This next Sunday is Celebration of Gifts of Women Sunday in the life of our church. This year the celebration is particularly exciting as 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of women being ordained as deacons and the 50th anniversary of women being ordained as ministers of the Word and Sacrament. In 1906, the United Presbyterian Church of North America - one of the forerunners to our PC(USA) – began admitting women as ordained deacons. In 1956, Margaret Towner was ordained as a minister by the northern Presbyterian Church. Ordination was not one given to women. Those who understood that they had been called by God to be a deacon, elder or minister, had to work long and hard for years to be recognized as full partners in ministry. Change was resisted at each step. Studies were asked for, committees appointed, not just on the issues of should women be ordained but also on such controversial topics as should women even be allowed to speak in church.
As a female minister who never had anyone in the Presbyterian Church question her calling because of her gender, I am in awe of those who came before me. I am in awe of women like Margaret Towner, and Katie Cannon who was the first African-American woman to be ordained in 1974, and Rebecca Reyes who was the first ordained Hispanic woman in 1979, and Holly Haile Smith who was the first Native American woman to be ordained in 1987. I am in awe of women who did not grow up in a church that had people who looked like them standing in the pulpit or serving on session. I am in awe of women who did not have the examples I did and yet still knew that they were called.
As this year of celebration progresses, I invite you to think about women in ministry you have know. Who was the first woman minister you knew? Who was the first elder? Deacon? Who were these firsts for our church?