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Sue Westhorp tells her story

Sue Westhorp, a called and un-ordained pastor and musician in the LCA, shares her story of study, disappointment, marginalisation and continuing hope.

This post is an audio recording from All Saints Conference, Indooroopilly, Qld 2012

Sue Westhorp’s presentation at All Saints, Indooroopilly, Qld

 
 

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A layman’s view of women’s ordination in the LCA

The following letter is from Bob Unger of Indooroopilly.  It reflects the growing frustration that the considered opinion of membership and Synod delegates increasingly seem to be ignored in the LCA.  The letter is followed by another letter from a women who left the LCA to minister in another Australian church. It appears on Katie and Martin dated 6th April 2013.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church and have been a member for 60 years. I have watched the Church that I love struggle for 20 years with the question of Women’s Ordination. In the first decade, not being a theologian, I trusted the wise men of the CTICR to study the Gospel and to provide advice to the Church.

I was pleased with the first CTICR report and was even more delighted when after further examination; the second again found “that there are no theological reasons to prohibit the ordination of women”. For me there was now no longer a conflict; the Church I love and my own personal values were aligned. I was overjoyed!

Imagine my despondency when the Toowoomba Synod succeeded in gaining for the second time a simple majority (but not the required two thirds). I have sat patiently, watching the growing numbers of people quietly leaving the Church I love, watching a whole generation of children grow into adults and then leave the Church I love, because they are unable to reconcile the hypocrisy of a church that professes “love and compassion” while discriminating against half its membership. I have watched the humiliation of female Lutheran Pastors, ordained overseas, not being allowed to participate in full Ministry and even being denied the use of the title Pastor. I have watched as qualified women are denied the opportunity to answer their call to serve.

I have watched as groups opposed to female ordination have cried “you’ll split the church”. The Church that I love is deeply divided, clergy disillusioned, members quietly leaving to find another spiritual home and many like me staying around in the belief that sanity will prevail.

I am unable to understand, although I am of reasonable intelligence, how a minority of both clergy and laity have been able to bring the Church that I love to this current sad state of division, intransigence, intimidation and intolerance.

From my view from the pew, a majority of our learned theologians (CTICR) on two occasions have found “that there are no theological reasons to prohibit the ordination of women”. The High Court of Australia decides matters of Constitutional Law by a simple majority and there is no right of appeal. Worldwide, the majority of Lutheran churches and their members ordain women, appoint women as bishops and are ministered to by women clergy.

A majority of clergy at two General Pastors Conferences have referred Women’s Ordination to General Synod for decision. At two Synods a majority of delegates have supported the case for the ordination of women. The “Theology” to my mind is settled. I have been on this earth too long to believe human beings will ever reach unanimity on any topic, let alone women’s ordination.

From my place in the pew, no one in support of the ordination of women wants to divide the church, we have remained silent for so long on this issue, to avoid such an outcome. No one is suggesting that all congregations have to call female Pastors, our existing call system allows congregations to call pastors of their choice. No one is suggesting that those who are opposed to women’s ordination will be forced to receive the sacraments from a female Pastor.

From my place in the pew, the position is clear, we will never achieve unanimity or consensus on this issue, the theology however is settled: “there are no theological reasons to prohibit the ordination of women”. The question is, how do we move forward together in love to find an understanding that is acceptable to both groups? To achieve Union both camps had to give a little, it is time to “give a little” once more.

I am attaching a document containing a description of a woman pastor’s experience of a Jewish Bar Mitzvah. She has left the Lutheran Church and has for some years been a pastor in a large Australian city church where God is blessing her work abundantly. God gives her understanding.

We must find a way ahead for the Church that we All Love!

Yours in Christ
Bob Unger

Attachment to A Layman’s View of Women’s Ordination in the LCA

Women in the synagogue

 

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President continues to dismiss congregations’ motions

President Semmler at the WA District Synod this last weekend announced that there would be no debate on women’s ordination at the coming General Synod.

At General Synod General Pastors’ Conference fifteen minutes has been allowed for the “Consensus Task Force” on women’s ordination to report, which allows no time for discussion. On the other hand, 30 minutes has been allowed for the presentation of “Title of President/Bishop”.  A pastor comments,

“The former business belongs to a synodical mandate while the latter was never requested by the church.  What is one to think?”

The key issue is that the President long ago overstepped his authority in stamping his personal opinion on the women’s ordination debate.  While it is true that an agenda needs to be drawn up from motions submitted from the Church general, the authority of the congregation remains central in this synodical organisation. The Church’s homepage states:

Every three years representatives of the LCA’s congregations meet for the Convention of Synod, which is our church’s primary decision-making body. Pastors provide input regarding theological matters, but in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church. Ref

Pr Semmler (President of the LCA) seeks to have it both ways.  He likes being able to declare that we have a synodical structure (“in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”) while also maintaining a tight control over the working of the Church, in particular in how the debate on women’s ordination is carried out.  To do this he has stepped somewhat firmly on the motions submitted from St Stephen’s, Adelaide and St Peter’s, Indooroopilly.

Perhaps a more diplomatic approach would have been to announce that the responsible committee for the agenda has not listed the motions on Synod agenda and therefore a motion from Synod floor will be needed to reinstate them.  He has, however, no interest in encouraging the membership’s desire to have the motions reinstated.  Consequently, delegates will need to make sure, in the opening stages of General Synod, when the Chair (Pr Semmler) announces a motion seeking approval for the proposed agenda, that they quickly respond by moving an amendment to reinstate the women’s ordination motions. You will only have a moment or two to respond.

Delegates, be aware that your active presence is required at General Synod.  Please add your voice to the objections on how the Church is governed.  To do this, you will need to network and seek out those who can give the appropriate background information.

What are you doing to raise the profile of women’s ordination? Remember that each conversation raises the profile of women’s ordination in the LCA.

It is a sobering thought that even Baptists in Australia ordain women.

 

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Pr Mike Semmler announces his retirement

LCA-mike

President Rev Mike Semmler

Pr Mike Semmler has just announced that he will not stand again for the position of President of the LCA.

It is difficult to believe that this era of staunch resistance to women’s ordination may be over (2000-2013).  While there may always be people who are distressed by the idea of women’s ordination (though other churches’ experience is that concerns fade once people experience the pastoral care of women), there was no more an important position than that of President of the LCA in opposing women’s ordination.  The position was used to delay, stifle and ignore discussion in the CTICR and in the national journal, as well as cling to the Church’s ‘current position’, repressing further debate, thereby clinging to the current position.  How was change ever going to come unless there was open debate?

Of course, it remains to be seen who will stand for the position, but Synod delegates would presumably be twice shy about who it elects to this position, which, we have learnt, is an incredibly powerful one in guiding or sidelining issues within the Church.

Please include the election of our national president in your prayers.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in politics, women's ordination

 

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One woman’s letter to the College of Presidents

Hope___Breast_Cancer_Awareness_by_allentattoo

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!

 

 
9 Comments

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

 

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Greenland Lutherans chronic shortage of male clergy

“Greenland has a chronic shortage of male pastors, says Inuit Bishop Sofie Petersen. There ordained women outnumber men in the church nearly three to one.

“In Greenland there are only 56,000 inhabitants. Most of them are Lutherans,” says the bishop. “In my church there are 25 pastors, but only nine of them are males. What’s more there are three deans in our church and two of them are women.”

(more)

Reference: An Indigenous Communion: Greenland Lutherans Need More Male Pastors Says Female Bishop.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in sociology, women's ordination

 

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The Gospel Principle and Women’s Ordination – Dr Norm Habel

Norm Habel - Professorial Fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, and a pastor of The Lutheran Church.

We are Lutheran!   Our church and church leaders are Lutheran, a tradition of which we can be proud.  We are not Roman Catholic, Reformed or Fundamentalists.  We are Lutheran and that means we are guided by the Gospel principle.

The Gospel principle is that criterion by which we discern whether a teaching, a tradition, an interpretation, a course of action or a form of ministry is consistent with the message of the Gospel, the message that by the grace of God and faith in Christ, not obedience to the law or human works, we are liberated from our sins and born anew as children of God.

In popular terms the Gospel principle is encapsulated in the idiom, ‘Was Christum treibet!’  Whatever directs us to Christ, the message of Christ and the way of Christ, is to be our guiding principle.  Christ is our compass not Moses.  The Gospel is our guide not the law.

The Gospel announces the revelation that all human beings, both men and women, have been liberated from sin, from death and from the law as a way of salvation or of bonding with God. Both men and women are free from obedience to the law as a way of salvation and a binding relationship with God. To introduce a ‘law’ limiting the role of women in the church, is to limit the freedom they know in the Gospel and is a violation of the Gospel principle.

The Gospel embraces the call of Christ that all children of God, both men and women, are commissioned to proclaim the message of the Gospel in both word and sacrament.  Any human ‘law’ which prevents women from proclaiming the Gospel, in whatever form, is a violation of the Gospel principle!  Women, like men, have experienced the call of Christ to serve as his ministers. Preventing women from serving in the ordained ministry is a denial of a role to which Christ calls them.

The Gospel affirms the truth that Christ supersedes Moses, the Gospel supersedes the law.  Any human institution that reverts back to those Mosaic laws which limit the ministry of women is not only regressive but also violates an essential dimension of the Gospel principle. Through Christ, women like men, have received the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit but are prevented from celebrating these gifts to the full by being denied, as were the women under Mosaic law,  from celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Gospel as ordained women.

It is therefore appropriate that the church authorities apologise to those women who have been wounded by the practice of denying them ordination as servants of Christ through an ecclesiastical ‘law’ that is in conflict with the very Gospel principle we celebrate as Lutherans.

In 1955, when I graduated from Concordia Seminary and planned to study in America, I asked Henry Hamann senior whether I could be ordained even though I had no parish.  ‘Yes, indeed!’ he said.  ‘The rite of ordination as such’ he continued, ‘is a human institution.’

If ordination is not a rite specified by Christ but only a human institution, how can we possibly persist in denying women the privilege of ordination, an institution that violates the Gospel principle we uphold as Lutherans,  and still call ourselves Lutheran?

Norman Habel

 
 

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