was the complete lack of respect for our own work and vocation on the part of the women who sought ordination and were committed to their own vocations as ordained ministers. Moreover, once ordination became available for women, most of us were no longer able to work in the church. The church's clericalism saw to that.

Many of us felt pushed aside, unappreciated, and -- to bring it all home -- we had to scramble to find jobs in other sectors or had to fight to find paid work in the church and other ways to continue to express our own vocational calls in ministry. More than a few left the church altogether and even more were embittered or close to despair.

This is strong stuff, and Morgan bravely owns her own sour grapes. But does she have a point? Our first instinct is to say yes. We've heard the complaint before, although never articulated so clearly. Our librarian friend has experienced some of this herself, and so have some of her Facebook friends. And it is certainly true that, among Lutherans, the number of deaconesses -- theologically educated, consecrated, professional church workers -- has plummeted in the years since women were first ordained.

But on the other hand, we Lutherans have a control on the experiment which the Episcopalians lack: the LC-MS. It has never ordained women, nor even been seriously tempted. Women in the LC-MS have been given to know, with increasing stridency over the years, that the roles available to them in the church's work are sharply defined and delineated. Among these, of course, is that of deaconess.

So -- has the the deaconess community of the LC-MS flourished while that of the ELCA has floundered? Has it declined modestly, as other professional roles have opened to women? or has it tanked along with the ELCA community? We genuinely don't know the relevant numbers. (For those who may have access to them, these would be the number of deaconesses per church member in each of the LC-MS, ALC and LCA circa 1970, and the same numbers for some recent year in the two remaining church bodies. We can count the AELC out because it was so small, and because that's practically the Egg's house policy anyway).

Any researchers out there?


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I understand your point, and I've heard the same thing applied to the shortage of nurses, because women now have more choices for professions compared to before. When I was a teen, all I would hear is, "Are you going to be a nurse or a teacher? (or a stewardess or secretary if you weren't going to college.)

On the other hand, as a life long Lutheran, also attended a Lutheran college, I would be completely unaware of Lutheran Deaconesses if my two aunts hadn't attended nursing school at Deaconess Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis. Do you think that the active church members you have encountered know anything about deaconesses?

Father said...

Actually, I'm with you on both points. I almost put in an aside on the subject of nursing -- how has it changed as female doctors have become more widely accepted? And like you, I was able to grow to adulthood without knowing that deaconesses existed. And although I've met a few in ministry over the years, they are few indeed.

deacnaumann said...

I believe it would be fair to describe the deaconess movement in the LCMS, if not as flourishing, at least as having an upward momentum which started in 1979 when the Synod voted to create its own deaconess training program at Concordia University Chicago. The LCMS also added two more deaconess training programs at its seminaries in St. Louis and Fort Wayne in 2001 and 2002 respectively and the total number of women graduating as deaconesses appears to be rising each year. In fact, the problem at the moment, particularly in the current economic climate, is that there are more women than places to put them. My observation is that women who wish to serve as full-time professionals in the LCMS are grateful for the office of deaconess, which allows them to serve in legitimate ways according to Scripture. I invite you to have a look at my book, published by Concordia Publishing House in May 2009 - "In the Footsteps of Phoebe: A Complete History of the Deaconess Movement in The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod." The book covers the entire span of LCMS history from its inception to 2009. I also have a website with illustrations for each chapter and other material to supplement reading of the book at www.deaconesshistory.org
Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann (LCMS)

Pastor Joelle said...

What about lay men and ministry? Seems to me this is not a problem related to gender. There's always been this tension between ordained and lay ministry.

I was once part of a group of clergy women who got together once a month. We deliberately excluded aims because where we were that included teachers, principals and church secretaries. This was like a support group for some women who were really having some difficulties as parish pastors and with the church secretaries (some of whom worked for senior pastors who were causing a lot of the pain) there were issues of confidentiality and awkwardness that made this exclusion necesary. Ooh boy but did we get hammered for being exclusive.

Father said...

Sr. Cheryl -- Your book sounds interesting, and I thank you for leaving the information. (The deaconess movement remains, to my thinking, significantly under-researched). But what about numbers?

Joelle -- Had the post not been sooo long already, I would have added, after Morgan's remark about "clericalism," the frequently-made accusation that the very existence of the clergy imperils the ministry of the laity. Stated so badly, of course, it's obviously wrong; but more subtle versions are widespread, and not without some merit.

One of the best insights of liturgical renewal is that the presider should do ONLY the parts that require someone ordained, and that EVERYTHING else should be assigned to lay leaders. I try to apply the same logic to parish ministry, with mixed results.

On the other hand, I am fascinated, and a little surprised, by your group "getting hammered" for excluding ... secretaries?! Here in the east, AIMS are few and little-known, although we do have "synodical deacons." Still, I don't *think* a group of pastors would be criticized for meeting together, with no lay people, for mutual support. Ditto female pastors; in fact, one of our former bishop's assistants used to organize just such a periodic meeting. People just assume that we know what we need, and will seek it out.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Regarding lay or ordained leading parts of worship: our pastor is way, way above average in reading, leading worship, singing, etc. yet we have lay people doing all the parts that don't need to be done by a pastor. We had a liturgical boot camp Saturday and 18 people showed up. We are a small town parish. Tiny small town. We've had a worship committee and lay worship leaders of various parts for the last 4 pastors, so about 20 years, but they helped out just about once or twice/month until we had this pastor (4 years.) Some of the lay people are very good at the job, and some, well, not so much.