Fifty Years of Reformed Church in America Women Elders and Deacons

Monday Ministerial Musings

By Rev. Mark William Ennis

2023 Blog #12

March 20, 2023

Fifty Years of Reformed Church in America Women Elders and Deacons

On Saturday I was part of a webinar that celebrated women’s leadership in the Reformed Church in America. I remember the battle for women to be ministers in 1979 but knew little of the history of the discussions about women elders and deacons. This happened when I was in grammar school and high school. I really did not know that this was a heated discussion. In my adult lifetime, women have always been elders and deacons. I can’t imagine a church without women leaders.

This wasn’t always so, as I found out. Many of the early women who became elders and deacons actually faced great obstacles. The male deacons, elders, and clergy were often blamed for the opposition but many women who were among the first to be ordained report that their biggest opponents were other women. The ordained women felt betrayed by their sisters who assumed would give them help and support.

Betrayal seems to be the common feeling among the early women I know as they sought ordination. They had served their congregations in various capacities throughout their lives. Even as children, many had showed leadership and the fruit of the spirit was evident within them. Despite the Holy Spirit and despite their good works, churches were telling them that they were not “appropriate” for ordained offices. They believed that God was telling them one thing and the church was telling them another. The church, in their view, had betrayed them.

Ultimately, women were ordained as deacons and elders, and twenty years later, to be ministers of word and sacrament. Many of them are the most gifted and talented officers that I know. I can’t help but wonder how many of these gifted and talented women we kept out of ministry because the male hierarchy kept women out for so many years. I can’t help but wonder if many of our churches would be stronger today if we had embraced these spirit-filled women decades before we did.

Where would any of us who are disciples of Christ without gifted and Spirit-filled leaders? Often our mothers first taught us Bible stories. Usually it was women who were our Sunday school teachers. Many of us saw women elders and deacons when we were young. They were all valuable in our own faith formation. I think that we all owe words of gratitude to these faithful women who made us what we are today.

It makes me wonder who else we are ignoring today when we evaluate future leaders. Do we base leadership on who and what a person is? There really should only be two questions that we ask: is the person full of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and has God called the person for leadership. Should we, with our internal prejudices, add to that list? What categories or attributes to we think are as important as God’s calling and the fruit of the Spirit? I hope that as we celebrate women office-holders we don’t make the same mistake of excluding people based on any other attributes.

#ReformedChurchInAmerica                                 #PastorMarkAuthor            

#BergenCounty                                                        #BergenfieldNJ

#WomenDeacons                                                    #WomenElders

#WomenMinisters                                                    #God’sCalling

To read more of Pastor Mark’s writings, please look at his website:

Published by pastormarkauthor

I have been a Reformed Church in America pastor and Christian Author since 1984. In addition I am certified Crisis Counselor, certified Disaster Chaplain and have two units of Clinical Pastoral Education.

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