One woman’s reply to the College of Presidents

02 Jan


In our last post, we published one woman’s letter to the College of Presidents (Lutheran Church of Australia).  She received a considered response from the President, Pr Semmler, which we are not publishing as we do not have permission.  In response to Pr Semmler’s reply the woman wrote her own reply below.


Commit your way to the Lord, Trust Him and he will act..Psalm 37 v5

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your reply to my letter. I really appreciate your concern in the conversation about ordaining women in God’s mission in the LCA. I sense that you personally feel reluctant to favour ordaining women. I feel that I can add some helpful insights in the journey of women as I am now fairly old (!)   and have actually collected anecdotal data on the journey on which God sent me. My experiences may help you younger men understand how some things in our Lutheran Church came to be.  May the Holy Spirit give me wisdom and discretion as I write.

It’s interesting to note that ordination is not a mandate of scripture so we are all still commanded to “Go and tell”. We used to do that a lot … women and men. Some still do.

I’ll take you back in time to the  early 1960’s. I  attended  Concordia Seminary, State Teachers’ College and University. After graduating the Lutheran Church called me to New Guinea. I was excited as my Dad had been a missionary in New Guinea and I had had a heart for mission for some years. The church sent me to Melbourne to study Linguistics so I could learn the local language and do translation. Then I would be off to New Guinea, my first job as a teacher! My future Husband also had a call to New Guinea, and we planned to go to New Guinea and get married after a year or two. Teachers were urgently needed  in N.G.and the Lutheran Church asked us to consider marrying before we went to N.G. so we could be housed together and teach in schools nearby. So we married, went to New Guinea where we each had a full time teaching position so going to work each day.  When pay day arrived my husband was paid and I was not paid. On querying where my pay was I was told, “You are just a wife and we don’t pay wives”.  On the one hand I was dumbfounded  but on the other hand I was young, I loved my job and believed that God had called me to bring the message of love to people,  who only a few years before had been cannibals.  I taught full time for two years with no pay and then part time while having a family. The Government of New Guinea paid the Lutheran Church my salary, as they did for all registered expatriate teachers, but the Lutheran  church has never passed that money on to me.

I am recounting this to illustrate the status in which women were held  in  the Lutheran Church. This was the social structure in a culture which coloured the attitude of Lutheran churches before union, and then after union. So women in Australia weren’t ordained. Women were not considered worthy and somehow we didn’t challenge it as we should have. We were all very  keen for union to happen and that was our focus. We were sure that after union Women would soon be ordained in Australia. Many of us were carrying out pastoral duties.

My parents were criticized for sending me to Concordia boarding College for  a secondary education because, as a girl, I should stay home and help look after my 4 younger brothers. We did not have high schools in the country towns. That was the culture.

God was shaping me. I didn’t rebel against the Lutheran church but perhaps we should have been more questioning. I’ve always trusted God to sort it/us out,  but sometimes God expects us to be proactive as we are given wisdom and understanding.

I recall as a child, witnessing a woman being excluded from a Lutheran Church because she did not have a hat to wear. She looked as if she could not afford a hat and, as a child, that impacted on me … I still feel quite uncomfortable when people tell me that was not an isolated incident of women being rejected  because they had no hat. I hope other denominations accepted these women. That was our culture, not God’s love.

Another illustration of the status of women was when a friend of mine became pregnant to her fiancé in the early 1960’s. She had to stand up in front of a large city congregation to confess etc.  HE didn’t have to even though he was part of it.  I still cringe when I recall how women were victimised in our Lutheran culture. Culture drove Theology and Church laws.

Have you read the Deaconess History Book? There are so many sad stories.

We women were made so totally compliant with what men said and did, it’s hard to imagine why. In some cases we were far too compliant as we were much too afraid to report sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviours until recent years. There are some still not reported. That certainly is not God’s will . Just power!  I recall the questioning of the validity of a person’s faith if that faith had been nurtured by a woman.

Fortunately,  I have a pretty positive attitude,( although at times I did feel “put down”), as well as a fantastic husband who always encouraged me to follow my professional dreams. And God has always been acting for me and in me. The Holy Spirit sustained me and gave me wisdom and Jesus paid the price for me…Praise God.

As well as a culture of shaping me and other women, God was shaping the attitudes of men who witnessed arrogance and were ashamed. Now I notice that many men , including pastors, have been influenced by what they have seen and want to correct the behaviours. So  many  men have told me of their embarrassment over the bullying of women within the Lutheran culture.  With God giving us guidance, we can move away from that behaviour and follow the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 11:11-12….in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

Jesus valued women : at the foot of the cross the men fled and the women stayed to minister:    Mary, the first apostle, was told by Jesus to go and tell :  Mary, the sister of Martha, was invited by Jesus to study with him in contrast to the culture of the time which had only men studying: the Samaritan woman was valued and went and told.

I was interested to read again what Sasse said back in 1971. Thank you for including it. As well as being a teacher and music teacher I am also a qualified teacher /librarian. I am therefore qualified in research procedures and practices. I have done a search to verify what Sasse says of Pope John and can not find any  Primary Sources  which would be able to verify the alleged incident with Dr. Gertrude Heizelmann  and Pope John. I am at present working for Brisbane Catholic Education so I have access to Catholic Data. The only reference we can find is what Sasse himself wrote which , of course, is a secondary source with no primary credibility. We are wondering if he was perhaps there and heard Pope John say this, but we can’t find any evidence of that. It doesn’t fit Pope John’s profile but that  would not rule it out if we could find a primary source.   May be Sasse was indulging in some “story telling” embellishing a little to make a point. We find this in research when we have to distinguish Primary from Secondary Sources.  It is interesting that Sasse points to the fact that Jesus included women in the  order  of  ministry. I have researched Dr. Gertrude Heizelmann  and found her to be an interesting, positive and gifted woman. The ordination of women is a topic of interest  in the Catholic church where  nearly 200 women have been ordained.

At the moment I find there is SO much work in the LCA in mission in Australia.  A few weeks ago I was so happy to praise God when the Catholics asked me to lead a liturgy as no one was available…now isn’t that a miracle! ( I attained Catholic Accreditation some time ago through Australian Catholic University  but they also recognised the Concordia Seminary Studies which I did). God is wonderful to find a way for Jesus’ mission to go on regardless of  men’s restrictions and the way our culture colours our understanding of what Jesus is telling us to do. God, the source of ALL life and love, has given us his infallible word . I meet so many people who crave God’s love and forgiveness.

In this context, I listen to the voice of God  through  Scripture as I listen to the pain filled voices of women who hear God’s call to ministry but find their path blocked. I call on the Spirit for wisdom. “Jesus does not crush the weak or quench the smallest hope” Matthew 12:20.  The Gospel embraces the call of Christ that all children of God are commissioned to proclaim the message of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. How many souls are being kept out of heaven because WE didn’t embrace that call.

I was excited, Mike, to read on your President’s page Sept 5th that you are promoting Social Justice Sunday as the Gender Commission Mandate explores the inclusive ministry in all its forms within all NCCA members.

I have received a copy of John Kleinig’s email of 2006 in which he refers to lobbying retired pastors in and around Adelaide to come to synod to vote against women’s ordination in 2000.  Sources indicate that they are again being lobbied for synod 2013.  I can only pray to God that we open our hearts to HIS will to have souls with  God in heaven and ordain the women and men  called to do this in the Lutheran Church.

I’ve had cancer twice (2 different sorts), and golden staph once but God always bounces me back as a new creation to be an ambassador for Christ. The Spirit gives me such joy.  I’ve tried twice to retire from teaching but I’m led back to teach children of God’s love. I’m in a Catholic School now after many years in Lutheran Schools. Even though congregations (both Lutheran and Catholic) are depleting, God’s word is being taught in Christian Schools (Lutheran, Catholic and many others). What a huge undertaking. We need social justice for the oppressed who have no hope of hearing and learning about God’s love and Jesus’ atonement unless women and men are allowed to tell them. Thankfully other denominations are growing.

I am including a review of “Half the Sky”, by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn a book I was given by a woman pastor friend. Mike I am sending you a copy of the book. The action research illustrates the urgency of our task here on earth, and concludes the best clue to a church’s growth and development is the status and role of women in the church.


Posted by on January 2, 2013 in politics, women's ordination


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15 responses to “One woman’s reply to the College of Presidents

  1. Sandra Wittwer

    January 2, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    The Lutheran church in Australia has really treated people badly – starved our pastors and teachers – but they kept on working! Let’s hope retired pastors (who also work for nothing?) have more sense this time around. And more active members of the church are called to make their voices known.

  2. Katie and Martin

    January 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Sandra, the faithfulness of pastors and members under tough conditions is astounding isn’t it? Perhaps such loyalty and unquestioning acceptance is a key reason why injustices continue. There is easily a confusion between loyalty to God and the denomination. To question and criticise leadership and status quo can so easily feel like you are questioning God, especially when the male power structure is reinforced in a myriad ways – constitution, by-laws, doctrines and opinions, who is allowed to serve and speak, and lead and so on.
    It is equally astounding that women even want to serve in this gendered hierarchical denomination.
    We need each other to remind us of God’s inclusive embrace, in order that we are empowered to act towards gender inclusiveness in all spheres of life.

  3. Tapman

    January 2, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    A wonderful reply – I can only guess what Pastor Semmler wrote to her – but I am in awe of her patience and positive attitude. I never got a reply, but then I probably wasn’t quite as polite.

    • Katie and Martin

      January 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      This woman received a reply because she addressed her correspondence to the College of Presidents. At least some of the presidents are supportive of women’s ordination and see the dilemma in attempting to govern this Church through decree, rather than consultation.
      Anyone writing to the national President should address their letter to the College of Presidents. This way Pr Semmler will be held to account. He will ignore any protest if at all possible.

  4. jarrod ryder

    January 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    No one is worthy of ordination, men or women! It was a grace bestowed upon the apostles as iconic representatives of Christ.
    The value of femininity is clear in scripture and the practice of the early church. Nevertheless, if we are to remain consistent with our ancient roots then we must not redefine the beautiful and defined roles specific to gender, and this issue filters into issues of sexuality as can be seen in anglicanism.
    Im sorry that your service was not appreciated by the lutheran church regarding png, but far better for it to be valued by Christ :). Women’s ordination is not a matter of right – and perhaps the current methods of selection should be reviewed – and the contribution of females as mission workers and provision therefore – but that needn’t equate women’s ordination or misogyny

    • Katie and Martin

      January 3, 2013 at 9:11 pm

      Thanks Jarrod. What do you consider “the beautiful and defined roles specific to gender”? (We can’t argue with biological ones of pregnancy and breast feeding.)

  5. keatster

    January 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    can you please point me to the scriptural passages where jesus ordains his followers?

    • Katie and Martin

      January 3, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      Pertinent indeed! The LCA focusses so keenly on Lutheranism/Confessions that it has lost sight of the fact that we are primarily one in body with all Christians and only secondarily Lutherans. This has strong implications for ecumenism, which the LCA Theses of Agreement calls ‘sinful unionism’ (sigh).

  6. Graham Semmler

    February 22, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Yes I wrote a heartfelt letter to Pastor Mike also re how disgusted I was with his Newsletter but he didn’t even have the decency as my eneral President to reply, How sad. Graham Semmler

    • Katie and Martin

      February 23, 2013 at 3:19 am

      May we suggest that you express your disapointment to the President and .cc to District Presidents. You may also consider sending your comments to The Lutheran, although there’s no guarantee that your letter would be published. You are also welcome to post your letter here. We have known for some time that there is no point in simply writing to Pr Semmler. St Stephen’s sent a delegation to Pr Semmler to express its concern with the tone of the letter. While Pr Semmler expressed his apology for the tone of his letter, he did not express that same apology to the original address list. Thus, his apology does not have the credibility to be taken seriously.


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