August 15, 2016

Empowering Women for Ministry

            Why would we launch a new Women’s Leadership Initiative cohort at a men’s Benedictine monastery?  Does that not seem rather counter-intuitive?  Praying for several days with a community whose doctrine expressly forbids the ordination of women could have the effect of discouraging these new female learners. 
Actually, I think it has the opposite effect.  It puts in bold relief how the church is not yet one on this matter, and it sharpens the commitment of women as they respond to God’s beckoning.  It also signals the requirement of careful theological thinking as they prepare to serve in sectors that are suspicious of their calling.

            While I would never disparage my dear brothers in Christ at Conception Abbey, it is clear that we hold very different perspectives on priestly service.  They are unfailingly gracious to all the students I bring to their beautiful campus, yet there is a firm boundary between their understanding of the role of women in ministry and that which our seminary holds.  It does make for lively dialogue, and good will prevails in our discussions with the monks.
            The dream of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Central is to empower women to claim their rightful place in Christian ministry.  Many of the new members of this second cohort come from places of brokenness (Henri Nouwen’s term) as their calling has been discounted, discouraged, or derailed by those who read the Scriptures as proscribing women’s roles in pastoral leadership.  I am grateful for their tenacity and courage in responding to the nudge of the Spirit.

            We must all learn how to read the Bible in liberative ways for the church to receive the ministers God is calling.  Shaped in the Ancient Near Eastern world and the Greco-Roman early centuries, the Bible reflects a patriarchal system that relegates women to an ancillary function.  Occasionally they steal the spotlight--think of Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Mary of Magdala, Dorcas, and Lydia—yet for the most part, their lives are in supporting roles.

            Central’s WLI will prepare women for creative leadership in diverse ministry contexts.  They will move into non-profit work, congregational leadership, administration, academic, writing, and myriad other pathways to build up the Body of Christ.  They will bring varied experiences from their professions and learn how ministry can be woven into them; others will conclude an epoch in the corporate sector to embrace their next horizon.
            A new church is coming, and its flourishing depends upon the giftedness of women.  Central is excited to participate with God in forming another cohort for the sake of the church, for the sake of the world.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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