Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: The Rise Of Women’s Ordination In The Holiness Tradition -- By: Michelle Sanchez

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 24:4 (Autumn 2010)
Article: Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: The Rise Of Women’s Ordination In The Holiness Tradition
Author: Michelle Sanchez

Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: The Rise Of Women’s Ordination In The Holiness Tradition

Michelle Sanchez

Michelle Sanchez (M.Div., Th.M.) is Pastor of Christian Formation at Highrock Covenant Church in Arlington, Massachusetts. Her co-authored book Routes and Radishes, and Other Things to Talk about at the Evangelical Crossroads is being published by Zondervan in October 2010.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while many American denominations were still silencing the public voices of women in the churches, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene purportedly exclaimed: “Some of our best ‘men are women!” Since its founding in 1908, the Church of the Nazarene— like several other major Holiness denominations—has ordained women to all offices of ministry in the church. In this regard, the Holiness tradition stands out in an extraordinary fashion from most other major Christian traditions in America at that time. In the words of sociologist Bryan Wilson, “The Holiness Movement in its varied forms brought women to the fore, perhaps more than any previous development in Christianity”1

Before 1920, there were nineteen American denominations that officially granted clergy rights to women. A full eight of those (42 percent) were from the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition; this is especially noteworthy when compared to the next most prominent tradition, the Baptists. Three Baptist denominations (16 percent) ordained women before 1920.2 Of the denominations of the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition, five were newly founded. It is striking to note that the Salvation Army (1870), the Church of God (Anderson) (1881), the Pentecostal Holiness Church (1895), the Pilgrim Holiness Church (1897), and the Church of the Nazarene (1908) all ordained women since their inception at a time when women’s ordination was still an exceptionally rare occurrence.3

But why were these denominations so different? What was it about the Holiness tradition that led to their unusually early acceptance of the ordained ministry of women? The answers to these questions are complex and cannot be determined with full precision. Nonetheless, some strong conjectures can be made. Through examining the histories of these denominations as well as the memoirs of the women ministers who served within them, we can distinguish one important feature of the Holiness tradition which may have led to its unusually early acceptance of women’s ordination: its strong emphasis on the present and transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, I propose that at least three implications of this Holy Spirit emphasis...

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