Ninety Years Of Brethren Women In Ministry -- By: Jerry R. Flora

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 17:0 (NA 1984)
Article: Ninety Years Of Brethren Women In Ministry
Author: Jerry R. Flora


Ninety Years Of Brethren Women In Ministry

Jerry R. Flora1

When the Progressive wing of the German Baptist Brethren organized in 1882–83 as the Brethren Church, they moved quickly to grant women the privilege and responsibility of church leadership. The first General Conference met in 1882, the second in 1887, and the third in 1892, after which they met annually. By 1894 both the General Conference and most of the district conferences had passed resolutions favoring the equality of men and women in the church or the inclusion of women in the ranks of pastors and missionaries.2

The first woman was ordained in 1890, but no collection today contains the denomination’s periodical, The Brethren Evangelist, for the years 1890–93. Therefore, this study of Brethren women in ministry must begin at 1894, the earliest year for which such record exists. The purpose of the article is not to argue for or against the right of women to be ordained or serve as pastors,3 but to describe as accurately as possible the activities of those who were recognized as ministers in the Brethren Church. The method will be to take “soundings” at fifteen-year intervals in the period 1894 to 1984, summarizing what was published in The Brethren Evangelist. Not every women designated as a minister will be mentioned, but only those active in the fifteen-year increments.

1894

It has been estimated that, when the Brethren Church began in 1883, it had about 6,000 members. A dozen years later 12,700 members were reported in 173 congregations.4

(1) MARY MALINDA STERLING (1859–1933) of Masontown, Pennsylvania, was the first woman to be ordained in the Brethren Church (1890). She was also the first president of the national women’s auxiliary, the Sisters’ Society of Christian Endeavor (S.S.C.E.), which she led from its founding in 1887 until 1892. The year 1894 opened with a report that she had been holding revival meetings at Masontown and Middle Run in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and had baptized two persons in the Monongahela River.5 The Middle Run meeting closed on January 30, with another convert who was to be baptized by her brother, Rev. A.J. Sterling.6

In June the denomination learned that she had spent seven months in evangelistic preaching in West Virginia and Pennsylvania

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