Editor’s Reflections -- By: William David Spencer
What price do women pay in following God’s call to ordained ministry? For Louise Woosley in 1889, her ordination in Nolin Presbytery cost her the support of her father, her colleagues, and many in the larger Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee, of which the presbytery was a part.
As her own denomination would not support her, the now Reverend Woosley began preaching wherever she was able to do so: in churches, schools, even open fields. In an excellent article, “From Preacher in the Field to Mother in the Church: Reverend Louisa M. Woosley,” author Nannette Sawyer quotes Rev. Woosley as reporting, “At the close of one of my meetings, the Methodist Church received forty additions.”1
Dismissed because of her gender and robbed of her vote by instruction from the Kentucky Synod, which oversaw Nolin Presbytery, she still found support in her ordaining body. Nolin Presbytery stood beside her and regularly invited her to preach or pray and to have voice at presbytery meetings. Twenty-five years after her ordination, she was finally reinstated, but forty two more years would pass before the northern Presbyterians would ordain a woman (1956) and eight more after that (1964) before the southern church would.
Ministry is never easy. And as Reformed women were struggling to fulfill their callings and exercise their gifts, so were many of their counterparts in the Anabaptist Arminian movement. On top of the usual opposition faced by all the faithful, regardless of gender, in this fallen world, bounded as it is by evil (chronic illness, the failings of spouses, the death or apostasy of children), they had to confront additional opposition from those who believed God exclusively gifts and calls males to leadership in ministry. Psalm 34:19a (Heb. v. 20a) is not selective when it observes, “Abundant are the adversities of the righteous.”
Readers might wonder, why devote an entire issue to women who lived one to two hundred and fifty years ago? How are their accounts of any use to us? If current postmodern thinking has contributed anything to the present age’s regard for the uses of history, it is precisely to go back and salvage stories from the past from which to glean wisdom to help us write the story of the present. What kind of records do modern Christians need to retrieve to give us the tools for the composition of our lives along the lines of Christ’s great master script? We at CBE believe these mothers of the faith supply such helpful data.
The other danger, besides dismissal as too ancient to be helpful, is to reject such women as too holy to be useful to contemp...
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