A Church for all Times is a Church For Our Times – Keynote Address – All Saints Conference – 2/11/12
GREETINGS: thank you for the invitation- privilege to be invited back and an honor to give the keynote address. I congratulate Peter and those who had the courage to resist the censorship which has been invoked on this topic. It is hard to believe that our church would restrict our basic right to freedom of speech and the right to exchange ideas on what are essentially theological and human rights issues. Trying to silence the people and prohibition has never been a very successful strategy. Pastor Peter knows of my long term interest in the issue of women’s ordination. I had been speaking with him about the possibility of writing an open letter in the hope that it might get this issue back onto someone’s agenda and make progress towards an outcome that might accommodate most peoples needs.
I speak tonight very much in the spirit of wanting to make a positive contribution and offering what I hope will be some helpful observations and suggestions for a way forward. I don’t intend to enter into the theological debate but I will be referring to some of the documents which can be found on the LCA website.
I have recently spent 3 months traveling round the top end, Kakadu and the Kimberleys,and before I get to the real issue of this evenings discussion I want to share with you a couple of experiences, moments of enlightenment, I had on that journey.
I was camping in the shadow of the Exmouth lighthouse. It shone out over the beautiful but treacherous Ningalu Reef. It was either a warning light or a guiding light depending on where you were coming from or your point of view. I received an email from Pastor Peter. He invited me to this conference and asked me to speak about two things: my experiences as the first female Head of a Lutheran College and my thoughts on the ordination of women. It was a long way from St Peters and womens ordination was far from my mind at the time. However on reflection I felt there was something symbolic in the lighthouse and that maybe there was a possibility that we could shine some light on a way forward for the church in this issue. I know that women’s ordination is still a controversial issue for the Lutheran church in Australia despite most of the synods around the world already enjoying the blessing and benefit of the pastoral ministry of ordained women.
As head of college I have always avoided getting embroiled in controversial issues but now I am no longer constrained by that imperative I can take heed of these words attributed to Edmund Burke : “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing”.
“Evil” is a strong and provocative word but its use in this context is appropriate. There are fundamental principles involved here that relate to the way we treat each other. Principles of moral and ethical issues, discrimination and exploitation, justice and equity, of liberty, freedom and basic human rights that need to be addressed. This is not just a women’s concern. It is a whole of church concern. It is not an exaggeration to say that this issue is a cause of grief and pain in our community. It is painful to feel rejected, to be excluded, to be thought of as a lesser human being, a second class citizen. It is painful to feel that ones gifts and talents are not valued. Grief usually follows death. It does not happen only when the physical life ends- it happens also when ones spirituality is lost or dies. It dies when it is suppressed or prevented from growing into fullness; when the promise of God given gifts and talents is prohibited from being realized and remains unfulfilled. This is happening now in our church when women are told they may not speak the Gospel words, preach the Gospel message or participate fully in the spiritual life of the church.
So, after prayerful consideration I feel compelled tonight to declare my advocacy for the ordination of women and to give whatever support I can for my sisters who are being denied the opportunity to respond to the call to use their God given gifts and talents in pastoral ministry . It is also advocacy for the church that is deprived of the voice of women and needs especially in these times to hear Gods message proclaimed through the voices of its women as well as its men.
Another moment of reflection occurred as I contemplated the 400 million year old Leopold Ranges that rise majestically above Windjana Gorge in the Kimberleys. For me this was a very spiritual experience and confirmation again of Gods creation of the world and of the ongoing reforming and changing nature of creation. The paradox that arises when we read the Genesis metaphor of creation and then read the scientific explanation of this geological formation in some way encapsulates the law/gospel dilemma we face in this debate. I feel we are in danger of missing the spirit of things in an obsessive search for words or phrases that were written for a bygone era and use them now in our times to support an argument for the prohibition of women’s ordination. Those mountains were once deep below the ocean and formed a great barrier reef around Gondwanaland. They stand now as testimony to Gods presence in the world today and to Creation as an evolutionary process of ongoing change, adaptation and re-formation.
Sometimes changes in the world occur naturally without human intervention and sometimes God uses us as agents of change. The church is also a part of God’s creation and has through the centuries evolved and changed, adapting to changing circumstances in its social and cultural setting and responding to historical developments and advances in knowledge and technology.
I have chosen as the theme for my address tonight:
A CHURCH FOR ALL TIMES IS A CHURCH FOR OUR TIMES
The central issue here is change. It is about power and authority and it is about fear.
What happens when organisations and systems fail to respond appropriately to the pressures for change? History tells us that like the dinosaurs, the dodo, the Roman Empire and all those lost cities and civilizations that are now the subjects for TV documentaries all organizations and systems in the world which fail to adapt to their times, fail to embrace change and fail to reform ultimately become redundant or extinct.The demographic trends in the NCLS survey and the history of disappearing congregations surely tell us that we cannot afford to exclude more than 50% of our membership from full participation in church life, leadership and ministry.
This debate in the LCA has become rather a long running saga; I seem to remember it being a subject of discussion back in the 80s. That was when we were young, idealistic and hopeful. That was a whole generation ago. How many calls to ministry have been lost or missed in that time? How many aspiring young voices could have breathed new life into those ailing and ageing congregations?. I know there are jokes aplenty about how long it takes for Lutherans to make a decision. Their propensity for disputation and argumentation , and their enjoyment of legalism is legendary as can be seen by the number of papers and submissions on the CTICR web page(1). The use of imaginative strategies for procrastination such as referral to committees, conferences, convocations, symposiums and seminars seems endless. Seriously this is now beyond a joke.
The Lutheran Church is not a stranger to controversy and to change. It was born in controversy. Its history is one of ongoing reformation. If a young monk named Martin Luther had not the courage 500 years ago to see the need for radical change in the traditions and practices of the church and to stand for his beliefs and reinterpretation of biblical truths then we would all still be paying for our salvation and hearing the gospel message only as it is interpreted by the priests.
2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran church. It is a church that was born for its time. The world was emerging from the dark ages. Ignorance, fear, intimidation and exploitation were the mechanisms by which the church controlled its people. Luther’s translation of the bible and the invention of the printing press gave us universal education. It transformed the world and changed the lives of every human being it touched. It changed their perception of themselves, their place in the universe and their relationship with their God.
Where is the reforming zeal in our church today? Where are the leaders who can take the advances in knowledge, science and technology, and changes in society and make this a church for our times.
Worldwide the Lutheran church, the largest protestant church in the world now claims 73.9 million members of which 145 churches in 79 countries are members of the Lutheran World Federation.(2) Most of those churches now have ordained women as pastors. Surely they can’t all be in error. Church of Sweden 6.7m, Ethiopia 5.57m, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4.5m,Denmark 4.47m.and so on. These are all full member churches of LWF. Australia with 80 thousand has only Associate membership which means that Australian Lutherans are not able to fully participate in world Lutheran affairs.
The Church of Sweden celebrates 50 years of women’s ordination while the L.C.A. is still caught in the time warp of 19th century legalism searching the scriptures for words and phrases to support the prohibition of women’s ordination, the silence of women and the complete subordination of women (3)I can’t believe that I am reading these words in the 21st century in Australia. They sound more like the words of the Taliban than a theological paper adopted by the CTICR in2006. The Rev Dr Elaine Neuenfeldt , secretary of the LWF Women in Church & Society Committee says that “we are churches in ongoing reformation and the challenge is now to overcome prejudices which are cultural but end up being used as biblical/theological concepts.” What happened to the idea of equality and mutual dependence implicit in being made male and female in the image of the Creator and being equally blessed (4)?
It was not my intention to enter into the theological debate but I would just like to refer to that little vignette in Luke 10 where Jesus visits the house of Martha and Mary. Martha is getting flustered in the kitchen, while Mary is out with the rest of the guys listening to Jesus. Martha comes out hot and bothered and pleads with Jesus, to tell Mary to return to the kitchen where she should be. What does Jesus do? Jesus refuses to support Martha’s request and further he endorses Mary’s place among the other disciples. This is not Paul speaking to the women of his troublesome congregations. This is Jesus speaking to women saying that it is ok to leave the domestic chores and be with the disciples – to join in the discussion and be a part of the important things in life.
Times have changed since Paul wrote his instructions on dress and behaviour for the women in those early churches. He was not to know that by the 21st century women would be educated and independent, often in positions where they exercise power and authority over men. They would have their own bank accounts, be heads of single parent families, be airline pilots, welders, CEOs of multi-national companies, mining engineers, surgeons, judges, ships captains and –headmasters ?!.
How did a woman become Headmaster of St Peters?
It happened because of the courage of the men and women who served at that time on the St Peters College Council and the District Church Council. The men and women who had the courage to break with tradition and long-held conventions and call a woman to a position where she would have to exercise power and authority over men.
It is an interesting story and I am happy to speak about my experiences because I think there could be some messages here that might have some parallels and be helpful for the wider church as it continues to work through this necessary change. I am sure there will be those who will say the school is not the church but the school is very much a part of the church. Our Lutheran schools are founded in faith. The head is the spiritual leader of the community. Their operations are based on distinctive Lutheran gospel principles. The schools have been a very successful part of the church’s outreach to the community, growing and flourishing , bringing the message of God’s love and forgiveness where the church has seen its congregations dwindling with closures and amalgamations.
Change management is one of the most difficult challenges that confront leaders of organisations. By and large people don’t like change. It is unsettling. People prefer to stay in their established comfort zones. It is a source of apprehension and fear. Leaders feel threatened by possible loss of power and authority, others feel anxious about having to learn new ways, and are apprehensive of departing from old customs and traditions. There are well-known strategies for managing change. It is some thing that the church leaders should not fear. Change is a necessary part of the life of any organization that is going to survive and it can be accomplished in a relatively painless fashion.
Risk Assessment is another management process applied to assist in decision making and maintaining healthy cultural environments. It generally would involve a small group examining the consequences of some proposal. It would ask the question “What would happen if we continue with our current practice of not ordaining women?” The assessment would be something like this:
The issue will continue to simmer in the congregations
There will continue to be despair and disappointment among women and men
Congregations who wish to have the blessing of a female pastor will be denied that right
Congregations who do not wish to call a woman pastor will be denied the opportunity to see what a blessing and a gift a female pastor can be
Girls and women who feel called to pastoral ministry will migrate to the Anglican or Uniting churches
There will be a continuing drift of families who like the coed experience to seek their spiritual life where there are male and female role models and spiritual nurture
The Lutheran Church of Australia will continue to be perceived as a quaint little outpost of 19th century Lutheran doctrine and theology-a museum piece for the collection of ancient religious sects
The history of SPLC is one of an organization that has adapted to changes in society and the changing needs of the families it serves whilst still holding fast to fundamental principles of faith and its founding purposes. In 1945, the year the school started with 56 students the Headmaster Wilfred Schneider wrote these prescient words that the school had been founded “to train men and women who would be sincere, honest, capable, God-fearing leaders of our Church and community”.(5) The school has continued through its many iterations to be thoroughly co-ed preparing girls and boys equally to serve and lead the nation.
“Upon This Rock”,(6) Robin Kleinschmidt’s excellent history of the first 50 years describes well the evolution of the college from a small school serving the Lutheran families, mostly from rural south-east Queensland to a large school of 1200 students in 1994 when the then Headmaster, Dr Carson Dron resigned and retired. The changes that had happened over the years had taken place in a very planned and orderly process.
Unfortunately Dr Dron’s resignation was unexpected and this left the community with a great feeling of uncertainty. This was compounded by the fact that the new Head was a woman. That was unknown in the Lutheran community. There was talk that the school would fail. The rugby fraternity were skeptical about the future of the rugby program, one of my competitor heads asked “What would an art teacher know about running a school?” and the works department adopted a wait and see attitude. I remember speaking to the congregation at one Saturday breakfast and saying that if the school failed then I hoped they would say that it was because she was Sally Chandler and not because she was a woman.
Well the school did not fail. Enrolments increased by 50%, St Peters won the rugby premiership, the schools academic results continued to be excellent, we introduced a prep school, built the Zillman Technology Centre, introduced vet courses for families that had previously been turned away from the highly academic senior school, rebuilt the middle school and put in place the plans for the PAC.
I did receive some criticism – some because I was a woman and some because of the changes that I felt were necessary.
Criticism regarding student behaviour management –mostly from men whose sons were in trouble, and the criticism was that I was either too harsh or too soft
Criticism on introducing technology subjects in the Zillman center – what does she think she’s doing? Turning St Peters into the TAFE college of the western suburbs
I don’t know how the boys club that was The Lutheran Heads group felt about having a woman in their midst. I don’t think they were in any way inhibited. I was always very relaxed in their company and maybe the only thing that changed was the proportion of wine to beer that was consumed. They kept telling their jokes and stories. One evening Robin Kleinschmidt was reminiscing about student days and a certain flat on Hawken Dr where he discovered the rhythms of J S Bach were perfect for jiving. I was pleased to tell him that was my flat and they were my records.
In Queensland now 6 of the Churches 16 colleges are led by women. The LEQ Executive Officer is a woman as is the Chair of the Board for Lutheran Schools. They are all spiritual leaders of their schools and exercise power and authority over men. It is possible for things to change and perhaps the emergence of women leaders in the churches schools may help to break down the old prejudices and outdated thinking that keeps them excluded from leadership roles in the church.
It is ironic that the Anti Discrimination Act, the very law which is designed to protect women from discrimination on the basis of gender provides the church with a loophole behind which it can hide to continue its unfair and unjust practices. The fact that it is not unlawful does not make it either moral or ethical.
Furthermore on the issue of gender we know now that the determinant of gender is not simply a matter of XX and XY chromosomes . The determination of male and female characteristics is far more complex and is a continuum rather than an either/or and relies on a complex distribution of genes and other factors. Perhaps a DNA test should be part of the call process for pastors.
I came to St Peters and to the Lutheran Church in 1984 as Head of the Arts fortunate to have a choice between working in a GPS school, St Peters or a government school. Why did I choose St Peters? It was one of the many schools I had visited in my capacity as Chief Moderator for the Arts and a consultant to the Panel of Inspectors carrying out evaluations of schools curricula and programs. I knew that St Peters had a clearly articulated philosophy of education founded on Gospel principles. I was excited by the prospect of working in a school that was co-educational where girls and boys have equal access to educational opportunities. Where gender is not an issue, and young people are not restricted by gender stereotypes. There is not a male or female way of learning or knowing. There are many learning styles and all learning styles are found across both genders.
I was also excited that the arts were part of the core curriculum and not just an activity for entertainment. The arts are fundamental to developing creative thinking skills which are needed in all disciplines. It is also through creative activity that we come closest to knowing and understanding the nature of God the Creator.
I found a community that lived by its Christian principles and I found a church that acknowledged that we are human. That we do make mistakes and errors of judgement but that we don’t have to be punished for them for the rest of our lives.
In 2010 on my return in an acting capacity to the position of Head of College I was delighted to find that although the school had grown, to over 2000 students, and changed, its purpose was still the same. But there is a disjunct between the church and the school. Each year the school graduates 300 wonderful young men and women. We are told by the university lecturers that they can always tell the St Peters students because they are so well rounded and well grounded. They have a great sense of who they are in the world and such a wonderful set of values. 80% of Pastor Nuske’s Christian studies class are girls. What do we tell them? You can be a Rhodes Scholar and serve the world in international justice, or you can be a mining engineer in the Pilbara developing the nations wealth, or you can be a doctor working in third world countries, you can fly a jet plane, be an admiral in the navy or be prime minister but there is no career path for you in the church.
You may wish to serve Jesus in the church but you will be discriminated against and exploited. You may be offered a job which by and large the Pastors don’t want like being a chaplain, caring for the sick in hospitals and comforting the dying in a nursing home or working with children in a school. It will be good for the church because you won’t have to be paid so much. Even if you continue your theological studies you will be treated as a lesser being, a second class citizen because you are the same gender as that wicked Eve. You lack something that would qualify you to preach the Gospel and speak the message of the love of Jesus. Even though you were so moved by Michelangelo’s marble statue of Mary holding the body of her son your touch would contaminate the bread and wine. No. If you feel called to that sort of service you had better try the Anglican or Uniting churches.
It has not been an easy road for the women in those churches either and I have followed your journey through the years. I look forward to our sessions tomorrow to hearing your stories. I would like to conclude now with some thoughts on a way forward for us.
Firstly PROPOSALS FOR ACTION
1 that the LCA place the ordination of women on the agenda for the 2013 general synod
2 that the LCA lift the prohibition on discussion of the issue
3 that the LCA request pastors to assist church members to understand the issues involved and to overcome their prejudices
and to know of the protection that exists in the call process that a female pastor would not necessarily be mandatory for a congregation
4 that the LCA recognize and accept the ordination of women who have been ordained in churches which are member churches of the LWF
5 that the LCA accord women with theological qualifications equal opportunity to be ordained as lay preachers
6 that the LCA request the Sem to provide a bridging course to fast track the ordination of women who hold theological qualifications
7 that the LCA accord pastors who have been ordained in other synods of the LWF the courtesy and respect in the use of their title Pastor
I give you this PERSONAL PLAN as something everyone can do every day to help promote the cause:
It’s a personal thing – don’t despair – be positive
Do not be afraid – talk about it at every opportunity
Encourage your congregation to put it on the agenda- gender issues should be on every committee agenda
Share publications-brochures-meeting information
Use social media
Create an email group to share ideas and information
Pray every day
I would just like to conclude – my second conclusion – with my prayer for St Peters – church and school.
I pray that St Peters continues to be a place where individuality is valued and cultural diversity is celebrated. Where gender is not an issue and girls and boys, men and women have the same opportunities. I pray that our church leaders will be encouraged and inspired to eliminate all forms of discrimination so that this will truly be a church for our times and all who work and learn can know and serve the loving and forgiving God.
Amen and thank you.