Brethren Women In Ministry: Century One -- By: Jerry R. Flora

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 15:0 (NA 1982)
Article: Brethren Women In Ministry: Century One
Author: Jerry R. Flora


Brethren Women In Ministry: Century One

Jerry R. Flora

The purpose of this article is to introduce a chapter of Brethren history that has not yet been written. The material is sketchy and at times inadequate, but the subject is of continuing interest. Other students of the Brethren past—even knowing some of the story firsthand—did not write it, apparently because their interests lay elsewhere. But the time has come to attempt a beginning at recovering the evidence and reconstructing the picture. And so, uneven and incomplete as it may be, this essay intends to introduce those women of the Brethren Church who have participated in the church’s official ministry.1

When the German Baptists divided in 1881 and 1882, the Progressives who formed the Brethren Church (1883) found themselves confronting a cluster of issues on “the woman question”: May a woman in the communion service receive the bread and the

cup from another woman, or must she take them from the hand of a man (whether elder or deacon)?2 What is the role of women in the teaching and evangelistic activities of the church? Must women wear a prayer cap or veil and, if so, when and for what reasons?3 What of the temperance movement, led largely by women (especially Frances E. Willard of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union)? May congregations elect deaconesses as well as deacons and, if so, should the women be ordained by prayer and the laying on of hands like the men?4 What of the woman suffrage movement with its specific goal of giving women the right to vote in political elections?5 Similarly, what privileges and responsibilities are open to them in the life of the church? In particular, may women be ordained to the ministry and serve as pastors of congregations?6

Henry R. Holsinger, the leading spokesman of the Brethren Church in the period following 1883, wrote at the age of sixty-two, “I am glad I never stood in the way of women preaching, and that I belong to a church that assists them in doing so.”7 How did the church assist? Not only by personal and tangible support as the women organized to underwrite the infant outreach efforts, but also by formally encouraging them to enter the ministry. For example, the 1890 Michigan district conference included in its resolutions this stat...

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