Tag Archives: Australia

A chat with Sue about Sue’s Story …”Reverend Ma’am”

Sue Westhorpe at Time to Soar conference on women's ordination, ALC, July 2013

Sue Westhorpe at Time to Soar conference on women’s ordination, ALC, July 2013

Boxhill Lutheran Church recently published the following interview with Sue Westhorpe by Pamela Richardson.  A reply by Pr Mark Tuffin will follow in another post shortly.

Several years ago I attended my first Women’s Ordination Conference where I was enlightened and inspired by stories and discussions that centered on women and their place in the Christian Church, and particularly in the Lutheran Church of Australia. So it was with anticipation that, in mid July, I, along with a number of others from Victoria, attended a Women’s Ordination Conference organised by St Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Adelaide, South Australia. It was at this conference that I heard for the first time, in the seminary refectory, Sue Westhorp’s stories — a story I listened to with a mixture of sadness, anger, and pain.

Sues’ story is about her vocation to be an ordained pastor in our Lutheran Church and the sadness, struggles, and barriers she has encountered in this journey. For me, I was moved and disturbed that I could have been in St Paul’s for six years and known Sue, but have no idea of the depth of her sadness and frustration experienced on her journey. As Sue said in her opening remarks, her story is but one of many similar stories lived out by other women who have felt called to the ministry within this, our Lutheran Church.

1. Sue, how do you cope when you reflect on the fact, that here in Australia, where women are able to be whatever they choose to be, you face seemingly insurmountable barriers to fulfill the calling you have felt since childhood to be a pastor in the Church of your birth?

Well, when we’re told “no”, we adjust, and find other ways of answering the call. So I worked at St Paul’s in music, pastoral care, and adult education: a wonderful and (eventually) full-time lay position that I thought surely must satisfy the call. And yet it didn’t. There was always part of the ministry that was missing, ‘fullness’ of ministry.

So I compensated with about 10 years of service in the national church, chairing the Department of Music and sitting on the Department of Liturgics and the Commission on Worship. I planned music for three general synods, and for the last one planned all the worship. But all of this together still did not satisfy the call; and I also got increasingly frustrated with having my ideas and suggestions only taken seriously when repeated by a male committee member.

A breakthrough came with my studies in Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE. Not only was my calling affirmed, but I found new ways of doing ministry, new ways of doing theological reflection. And I was also led into new employment, currently as a palliative care chaplain in the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Without compromising who I am as a Christian or a Lutheran, this involves me in multi-faith ministry, helping people make sense of what they experience in hospital, often in their last days. Because I no longer have freedom to travel for meetings, I have had to give up my work on national LCA bodies; but I love what I am doing now.

My colleagues from other churches affirm my gifts and calling — even their humour is affirming! For example, every morning, one of the hospital cleaners greets me with “Good morning, Reverend Ma’am”! But the important thing is that I am now able to do most aspects of ministry (with the exception of consecrating the Communion elements), including preaching and leading some services such as funerals (usually at the request of those I have ministered to in their last days, or their families). And yet there is still that lingering sadness that I cannot take those final steps, and that even the work I now do cannot be within the context of my LCA church, my home.

2. Sue, in your story you mentioned your dream, that your husband Peter encouraged, of going to the wonderful “Mecca” that is “the Sem’’ to study theology. What was the initial response to your application to study there?

Very  positive. Peter Lockwood said “Yes, please come.”

3. You have spoken of “some harder times” as your studies progressed. What were they and why did they develop?

Well, in our first year, a friend and I had to fight to be allowed into the Bachelor of Theology program rather than the Bachelor of Arts in Theology then being offered to lay people. There was the time I discussed my sense of call with a final year student, and the shock of his opinion that the only call I could have had must be from the devil. There was the pain of being excluded from certain Seminary subjects that were declared reserved for pastoral candidates — with the flow-on effect in general synods and gatherings of being excluded from discussions when the ‘serious’ theological and ministry talk began.

5. Sue, having completed the Bachelor of Theology and any other requirements expected of a pastor, what respect and acknowledgement has the church and its clergy given to your knowledge and experiences?

I have the Bachelor of Theology (and my Bachelor of Music, and CPE qualifications); but I don’t have all the subjects required for a pastor. Women at Seminary were not permitted to study homiletics (how to prepare and deliver a sermon).

As for the second part of your question, there are some pastors within the church who are truly pastoral, and can deal with this area with respect and sensitivity — and that includes some on both sides of the political division over ordination.

6. Sue, how and why do you remain in the LCA despite the fact that other Lutheran women have left it because they have felt there is no place for their vocation in this our church?

This church is so much a part of my spiritual DNA, my roots, that I really cannot leave it behind. I choose to stay, even though chaplaincy colleagues have offered me “safe harbour” in other denominations that ordain women.

7. So, Sue, what are your future hopes for women like yourself in the LCA?

After the vote at the Toowoomba Synod (the majority in favour of ordination of women and men, but less than the 66% hurdle that had been set), a pastor friend remarked that the ordination of women was inevitable but it could take up to 100 years to come into effect. For the sake of other women who feel called, I hope it is sooner than that. I hope that there will soon be a way that a call to ministry in the LCA can be tested for all people, as it is now for men.

But mostly I pray that the ordination of women may be allowed in the LCA for the sake of the church and the gospel. And until it is, we shall continue to find other ways to serve.

8. Finally, Sue, what are the things and images that sustain you in this journey?

There are two images that sustain me on my journey.

The first is the image of the crucified Christ — the Christ who knows pain, who knows rejection, who knows suffering — this is the Christ I carry as I visit patients and families in my work, this is the Christ who carries me in my pain about ordination.

The other symbol comes in a wonderful gift given to me by Elizabeth Pech after the death of Pastor Herman. When she moved into a retirement village, Elizabeth gave me Herman’s home Communion set, for which I am deeply grateful. At first I left the vessels exactly the way they were — unpolished, with a hint of Herman still about them. A couple of months ago, I decided to clean them so they were ready for use. For me, this is like the maidens keeping their lamps trimmed — this is both a symbol of what I cannot yet do, and a symbol of my hope and readiness.


Posted by on January 14, 2013 in sociology, women's ordination


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Sally Chandler’s keynote address at All Saints Conference

Logo for ALL SAINTS and Time to Soar conferences. Image by Ray Kempe

Logo for ALL SAINTS and Time to Soar conferences. Image by Ray Kempe


Sally Chandler was the Principal (1994–2002, 2011) at St Peter’s Lutheran College, Indooroopilly, Qld.  She now focuses on her art.

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:
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.


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.

Sally Chandler


Posted by on January 8, 2013 in history, theology, women's ordination


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Rounds and Squares


From the NakedPastor – Jan 4th 2013

We have had recently had some immigrants join our congregation.  We feel blessed to have them amongst us and look forward to learning from, and sharing with them in many ways.

Perhaps in another generation, when Australia was largely monocultural, we may not have been so welcoming.  Perhaps we may have felt uncomfortable with their food, their clothing, their grammatical mistakes.  Perhaps we may have been fearful if our children began to socialise with them, or even fell in love with them and wanted to marry.  How would we deal with the grandchildren?  Would they be Australian or would they feel foreign?

Today, we could be resentful, perhaps, about the jobs they have found, perhaps thinking that they are making it more difficult for Australians to find jobs.  However, we are not resentful and we wish them every success as they adapt to their chosen nation and worship community. We have embraced them and will do our best to assist them in any way we can, in order that they surmount the hurdles that a new, complex setting provides.

Is it not ironic that we can embrace people from a foreign culture, that we can take them into the heart of our Lutheran congregation, that our church building is theirs to explore and ask questions of, and yet we cannot take women into the heart of spiritual and pastoral care of our Church?  We hold that we are a welcoming Church, our street notice-boards present wise and loving statements, but underneath it all there are hidden rules that exclude the majority of our members from leadership.

This issue seems to be about the fear of offending God by doing the wrong thing.  Fear causes us to do strange things and affects our life for the worse.

When it’s fear of people, it’s complex.  Some societies, when dealing with fear of each other, specialise in institutionalising their fears into levels of class, rank or race.  These structures develop complicated philosophical justifications for their fears, which encases them into permanency.  We Australians are somewhat bemused by the English class system, and are distressed at the caste system of India and Apartheid South Africa, which are/were designed to justify the dehumanisation of lower castes.

In addition, we find that rank is used against women.  In these past few weeks since the brutal rape and murder of a young Indian medical student by six young men, we have learnt how women have been ‘othered’ in that country.   It seems that many in India had minimised the impact of rape on women, including whole communities, police and government.  It has taken this atrocity to (presumably) get action.

The Old Testament regulations reveals many fears around women, unmarried women, rape, veils, marriage, talking to strangers, appearing in public, testifying in court, walking in public, ownership of women … Is it a surprise that women were not allowed to become a priest? Today, for some reason, conservatives have chosen to focus on certain Old Testament practices, yet pay no attention to the many other rules that surrounded women.

It is simply absurd to hold that there is a fundamental difference between women and men in regards to ordination.  At this time, when we acknowledge that women are just as capable as men, the LCA looks increasingly mediaeval in its attitude to women.  What originated in ages past, perhaps in more violent tribal settings, can no longer be justified.

Taking action?
What is it that you might do?  Would you subscribe to and share this blog? Facebook? Twitter?   Would you write a letter?  Would you volunteer to be a delegate at General Convention? Would you write your own blog?  Would you form a discussion group in your own congregation to discuss what your congregation might do? (or you may just invite a friend for coffee to talk about possibilities)  Would you seek out others? Would you consider donating to a woman’s scholarship at ALC? (we are so numerous that every woman student there could receive a scholarship)

Share your suggestions for action as a comment below.


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One woman’s reply to the College of Presidents


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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One woman’s letter to the College of Presidents


The following letter, which was sent to the LCA College of Presidents, expresses one woman’s story and her desire for women’s ordination.  Her story makes plain that the issue is no longer about theology. Current generations clearly long for men to remove the barriers to women’s pastoral leadership.

The College of Presidents
August 2012

I pray…that…words may be given me…Eph. 6:19 (Ed: Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel)

Some helpful advice given to me on retirement was;- maintain an influence in your area of expertise. My area of expertise is teaching but particularly from the mission perspective of Christ’s final command on earth. God’s love has led me into mission and I am amazed at the words and ideas I am given.

When I was not expected to live in 2003 with a serious infection, there was a shortage of Lutheran pastors and so no one available,  so I needed to be a pastor to myself during a long stay in hospital. God was with me all the way (as was my wonderful husband and family and prayer groups all over Australia in different denominations). God worked in me with love and brought healing and even enabled me to minister to staff in the hospital. In an extremely difficult time God was awesome! I was given that experience so I could advocate for women pastors one day. How I would have loved a woman pastor when I was so sick. I feel so sad for women who are dying without that support.

When I had recovered some months later a friend said to me “God has prepared you for jobs to do so you better be ready for what is set for you”.

God has given me people to care for,  but one thing I have been led to is the  Lutheran Women’s Ministry Network because I have felt the aching need for women pastors(there are not enough men to start with!). A German trained woman pastor friend and I presented a paper on Women’s Ordination in Tanunda in the late 1960’s and it was enthusiastically received by both pastors and nonpastors.

Last year when I had cancer a lovely woman pastor came to me in hospital and what a wonderful Spirit filled time that was. I was so happy to meet her again at the TIME TO SOAR Conference in Adelaide in July…..what a blessing! May God grant this blessing to more women.

On Sunday I was saddened to find that 3 more  (45 years old & younger) families in leadership positions left our Lutheran Congregation to a denomination which recognises God’s call to women and men. Lutheran Congregations keep losing  people in this age bracket as they study God’s word and the reality becomes obvious to them. I do praise God who calls women and men and inspires churches who will ordain them. I am sad that the LCA is losing these wonderful women and men.

There is not one Scripture in the Bible that forbids women from preaching, but on the contrary, there are many verses that encourage both men and women to preach the Gospel.I don’t need to expand on this as you all spent more time at the Seminary than I did. Anyway, spreading God’s love is too urgent an issue, to argue about permission when Jesus’ command is clear.

In his letter of August 10th Mike mentions culture and, while it has been Lutheran culture in Australia to have “men only” pastors I believe God is asking us to put aside that cultural belief and obey the command of “Preach the Gospel” Only Satan wins when we maintain our culture of restricting women.

The call to me from God, to be a Christian teacher, has always been so clear and borne such fruit that I know that when God calls women and men to be pastors it is clear to them too. Walking through our busy  Shopping Centre this week the thought came to my mind  “ALL these people…who is bringing God’s love to them?” The immediate answer was “Probably nobody”. How sad that we, the LCA, are closing doors by excluding women from being Preachers of the Gospel.

I have 2 cousins who are pastors. One of them is a man so the LCA ordained him. The other is a woman so she had to leave the LCA to be ordained, although she still has a heart for the LCA. I enjoy her emails recounting the exciting opportunities God gives her as a pastor and also the way the church she is serving is growing because God is blessing her preaching of the word.

I have a son and daughter both called to be pastors. The LCA ordained my son but my daughter will need to go to another denomination, at this point in time, to be ordained. They both serve the same God and God is blessing both of them as they go and tell.

God called me to mission as a young person. We had a lovely woman pastor in our town when I was a child and she was an inspiration.

I spent time in the remote highlands in New Guinea where, as a woman I needed to participate the same as a man…teach, preach etc. for the Lutheran Mission.

In Australia God’s call to me was mostly teaching until I was called as part of a small team, to establish a mission congregation and school in a city. Again, this was no time to opt out of leading worship and sacraments just because I was a woman. God was leading people to us so we all needed to respond and do what had to be done.

I am pleased to read on the LCA homepage “in effect it is people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”. I have sometimes felt that we were being told what to think but this is a God pleasing statement and gives me hope.

One thing that has been puzzling me is why we can’t advertise our Women’s Ministry Conferences in the Lutheran like other things  such as Travel, Funerals, Wine etc. We are happy to pay for the advertisements like the others do. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next conference. Praise God!



Posted by on January 1, 2013 in politics, women's ordination


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Hey, mate!

Yesterday, Sunday 25th November was White Ribbon Day in Australia – a campaign to stop violence against women.

One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence from the time they turn 15 years old.

One in five will have experienced sexual violence according to these same figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

What is more, a woman living in this country is more likely to be killed in her home by her male partner than anywhere else or by anyone else.

Almost eight out of 10 female murder victims in Australia were killed by someone with whom they shared a domestic relationship.  Reference

Check out further videos in this series

Here is the pledge that Aussie men are encouraged to take:

I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This is my oath.

This is also the pledge that those clergy, who are the hands and voice opposing women’s equality in the LCA, are encouraged to make.

At some stage in a girl’s life she becomes aware that being a pastor in the LCA is open only to her brothers. This relegation to the ranks of second-best, using the Bible as justification is spiritually abusive.  Girls are judged – without their participation – long before being born.  It’s no different to the Indian caste system – there’s no escaping, just the collusion of those with something to lose.  If you peacefully accept it and trust in good karma perhaps you’ll have a better incarnation next time.

As Christians we are not to trust in the justice of heaven, we are to live the justice of heaven.  We cannot wait.  We cannot expect women and girls to wait for some after-life reward, for that kind of piety is patronising nonsense.

There can be no excuse for violence against women and girls!  It’s that simple!  If you are using Scripture to justify your violence, then you have a choice: 1. discard Scripture or 2. reconsider your interpretation of Scripture.  No, there is a third option, discard your religion, for that is a better choice than using it to oppress your sisters.  Sacrilegious?  Not at all!  Using religion to justify violence is the sacrilege.

Feedback and suggestions are warmly invited.  We’d love to get your comment.

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Posted by on November 25, 2012 in sociology, theology, women's ordination


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Women as Priests –

Andrea M. Johnson was ordained a Roman Catholic Womanpriest in 2007 and bishop in 2009. She has worked for many years as a religious educator at the adult and secondary levels. Her particular interest is ministry with marginalized and underserved Catholics.

Reposted from the New York Times.  Women as Priests –

REFORMERS within the Roman Catholic Church have been calling for the ordination of women as priests. The Vatican, however, refuses to consider the possibility and uses its power to silence those who speak out. Catholic clergy in Europe, Australia and the United States who have voiced public support for female ordination have been either dismissed or threatened with removal from administrative posts within the church. Read more and view the slide show of many Women Priests.


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