Stirring it up at church (any Lutherans or other Christians here?) [really long!]

It’s late, and I’m tired, and yet I fight sleep for no apparent reason whatsoever. Maybe I just enjoy being brain-dead at work. It certainly makes the job less painful. :wink:

Anyway, I thought I’d ask a question to the religious people on the board. I attend a fairly conservate Lutheran church here in the Dallas area. I also teach the high school Sunday school class.

Recently the church passed out surveys to take inventory of what abilities the members had, and whether they’d be interested in contributing time in those areas to the church. I checked off teaching and web design and tossed it in the box without much thought.

One of the areas of interest was “Lay Reading,” which is when a regular member of the church reads something from both testaments at a certain point of the service. I skipped it if for no other reason than the fact that the readers always wear suits, and I only drag my one suit out of the closet for special occasions. :wink:

One of the girls in my class, however, had no such objection, and marked that she would indeed be interested in doing a reading. Of course, she did this knowing that women are not permitted to perform this function in our particular church. I knew there was a reason I liked her. :smiley:

I should mention in here somewhere that I’m fairly liberal in normal company, so amongst the straight-laced and straight-faced conservatives at church, I look like some kind of hippie nutjob. Needless to say, I was thrillied when one of my students decided to stick it to the man (even if it was in a small way).

So I spoke to her and a couple of the other students at a church picnic and decided it would be a good topic for Sunday school the following Sunday to discuss women and their role in the church. I read up on the relevant passages in the NT, especially in 1 Corinthians, and I’m ready to rock on Sunday morning.

That’s where it got interesting. This particular Sunday happened to be “LWML” day (Lutheran Womens Missionary League), so women from the congregation were doing the greetings at the doors, and the ushering. When it came time for the lay reading, it was a man, but that was to be expected. As far as I know, the men-only policy regarding the readings during the service was enacted by a congregation-wide vote, so it’s not something they can change for a Sunday.

When the pastor began his sermon, he held a bottle of salad dressing. It had been sitting there overnight, and had seperated. He went on to explain that church was not always about being comfortable with the way things are, and that like the salad dressing, the church needs to be shaken up once in a while to get the good stuff. I looked at my wife, and gave her a discreet fist-pumping “Yes!”

After the message came the usual stuff: childrens’ message, a few 600-year-old hymns, and the collection. Something odd accompanied the collection though: The ushers collecting the offering were all men. What on earth is this? Apparently women in my church are not allowed to handle money. If I wasn’t sure if we should do something about the lay reader thing before, I was now. The women were back to usher us out at the end of the service, which made their absence during the collection even more apparent. I really hope that I’m not the only one who was baffled by this.

In Sunday school we talked about what Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding women keeping their heads covered, and so on. We agreed that these chapters were not literal instructions for us today, but specific admonitions to the women in the church at the time. There of course was message for us, and it was simple: Don’t do something that is going to divide the church or distract it from its real purpose. The qyestion is, how much does something have to seem wrong to us before we do something to try and make it right? And how do we weigh the importance of the issue against problems we might cause in the church?

We’re still pondering those questions, but meanwhile we’re going to do something. We figured that we can at least put together our thoughts and the Bible verses to back them up and see what the pastor thinks. If he supports us, maybe we can get it voted on at the next meeting. We’ll probably get voted down anyway, but it’ll be fun to try.

Anyway, I should wrap this up before I have to add a table of contents. If anyone has any similar experiences at their own churches, or opinions one way or the other on the issue, I’d love to hear 'em. :slight_smile:


  • Chris S

Oh and I should have mentioned, my church is an LCMS church, which is the more traditional brand of Lutheranism. Allowing women to participate in lay reading has not been established by the synod as a whole; it’s up to individual member churches to decide for themselves where they stand on the issue.

I don’t know anything about the Lutheran church but I don’t understand why it would be a big deal for a woman to do a reading.

But, good on you for questioning and for getting your students to question also. But…don’t be surprised if you ruffle some parent’s feathers by doing so. I’ve been there…not fun.

I go to a Southern Baptist church BTW where women aren’t allowed to be deacons or pastors.

Good luck!

I was raised ELCA Lutheran, which is the slightly less traditional brand of Lutheranism - they even ordain women! (Theyre still too traditional for my tastes as far as homosexuality goes, however.) My best friend in college was (and still is) LCMS. During the period where I thought I might want to go to seminary we had loads of heated discussions about the “proper” role of women in the church.

Im very glad there is someone wanting to do something about this issue. It’s not that Im trying to impose my personal religious or political beliefs on others, but this is obviously a policy you disagree with, Slacker, and I am glad you have the courage to try to change it in that case. And I think it’s *very[/] cool youre making it a Sunday school project.

I’m a female Catholic and former lector (same thing as your lay reader). The church never got hit by lightning the Sundays and holy days that I read scripture.

It’s great that you’re trying to make changes from within, and that you are inspring your students to do the same. Way to go!

Shouldn’t your thread title be shaking it up? Heh heh heh…

Ahem…anyway, I don’t know much about the Lutheran church, since my town is about as Southern Baptist as you can get. So take everything I say with a grain of salt - I admit that I’m largely talking out my rear.

I attend the Presbyterian church, and a few years ago we chose to have a female pastor lead us. Intial shock and horror from the town, along with accusations that she was a lesbian (yeah, the short hair and divorced status was the giveaway, I’m sure). Eventually most of our town came to realize that our pastor is a Very Cool Lady, and she became president of the local ministerial alliance - meaning she lead all the community worship services, with Baptists and other denominations who don’t allow women to lead. Of course, it wasn’t ever really an issue with my church itself - we had already had women taking the offering, helping to serve communion, etc. If you want to start a movement to have women leaders in your church, I encourage you to start there. Perhaps you could suggest that families as a group could serve as greeters or take the offering - it might be a way to gently begin to incorporate women into the worship service.

I’m obviously biased, so make sure that you’re doing something you can really put your heart and soul into - I’m betting it will be an uphill battle, but things that should work out tend to do so. Best of luck to you!

You really should dig to see if you can get an answer to these policies other than “this is the way we do it.”

However, I do know some churches that require those who collect and count the offering to be members of the Diaconate, Finance Committee, Trustees or some other board, so that could explain why the women were replaced by men.

As an outsider looking in, I am constantly confused by this sort of thing.

My boss and her husband are Missionary Baptist. She’s a director at the University, he’s a warehouse clerk in receiving. She makes roughly 3x what he does per year. He’s a high school dropout (has a GED), she’s got a master’s in Higher Ed. She handles the finances, children, etc.

But he can speak in church and she cannot. She teaches Sunday school classes, but can only teach the women’s and children’s classes. Though she has formal training in music, she is not allowed to be the music director at the church because it is considered ‘unseemly’ for her to direct men…so the congregation has gone without for almost a year.

It boggles my mind. I just can’t see how hobbling half of your community helps achieve anything.

Well, our new senior pastor starts a week from Sunday, and I am looking forward to hearing her first sermon :wink:

If you really want, check out the gender of the first people to spread the news that Jesus is risen in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24. You can use that to argue that everyone should be allowed to read from Scripture and share the good news.


I’ve been attending a LCMS all summer, after a long absense. This congregation allows women to serve as lectors, girls to be acolytes, and so on, but there are no female ushers or elders.

I originally turned to the LCMS from the old ALC because I couldn’t get over the idea of women as pastors, and the ALC ministry at Purdue had a female pastor. I liked her, but at the time I did not think it appropriate. I’m less of that opinion now, but it would still bother me a tiny bit, more because of tradition than theology.

I never really thought about female ushers or elders. I don’t have a problem with it, I guess I thought the women weren’t usually interested in those types of roles. I don’t intend to make waves because this Sunday will be my last one there. Maybe the new church in Virginia (I actually intend to join this one) will be fertile ground for some wave-making…:wink:

I’ve almost always attended churches where women were ordained and could be pastors. (Evangelical Covenant growing up, where the potentially church splitting discussion happened when I was two, and Presbyterian now). So I missed the discussion.

Do you have any idea of how upsetting this issue will be in your church? I know it was voted on by the congregation, but how long ago was that vote? Has the congregation changed since then?

(and I know you’ve probably read many of them before but another argument for women in ministry)

Slacker, I also am a High School Sunday-School teacher in a Lutheran Church (ELCA, the “liberal Lutherans”). I love your approach - I used it once in my past, encouraging a student of mine to run for Church Council. She came within one vote of winning, and the act of her running really charged up the whole class. They got quite activist about things they didn’t understand, challenging the status quo, albeit in a very respectful and deliberate way. My wife and I helped them develop plans for bringing up topics for consideration and working through the inevitable conflicts, and in the end they did bring about some positive change in the congregation. They felt tremendously empowered, and understood how to act for change in a large organization.

I’m plannign to use your post, and the wonderful source cited by amarinth, in a future class. Since the ELCA ordains women already it’s a bit of a straw-man, but I hope it will bring out some discussion on the perception of gender in power structures, the use of God-given gifts, and the use of scripture in organizational deliberations.

So, thanks!

It achieves quit a bit for the other half – they remain in control of everything!

First off, I agree with you. I have female pastor friends and the church I go to has no problem with women doing anything (I’m not a Lutheran).

That said, I think you’re smart to go the pastor and not stir up a bunch of strife among the congregation over this. Hopefully your pastor will read the verses you cite and God will change his mind.

However, if he doesn’t, he’s the pastor and you’re gonna hafta drop the matter. Sounds hardnosed but SOMEBODY has gotta be the one at which the buck stops, and that’s why God gives us pastors.

So if he says no, are you gonna switch churches or what? (I’m not saying you should I’m just wondering what your plan of action is.)

Hey, a former LCMS here!(Subsequently ELCA, now Episcopalian)

I was raised LCMS, and it was my understanding that the prohibition against the participation of women in worship was an actual synod wide thing, although some member congregations ignored it. The congregation I was born to, and that my parents still attend, is very conservative. Women can’t read the lessons, girls can’t acolyte, women can’t act as cantor when singing the psalm, they aren’t even voting members of the congregation. MY mom was baptized, confirmed, married and will certainly be buried from the same place she has attended all her life, but she can’t be an elder, and has no say in how the church is run. Being as I am no longer LCMS, I can’t take communion in the place where I was baptized and confirmed. When I was to be married I found out my fiance’s father, a Presbyterian minister, would not be allowed to share wedding duties in my home church, as he was not LCMS.

Yet some congregations ignore some of the strictures. They can’t get a woman ordained of course, but they can get by with most of the other things. The congregation I ended up being married at, in Monterey California(my fiance and I were in the Army) let my fiance take communion there, although a Presbyterian. And the pastor said if my father in law to be could make it cross country he could help with the wedding service.

It was the wedding tiff that made me start thinking for myself. I ended up ELCA, which has the radical notion that women can participate fully in the life of the church. Happy there for years until I couldn’t get along with a new pastor. The other two local ELCA congregations were blah, so I looked around some more and settled at Grace Episcopal Cathedral here in Topeka. I liked what the dean said in one class “Being Episcopalian doesn’t mean you have to check your brains at the door.” And as for the communion issue, one of the most important to me, the dean adds these words to the Eucharistic liturgy “This is not the Episcopalian’s table, but God’s. and all who love God have a place at his table.” The welcome book in the pew, on the first page, also says this-There’s one thing we want to get straight up front. If you are wondering “Can I take communion here?” the answer is not “Yes” but “WE HOPE YOU WILL!”

Whew. I pushed my button didn’t I?

Switch to an ELCA church. Being a Dallasite myself, there are several in the area I could hook you up with (being a former Lutheran with parents who are still Lutheran). While I don’t neccessarily hold with the Lutheran ideals of Christianity in general, I’ve found that ELCA tends to be a bit more liberal than LCMS.

This right here is why I ended up leaving the church once I got married to my S/O. My mother’s church (while a fine church with a wonderful pastor) is populated with Old Fogiestm. The OFs viewed me as a hippie nutjob when I attended there and I have as yet to find a new church with which I am comfortable.


Switch to an ELCA church. Being a Dallasite myself, there are several in the area I could hook you up with (being a former Lutheran with parents who are still Lutheran). While I don’t neccessarily hold with the Lutheran ideals of Christianity in general, I’ve found that ELCA tends to be a bit more liberal than LCMS.

This right here is why I ended up leaving the church once I got married to my S/O. My mother’s church (while a fine church with a wonderful pastor) is populated with Old Fogiestm. The OFs viewed me as a hippie nutjob when I attended there and I have as yet to find a new church with which I am comfortable.


Thanks for the great responses everyone. I’ll respond to everything above in more detail later tonight when I have a little more time.

I’m not planning on leaving the church either way. The youth group is enough to make me stay. And I am definitely going to the pastor first. However, I don’t think I’ll have to change his mind – I have a feeling that he agrees already. But I still want his advice on whether he believes it would be worth pursuing further.

Grr…stupid double post. smacks forehead Damn hamsters must be at it again tonight.


Another datapoint:
I grew up in the United Methodist Church. They’ve been ordaining women since before I was born. I’ve known female pastors since I was too little to realize it might be controversial.
Female lay readers have been common, in almost all churches I’ve attended regularly. Female ushers? Very rare in several of the churches. (of course, that’s different than what was described in the OP, since women just don’t usher, hand out bullitens or collect offering, but might “recieve” the offering and set it on the alter and might administer the communion elements. Also, I don’t think it has been church policy so much as habit which caused only men to usher).

I grew up in a church with no female ministers, ushers, deacons or elders. Now that same church has females in all of those positions. I doubt that anyone thinks twice about it now.

St. Paul was against women in positions of leadership in the church, but he also admitted that he made mistakes. I think this was one of them.

Is there a rational behind women not being lay readers other than what Paul said?

I didn’t realize Lutherans could be that conservative.