Can Lay Women Preach?
Updated: Oct 8
I never thought of my mom as a preacher.
But did I see her speaking from behind the pulpit?
Plenty of times.
Audrey Ricker was never ordained as a minister; she was a lay person. When I was a kid, I thought it was normal that mom was away for another meeting, reading, studying, preparing a talk or typing late into the night. She was involved in many organizations. She said that just as crafts and needlework were some people's passion, 'people are my thing'. I admired how many people she knew and how much they respected her.
In the early years of her marriage, Audrey helped raise funds at bake sales and bazaars, labeling her dishes with her name as Mrs. Max Ricker. At Women's Institute, she learned the Robert’s Rules of Order for Meetings and presented on topics of interest. When she was Area Commissioner asking other women to volunteer as Girl Guide or Brownie leaders, she was disappointed when they replied they could not because they had to be home to serve dinner to their husbands. My dad thought he was so liberated because he encouraged her to go out and speak in groups; he didn't mind if she left the supper on the stove and did the dishes when she got home.
Audrey soon moved to speaking about international church outreach and raising funds to act globally. She worked for her church to sponsor a refugee family. In 1974 her church denomination concluded that there is one ministry, the ministry of God himself, into which he calls his whole church (including lay people). Lay people now could do pastoral visiting, lead youth ministries, be worship and music directors, elders and deacons. Audrey felt called to supervise theology students, men and women, who required internships where they could prepare to become ordained as clergy.
Audrey became the local church representative attending Niagara region meetings of her denomination, and became the first woman lay person to become Chair of the Niagara region. Soon Audrey became the regional representative to attend larger area meetings, being gone for a full day at a time and bringing home binders of materials to study, analyze, summarize, and present to local churches. One time, they mailed her materials for an upcoming meeting, and she and dad both got a laugh when the package was addressed to Mr and Mrs Audrey Ricker.
By 1988 Audrey was a delegate at the national meeting of the denomination, called General Council. It was the year where they were to discuss and vote on "the issue". No one really felt comfortable saying "homosexual". I was living in Calgary at the time, and Mom visited on her way to and from the Vancouver meeting. She said they took them through a thought process: once you fully realize God loves all people, you have to welcome gays into the family of faith, and all believers are called to be faithful, responsible, and loving in their relationships.
Our small town didn't know what hit it. Mom presented her report from General Council to each church in the region, discussing "the issue", explaining the reasons the declaration was passed, and why members should accept gays as full members of the church. Over the next few years, national church membership fell, congregations split, and some whole congregations left the United Church denomination. Other Christians said that United Church members were not Christians.
Audrey continued to be involved in regional and national discussions. she reported back to local congregations when the United Church of Canada apologized to the Native People of Canada in 1986. She helped fundraise when in1994 the church established a Healing Fund to help Indigenous communities address the ongoing impacts of the residential school system.
My mom started out thinking she was not a public speaker. She did not feel called to be an activist. She felt called to hear God's word, study it, and follow it. That led her to speaking out, to teach men and women about God's call to love and accept all people. She worked for justice for the poor or oppressed at home and abroad. I grew up thinking this was normal.
It turns out Audrey Ricker was a courageous pioneer, ahead of her time. She was a follower of Jesus, supporter, patron, disciple, teacher and preacher. She left a legacy of acceptance and love in her small town and in the region. She is a spiritual foremother on whose shoulders we can stand.