When plans to mark the 25th anniversary of women in ordained offices at Synod 2021 were disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Women's Leadership Ministry created alternative opportunities to gather women and invest in their development. Plans took shape around the central theme that motivated men and women to advocate for opening the offices to women more than 25 years ago: releasing the gifts of women in the church to pursue God’s mission.
The discussion about women holding ecclesiastical offices in the Christian Reformed Church in North America has been long. The denomination began talking about it in 1970, but it wasn’t until 1996 that synod formally adopted a position that recognized “there are two different perspectives and convictions on this issue, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.” That same synod said that any congregation in the Christian Reformed Church in North America may allow women to serve in the office of minister, elder, deacon, or commissioned pastor. At the same time, it acknowledged that some congregations and classes might, because of their convictions, choose not to allow women to serve in these roles.
Aware that this dual-perspective system means women might encounter systemic barriers and personal development issues as they seek to contribute their gifts to the church, Women’s Leadership Development created three events with guest presenter Ellen Duffield of BRAVE Women and Girls intended to support, encourage, and equip women, including women who seek to serve in ecclesiastical office and those who serve and lead in their congregations in other ways.
Using Duffield’s book The BRAVE Way, the first event, a webinar, focused on developing women’s voices and building stronger support networks. Duffield led the group of 60 women through an interactive session about how to use their voices for the sake of others and a reflection on why women keep silent. Many remarked how powerful it was to gather with other women experiencing similar challenges.
In some contexts in the CRCNA, women leaders experience less than hospitable environments and find that contributing their voice and gifts to ministry takes increased courage. After the initial webinar, one participant from the Midwest wrote, “I am not alone in the specific struggles I’ve been facing! Wow—to see my pains and doubts and the debates I’ve had in my head articulated by so many others and backed up by data was powerful and so good for me! Thank you for bringing this community around me!”
Our views of power can significantly affect our confidence and how we use our voices. Using Janet Hagberg’s research on stages of power development, the second webinar was meant to help women, particularly those who have experienced abuse of power, develop a neutral and healthy view of power as a tool to affect positive change. For women to contribute their gifts to the flourishing of the church, we must abandon the perception that power is only used for selfish promotion. “It is only as we reframe power as something helpful, authentic, and life-giving that it can be fully embraced,” Duffield writes
One woman commented, “This was timely and inspiring.”
An in-person celebration of the 25th anniversary of women in ecclesiastical office in the CRC will take place Aug. 3-4, 2022, in Chicago ahead of the Inspire 2022 ministry conference. Two events are scheduled: a banquet to celebrate and reminisce with keynote speaker Ruth Haley Barton, and a workshop with author Rob Dixon to address systemic issues related to men and women working together. Dixon’s book is Together in Ministry: Women and Men in Flourishing Partnerships. Additional information is available at crcna.org/womensleadership.