Is there equality before God?
by Charlene Warnken
International Women's Year
is over, but the year's concern
for the liberation of women in
all walks of life has had its
effects, including a workshop
on "Women in Religion" sponsored recently by the Northwest Houston chapter of NOW.
It is significant that NOW is
taking an increasing interest in
the many problems of women
in all denominations, as evidenced by the workshop.
Women representing Jewish,
Catholic, Episcopal and Christian Church faiths participated
in a panel discussion and question-answer session. The meet-
int was open not only to NOW
members, but to the general
The Rev. Rebecca Frankford,
the only ordained minister a-
mong the panelists, told the
history of a few women's success
in their struggle to attain ordination in the U. S.
"The first woman ordained
in the U. S. was Antoinette
Brown, ordained in 1853 in the
Congregational church in South
Butler, N. Y.," Frankford said.
"Brown had attended Overland College in Ohio, which
figured prominently as one of
the first colleges to educate
women for the ministry."
Frankford herself is the first
woman to hold a full-time
pastorate in a Texas Disciples of
Christ church. She has been
pastor of Woodland Christian
Church in Houston for over a
"As early as 1739, Wesley
had appointed women to be
'class leaders,'" Frankford continued. "Sarah Mallet was a
preacher in the early Methodist church in 1787 -- and there
were three women preachers in
the early Free Will Baptist
Churches in the late 1790's and
"The first woman licensed to
preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1869 was
Maggie Van Cott. Women came
into greater prominence in the
latter 1800's, when Aimee Sem-
ple McPherson founded the Four
Square Gospel, Catherine Booth
co-founded the Salvation Army
with her husband, William, and
the Women's Christian Temperance Union had its beginning.
"By 1894, the Church of the
Nazarene listed 20 per cent of
its ministers as women," Frankford reported. "In 1881, the
Church of God Anderson had
listed from 20 to 25 per cent
of its ministers as women."
Frankford's own denomination has an early history of
opening doors to women in the
ministry. As early as 1888, the
first woman was ordained a Disciples of Christ minister in
Illinois. She was Clara Babcock,
followed in 1892 by Sarah
Crank, a fireball Sunday School
evangelist who not only organized 18 new churches, but reopened 16 that had closed.
Crank, by the way, was a married woman.
"The first woman ordained
here in Houston was Bertha
Fuller, who was ordained in
1896," Frankford said. "She
did most of her work in Arkansas, and was a Disciples of
The national office of Disciples of Christ did a study on
women in the ministry within
its own denomination in 1972-
73. The study showed that
j^vomen, not necessarily ordained, but professionally trained, in
service in the church in 1962
The number had declined to
202 by 1970 -- and to 189 by
"I don't think we have reversed that trend very much
since 1972," Frankford said.
"It is due to the decline in
church attendance and monies
to hire staff. Many churches
with a staff of three hire a man
for the pastor's assistant, instead of two women which
would cost more. But they pay
the man more than they would
pay each woman."
Another speaker was Sister
Frances Klinger, a Catholic nun
who was the only Houstonian
to attend the historic meeting on
the ordination of Catholic women held in Detroit last Thanksgiving.
"By our baptism we are
initiated into a Christian community, a community of service
whose members minister to one
another," Klinger said.
"Part of that ministry is the
ministry of the priesthood.
Women have not been admitted
into this role because of our
culture and our society's tradition."
Women must "bond together
in support of a new priesthood,"
"That priesthood is one to
which we do not necessarily
have the right in justice, but
one which permits women to
be called to the community
to minister as priests. The
community calls, not the individual. When we talk about
women in service in the church
and a call to the priesthood, we
would hope it would not be
simply as a means to gain power,
but a means to serve."
"Lilith," who was "the first
woman created simultaneously
and equally with Adam," was
discussed by Episcopalian Marilyn Black, program associate for
the Houston Region of the
National Conference of Christians and Jews.
The difference between the
image of Lilith as equal to Adam
and Eve as an "afterthought"
who was submissive to Adam
can be explained, Black pointed
out, by a quote from Lilly Riv-
len, who wrote in Ms. Magazine
"Genesis, which was far more
influenced by earlier polytheistic
and matriarchal cults than most
pious Jews and Christians would
Several women's groups will
participate in the Bicentennial
Parade in Downtown Houston,
July 3 at 10 a.m. Among the
representative floats taking part
in the parade will be the cast of
the Pageant of American Women
including Martha Mazeika as
Sybil Ludington, Anne Lower as
Lucy Stone, Gail Padgett as Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Mast as
Elizabeth K. Stanton, Clara
Phillips as Sojourner Truth,
Mary Lou Heidrick as Mother
Jones and Laverne Rich as Ma
The World Print Competition,
sponsored by the California
College of Arts and Crafts, and
the San Francisco Museum of
Modern Arts, will accept entries
in all graphic media through
August 15. For information,
write the competition at 600
Stockton St., San Francisco,
like to admit, was edited from
the sixth century B.C. onward
for moralistic reasons. The
remnant, 'male and female created He them' (Gen. I), slipped
by the editors.
The Jewish woman was discussed by Marcia Elefant, director of development of adult
services at the Jewish Community Center.
"The Jewish woman in America is the heir to a 3,500 year
old religious and historical tradition," Elefant said. "Even if
she is not a religious observant, she has been influenced
by practices she may not follow
and attitudes of whose origin
she is ignorant."
For example, Judaism always
has assumed that every woman's
sexual drive is equal to that of
men. On the other hand, women
have been looked upon as temptresses by Jewish men.
"Historically, celibacy has
been condemned by Judaism,
but because woman is thought
to be such an object of sex,
even today in traditional synagogues she is separated from
men by a curtain or balcony."
Jewish women have been
spared the impact of the "macho
mystique" from which most
other women have suffered,
however, Elefant pointed out.
"The Jewish male traditionally has expressed his masculinity
in the synagogue and house of
studies -- not on the battlefield
or through the physical oppression of women. A Jewish wo
man never fears her husband
Jean Bircher, and Episcopalian who will enter the seminary
in Berkeley, California in the
fall, talked about the kinds of
problems women will meet as
priests and ministers.
She got a strong reaction
from her comment that "Some
people seem repulsed that it's
possible to receive Communion
from a pregnant priest."
One woman in the audience
remarked wryly, "And all these
years they've been teaching us
that motherhood is sacred!"
Bircher also discussed a report on women's role in the
church that was conducted by a
committee of the Episcopal
Church Women of the Diocese
"They found that women
still are fulfilling their traditional roles like teaching Sunday
School, but a small percentage
are moving into non-traditional
roles," Bircher said.
"Some women are being
elected members of governing
bodies such as vestries, but
many then are given jobs as
secretaries. But 20 per cent of
the acolytes in this diocese now
are young girls -- and this has
come from zero a couple of
years ago when they began.
"Several women are lay readers -- and in some churches
women do distribute Communion. As for the kinds of problems that women will see as
priests, they will be similar to
those problems of any women,
such as the married woman
who goes to work."
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