Spener and the Role of Women in the Church

From Denise D. Kettering Lane’s article, “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism”:

[Spener] aimed his criticism [in Pia Desideria] at all Christians, regardless of gender, occupation, or education. He lamented that the laity did not perceive drunkenness as a sin, treated each other miserably, failed to live Christian lives, and harmed the Lutheran witness to misguided religious groups, such as the papists. According to Spener, this unchristian behavior appeared predominantly in the preponderance of lawsuits and dishonest trade relationships. His discussion of occupations further highlights his emphasis on social sins: “If we look at trade, the crafts, and other occupations through which people seek to earn their living, we shall find that everything is not arranged according to the precepts of Christ, but rather that not a few public regulations and traditional usages in these occupations are diametrically opposed to them.” By locating these problems in the bar, courtroom, and shop, Spener largely omits women’s activities in his castigations.

Denise Kettering-Lane

Nowhere in the first section of Pia Desideria did Spener identify specifically female behavior as a symptom of corruption in the church. While the spiritual equality of men and women meant that women were included in Spener’s general discussion of corrupt characteristics, he did not raise the issues of vanity, prostitution, or gossip—all sins traditionally associated with women at this time.

Nowhere does Pia Desideria propose a particular role for women or mention women explicitly.Spener apparently did not foresee some of the attacks that would occur because of women’s involvement in independent Bible reading or the conventicles. In fact, one scholar has commented that the resulting participation of women caused Spener to moderate his position in hindsight to conform more fully to societal conventions.
Even as he wrote tracts that minimized the activity of women in the Pietist movement and asserted views that corresponded to traditional views of women, largely to fend off accusers, he engaged in regular correspondence with women, providing advice about leading family devotion time and reading the Bible—even discussing theological matters. Also, if anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.
His emphasis on practice reinforced the available, though limited, role of women in his vision of a collected pious group that could reform the church and the world. Nevertheless, all of these tasks performed by women remained firmly within the private realm. Women were not engaged in public teaching or sacramental roles. All of this took place within a patriarchal system ruled over by the man of the house or the minister. Spener did not suggest a change in the church structure but instead reinforced the existing patriarchy by advising extensive ministerial oversight, even in the homes of parishioners for small group meetings. It was a spiritual priesthood, but a priesthood that always operated under the careful oversight of a watchful clergyman.
Spener affirmed women’s spiritual equality, citing Galatians 3:28. He additionally acknowledged that women are recipients of spiritual gifts and refers to women in Scripture who worked with—not under—the apostles. Spener appears to support a cooperative vision in which the majority of men and women share gifts and work to support ministry. However, the subsequent question restricted the extent of women’s ministry, asking, “But are women not forbidden to teach?” Here the division between public and private spheres governed. It is true, Spener said, that women are forbidden to teach “in the public congregation,” marshaling 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–12 as scriptural support. Thus Spener’s view of the spiritual priesthood—and spiritual equality of men and women—ultimately reaffirmed existing constructions of women’s roles within the church, limiting women to private activity.
In his effort to ensure that the spiritual priesthood did not upset contemporary notions of social order, Spener clearly outlined the roles of women in a way that reflected and reinforced patriarchal norms that focused on the spiritual rather than practical equality of women. While a generous reading certainly reveals places where the possibility for expanded activity for women in the church is mentioned, the overriding need to reinforce order ultimately won the day.

Response to 40-Year Survey: Timothy L. Johnson

In this post we continue our series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” See additionally the 1989 letter from the Board of Ministry (following the 10-year study) as well as responses from Katherine Hamilton and Mark Novak & Carol Lawson.  

It has been a personal pleasure for me to engage with the February 2017 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, as the issue of women in ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church intersects in several ways with my life and ministry.

Personal Intersection

I began seminary only months before the decision was made to ordain women at the June 1976 Annual Meeting of the ECC. As I think back on my years in ministry, I am particularly grateful for that 1976 decision. In each of the churches I have pastored, I have ministered with women pastoral leaders. I am married to an ordained clergywoman whom I have had the pleasure of working with as well as witnessing her ministry in other contexts. I was blessed to graduate from North Park with five women in the spring of 1980. I believe this was in a graduating class of forty. In my current role at NPTS, I have the privilege of being involved in the vocational development of gifted women and men for ministry. Most years the student population is close to 50% women.

It is noteworthy that a majority of the students in NPTS’s master of divinity program are men, while a strong majority of students in programs like the Certificate in Spiritual Direction are women. Those distinctions are significant but do not negate the fact that the composition of the current student body is vastly different than it was when I was a student. This marks the fact that real progress has been made in the past forty years. I have the joy of observing gifted women enter our seminary community, expand their knowledge base and ministry skills, develop their pastoral identity, and depart for the purpose of serving in Christian ministry.

There is, however, grief to be recounted. It was a personal delight for me to observe at our most recent Midwinter Conference one of my female classmates, Mary Miller, receive the honor of being named distinguished alum of NPTS for 2017. Mary has served the ECC well as an exceptionally gifted servant leader. As a colleague and friend, Mary has been a blessing to me over my decades in ministry. Honoring Mary also serves to honor those other early women in ECC ministry. It also causes me to remember one classmate who was also exceptionally gifted for ministry but had to choose to serve in another denomination because of the way things unfolded for her. That memory illustrates the impoverishment to our denominational body when inadequate provision is not made for a major change in our denominational culture. As it has frequently been noted, it was both curious and unfortunate that the same assembly that voted to ordain women also voted not to embark on a strategy to promote and educate concerning the matter.


Kelly Johnston’s biography of  Jean Lambert was a particularly apt way of unpacking the concept of the pioneer. Along with Mary Miller and the other four women I graduated with in 1980, Jean Lambert was certainly a pioneer in for women in ECC ministry. I had not been aware of the letter Jean had written in 1989 on behalf of the Board of the Ministry. It was and is a strong letter, and it describes well the pioneer role of our earliest female colleagues in ministry. As I was glad for the honor bestowed on Mary Miller at Midwinter, I was reminded of what a good thing it was that Jean Lambert was honored by the ECC in 2006 (Irving C. Lambert Award for excellence in urban and ethnic ministries) and NPTS in 2008 (honorary doctorate). She established solid ground for women pastors and theologians in the ECC. I was personally struck by some of her work referred to in Johnston’s article.

Lambert’s contribution to Amicus Dei opened my eyes to the richness of “Mission Friend” terminology. This work was a major influence in my Doctor of Ministry work at Hartford Seminary (1986-1991). One of the things Lambert did well was to show how Pietist essentials, such as the “priesthood of all believers,” offered a path toward a  less hierarchical, more egalitarian church. These essentials are given strong expression in the third article of this issue of the Quarterly. Denise Kettering-Lane reminds us that even though the early giants of Pietism likely did not have women ministers in mind, their theological principles are given rich expression through the reality of women in ministry.

Practical Considerations

A a Covenant, we are fortunate that each decade since 1976 persons have offered careful analysis of the ECC’s progress in living into its vote. Lenore Knight Johnson offers fair and thorough insights on where we stand at year forty. Some of her suggestions for improvement I find particularly helpful. It is a given that we are congregational in our polity, and I think the advantages of this far outweigh the disadvantages. Yet there is no doubt that congregational polity has in large measure limited the suitable placement of many gifted clergywomen. Knight Johnson helpfully points out major ECC events, such as Midwinter and CHIC, as available opportunities for the ECC to draw attention to gifted women preachers.

I would add our Covenant camps to that list. This was brought home to me recently when my daughter Chloe came home from a youth retreat at Covenant Point and enthusiastically reported what a great speaker Ramelia Williams was at this event. As the father of a sixteen-year-old young woman, I celebrate that she has had ample opportunity to hear gifted women preach, including her mother. It is my hope for Chloe and others like her that each decade going forward will mark dramatic progress for our denominational family when it comes to women in pastoral leadership.

Timothy L. Johnson, graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 1980. After twenty-five years of parish ministry, Tim returned to NPTS in 2005 to serve as field education director (currently also interim academic dean). Tim’s wife Kari Lindholm-Johnson is an ordained Covenant pastor who is currently the artist-in-residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. They have two children. Gabe is a sophomore at North Park University; Chloe is a sophomore at Von Steuben High School.

An Open Letter to Covenant Women (1989)

Over the next few weeks we’ll feature a series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” We begin the series with a letter issued June 12, 1989, from the Board of the Ministry, responding to the ten-year study conducted by Mary Miller. The letter was written by Jean Lambert on behalf of the Board, and is reprinted in Kelly Johnston’s article, “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer,” pp. 16-19.

An open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.

We have been thinking together about the situation of women and men in ministry in the Covenant Church, and we want first to affirm some convictions, and then offer some interpretation we think important.


  1. We are committed to an inclusive ministry in pilgrimage toward a whole church.
  2. We care about you. We value your commitment to Christ, respect your willingness to study and prepare for ministry, desire to be your colleagues.
  3. We hear your pain and respect your anger, as we heard it expressed by some of you in Mary Miller’s report of your responses to her questionnaire, published in the Covenant Quarterly.
  4. We are distressed by the continuing atmosphere of coolness or hostility encountered by all too many women who hold positions of leadership throughout the Covenant church.
  5. We do not claim complete understanding of the sexism that is one of the dominant evils in our society, yet we are committed to learning what it is, how it affects women and men, how it distorts our common life in Christ; we are committed to repenting of sexism so the Spirit of God can transform us. And,
  6. As part of our ongoing work in a church always being reformed by God’s Spirit, a church growing more whole as we believe Christ intends, we urge you to join us in considering some “facts of life” we believe affect our common life in church work: the search for a call, the consideration of volunteer possibilities, the selection or interview process, entering into work, how one is received, how one perceives oneself in ministry, how we respond to situations of frustration, conflict, and fulfillment. We think putting these facts into open conversation will help us all be stronger, saner, and more faithful.


Fact 1: American society is sexist, specifically masculinist. (It is also racist, ageist, classist…but we aren’t addressing all of that here!) Though we do not understand it fully, it is clear that sexism is both a psycho/cultural bias and complex of social institutions. It operates largely unconsciously, though its “symptoms” may be observed by the seeing eye. This complex reality – sexism – is based on an ancient intuition that the biological differences between men and women are a natural and revealed “message” about superiority/inferiority, value and worthlessness, competence/incompetence, appropriateness/inappropriateness.

To say our society is “sexist” has implications on three levels: Continue Reading

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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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)

An Interview with Mary Miller

Ordained five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the ECC, Mary Miller conducted the very first decadal study on Covenant clergywomen. At the 2017 ECC Midwinter Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Miller was honored with the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service. I was fortunate to sit down with Miller to discuss the 40-year survey, how it compared to her own findings thirty years prior, and what she hopes for the future of women in ministry in the ECC. Here is a portion of that conversation, lightly edited for publication.


Mary Miller accepting the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, January 31, 2017

Mahon: After comparing the results of the forty-year study to your own experience with the ten-year study, what changes do you see that should be celebrated?

Miller: The way the author, Lenore M. Knight Johnson, concluded the study was a celebration. She didn’t say we’re in crisis pain or in the sharp pains of trying to figure it out and feeling rejection, but that there were more celebrations. There still are horrible situations, but there are more good ones. You know, on a percentage, on a holistic, wider vision, that’s really nice to hear. For people in my generation, we have not done anything. We have not gotten anywhere. We have one woman in a church over two hundred. One woman. One, after this many years. You have a tendency to get into a funk about what has not happened rather than what has….

We’re quite adept at saying, “Oh, we have so many women who are ordained!” And we changed it so that it’s not Word and Sacrament and Specialty Ministry – it’s all lumped together. I do affirm the priesthood of believers; I do affirm specialty ministries. But the role that challenges authority is Word and Sacrament – predominately preaching these days, more than other sacraments, with our theology. So I do so very much grieve that. I also really appreciated the author bringing in contemporary readings on the subject, because I don’t know that literature.

Mahon: I also appreciated that Knight Johnson brought in other studies. It’s one thing to look at where we are, but it’s helpful to know it’s not just us. It’s systemic among evangelical denominations.

Miller: Yes. We hardly ever bring in the Holiness Movement, women who were part of their founding. I knew a woman in her nineties from the Church of God in Indiana, Anderson, and they would brag on their women preachers. There is no second-guessing or anything, and I thought, “You know, they’re evangelical.” But we only bring in a certain kind of evangelical.

Mahon: In the ten-year study, you quoted a woman saying, “When I began ministry eight years ago, I did so with full hope that there would be others, women as ‘settlers’ who would follow, surpass, better us ‘pioneers.’ Now I find that hope not just frustrated but pretty much shattered.” As one of those pioneers, have you seen “settlers” follow you? Or do women graduating from seminary today still need to be ‘trailblazers’?

Miller: I would say there are more settlers. There are some who will go into much more difficult situations and take on the challenges….Some [men & women] are not fitted, temperament-wise, to do any challenging – or they challenge itty-bitty things, rather than the main things. There’s some wisdom, and Lord knows, I challenged wrong things. I have some really stupid and embarrassing situations (but I’m not going to tell them!). But you know, you have to pick and choose. You can’t just say that everything is important…

It’s been three years since I was on the Biblical Gender Equality Commission. At my last meeting I distributed a chart depicting the number of female pastors ordained to Word & Sacrament compared to the whole ministerium. That percentage was somewhere around twelve percent at one time. Over the course of forty years it has reduced to about two percent.  It marks a huge change in the landscape of ministers in the denomination. Even if new leadership made women in senior ministry a significant thing – like we as a denomination have done with racial diversity – it would take a long time to restore.

Ministry areas affecting that decrease are hirings for church planting and some of the conference visions rejecting egalitarian relationships. I asked if I could plant a church and was denied. The percentage of solo men to women as church planters is significant. Many of the women accepted are co-pastoring as complementarian planters with their husbands. We keep adding new planters from outside the Covenant who have no commitment to theology of women in senior leadership. I think it is a justice issue that Covenant money is being given predominantly to men for this specialization. Ha! I think I know who would win a class action lawsuit!

Mahon: One of the questions you asked respondents in the ten-year study was, “If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it to aid the progress of women in ministry in the Covenant?” How would you answer that question now?

Miller: I would bring that two percent up to about fifty-one percent.

Mahon: Do you have any advice or encouragement for beginning women pastors and seminary students?

Miller: The world is getting smaller with all the technology, all our relationships and traveling, so find alternate role models, encouragements, skills, and behavior sets. They’re out there and available now, which is different than when I started. You can borrow from other traditions. You can borrow from stories of people who are now known…. I’m going to accept this award tonight on behalf of my husband who paid for my degree and then died. It was an investment that we couldn’t afford, but it gave me my whole life. I’m also accepting it for Victoria Welter. In 1903 she was the first woman to get a theological degree from North Park Theological Seminary, and the class was allowed to vote whether or not she would be in the class picture. They voted no. Now, everybody thinks the story ends there, but the grace is that she became a missionary in China. So, I know that one illustration. It’s insidious, but I’m sure they were very nice about telling her she couldn’t be in the picture. Now, though, there are enough examples like that that we know, as well as the positive ones where they were stout and it worked. In some ways those resources – they don’t do the work for you, but they shore you up and encourage you.

Mary Miller was ordained in 1981, five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She currently serves as the chaplain of Covenant Village of Cromwell, Connecticut

Mackenzie Mahon is an MDiv/MNA dual-degree candidate at North Park Theological Seminary and serves as student assistant for the Covenant Quarterly

Image credit: The Covenant Companion

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:1 | 40 Years of Women’s Ordination

The first Covenant Quarterly issue of 2017 is now published. 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church‘s vote in favor of women’s ordination. Four decades later, how is the denomination doing? This issue considers the past, present, and future of women’s ordained ministry in the Covenant.

Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity Christian College, presents the results of the forty-year study on Covenant clergywomen.

“While the ECC has made important strides in relation to its stated position on women’s ordination, I argue that a combined focus balancing structural and cultural change is necessary for the denomination to truly break through the barriers clergywomen continue to encounter in their service to the church.”

From “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church


Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston

Covenant pastor Kelly Johnston surveys the pioneering ministry of Covenant clergywoman and theologian Jean C. Lambert (1940-2008).

“In 1989, on behalf of the board, Lambert wrote ‘an open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.’… Lambert’s words were both stark, speaking in plain terms about the reality of sexism in the church, and encouraging, expressing solidarity with Covenant women as ministers of the gospel. She admitted that all women in ministry in the Covenant Church were ‘pioneering in a treacherous wilderness.'”

From “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer


Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise D. Kettering-Lane, associate professor of Brethren studies at Bethany Theological Seminary, evaluates Philipp Jakob Spener’s beliefs and practices regarding women’s roles in Christian ministry.

“If anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.”

From “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism

Read the complete issue here.