Jean C. Lambert

From Kelly Johnston’s, “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer”

Jean Lambert, 1962 (image credit: CAHL 11847)

Jean Lambert, 1962 (image credit: CAHL 11847)

At the 97th Annual Meeting, held in Chicago, 1982, Jean Lambert (1940–2008) became the ninth woman to be ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Lambert would go on to serve in a variety of diverse contexts, alternating between parish and academy. Beginning as professor of theology at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri (1976–1985), Lambert took her first pastoral call at Bethesda Covenant Church in New York City (1985–1989). From Bethesda she reentered the academy as senior lecturer of religious studies at the University of Zimbabwe, Harare (1989–1991). After a second call to parish ministry as pastor of the International Fellowship Immanuelskyrkan in Stockholm, Sweden (1992–1998), she returned to the classroom in Zimbabwe, as associate professor of theology and ethics at Africa University in Mutare (1998–2004). Reflecting on her ministry at the end of her life, Lambert wrote, “I have been a boundary-straddler, my churches and communities crossing sociological, denominational, national, linguistic lines.”

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Lambert credited the women’s movement for her later ability to “recognize the call of God for what it was” and accept that women could be called to pastoral ministry. At the same time, her desire for a less hierarchical church generated ongoing resistance to ordination. She was deeply convinced that the ministry to which every Christian was called could rightly be considered an ordained ministry…. Lambert’s main argument in “Un-Fettering the Word” is that the interpretation of Scripture should be available to all Christians regardless of their standing in the official leadership structures of the church. The article reflects Lambert’s passion for the priesthood of all believers. In time Lambert came to realize that despite her desire to maintain lay status, functionally she had already passed from laity to clergy by virtue of her vocation as a seminary professor.

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Jean Lambert preaching at North Park Covenant Church, 1980s. (Image credit: CAHL 17717)

Jean Lambert preaching at North Park Covenant Church, 1980s. (Image credit: CAHL 17717)

Using the power of words as well as her presence in key places, Lambert was an advocate for Covenant women in ministry before and following her ordination. In agreeing to the Covenant’s position on baptism during the ordination process, Lambert had inserted “she or” and “or her” throughout the statement at each instance masculine language was used. She appended a note to the end of the document: “I am glad to agree in the Covenant’s statement on Baptism, here stated, and will commit myself to continuing work to deepen our mutual understanding and improve our language so as to upbuild the body of Christ.”

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Lambert’s core conviction that all Christians were called to serve God was significant for her pastoral ministry. She articulated her goals for ministry in early 1987 as becoming “more aware of God’s presence so as to lead others into receptivity; to be faithful in use of Scripture so as to lead others into discerning God’s guidance and saying ‘yes’ to God’s unique call to them—as individuals, congregations, Christians institutions, and as workers in secular institutions.”

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In the last years of her life, Lambert was honored by the church as well as the academy. It is fitting that her pioneering work was recognized by both fields she had served over the years… In 2006 the Evangelical Covenant Church honored Lambert with the Irving C. Lambert Award, an award recognizing excellence in support of urban and ethnic ministries, named in honor of her father… Professors Philip Anderson and Richard Carlson, who had enjoyed friendship with Lambert for many years, both felt it important that Lambert receive an honorary doctorate from North Park Theological Seminary, where she had always wanted to teach. At the 2008 commencement ceremony, Carlson presented Lambert with the honorary degree in absentia, as Lambert’s quickly declining health prevented her attendance.

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Jean Lambert was a pioneer who helped pave the way for other Covenant women in ministry, as she wove together practical ministry and academic theology. She was a pastor who contributed significantly to the theological articulation of the Evangelical Covenant Church and a professor who shaped Christians into ministers capable of thinking theologically about life’s challenges. Her words continue to challenge us to partner together as mission friends, bringing glory to God as we love and serve “the Friend of friends” together.

Read the full article here

 Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

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Kelly Johnston