Commemorating 25 Years of Women in Ecclesiastical Office

Women pastors in the auditorium applauded the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination in the Christian Reformed Church.
Photo by Steven Herppich
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Synod 2022, the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, commemorated 25 years of the participation of women in church office in the denomination. It has actually been 27 years, but the commemoration was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down synod for two years. 

Elaine May, the CRC’s women’s leadership developer, framed the history that led up to opening the offices to women and on what has happened since.

Twenty-seven years ago, in 1995, after a long back-and-forth discussion on whether Scripture barred women from church office or not, synod came up with an innovative solution: in May’s words, “to recognize that there are two different perspectives on this issue, both honoring Scripture.” Classes (regional assemblies of churches) and eventually congregations were given permission to ordain women in all the church offices, including the offices of deacon, elder, commissioned pastor, and minister of the Word.

May cited statistics showing that more churches are accepting women in church office: 73.5% of Christian Reformed churches now have women serving as deacons while 52% ordain women as well as men as elders. 

And more women are entering the ministry. In the five-year period from 1996 to 2000, 14 women were approved as candidates for ministry; in the five-year period from 2016 to 2020, this had increased to 66 women.

May acknowledged that despite the increase in women’s participation in the various offices, living with two perspectives on this issue has been challenging for the denomination (see “Can We Still Live with Differences on Women in Office?”). She said, “This anniversary is ours. It belongs to all of us. We have all been participants in one way or another, and we have remained together. Whether you grieve or celebrate this milestone, we arrive at this day together.”

At the end of her remarks, May played a video. Over “The Blessing” from Elevation Worship, the names of 200 women who have been ordained to ministry since 1995 scrolled slowly up. Many of the names were accompanied by pictures of the women. Several of those named were gathered in the back of the auditorium. Others were on the floor of the synod.

As the last of the names came up, most of the delegates and others in the auditorium rose to a standing ovation. Others, heads down, did not participate in the commemoration.


Synod 2022 is meeting at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook. On Twitter follow #crcsynod or twitter.com/crcna. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church (it did not gather in 2020 or 2021). Connect to the meeting’s livestream, read advisory committee reports, and find other resources at crcna.org/synod

About the Author

Clay Libolt is a retired CRC pastor. He currently blogs at www.peripataticpastor.com

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