• Elaine Kelly

Gatekeepers in Churches

While some gatekeepers in churches have closed doors to leadership roles for women, others have followed Jesus' example and opened doors for all to live life to the full.

We have seen that Jesus opens the gate and anyone who enters can enjoy life to the full. Some women have felt God call them to church leadership but needed a gatekeeper to open the door for them. Women's leadership is not a woman's issue. The whole church needs to discuss how to interpret scripture and follow God's intent regarding women and men in ministry.

Today, let's honour six men who have been good gatekeepers, opening doors to women who needed their support. These men have facilitated and affirmed women called by God, sometimes at great cost to themselves.

1. Quakers included men and women as equal speakers in the priesthood of believers from their beginnings in the 1600s. George Fox, a founder of the Quakers, was an English Dissenter, opposing religious leaders and ghe government's financial support for the Church of England. He put a focus on inward transformation rather than outward rituals. He rejected the need for ordained clergy and believed anyone, male or female, could receive the call to preach and teach. He was imprisoned for blasphemy in 1650. His sentence was doubled when he refused to swear oaths or take up arms. When he preached to "tremble at the word of the Lord", they mocked him with the nickname Quaker. By 1657 over a thousand Quakers were in prison, jailed for failure to attend the established church. Fox was released after demonstrating he had no military ambitions. Protestant William of Orange wanted to acknowledge the support of nonconformist protestants after they helped him defeat the Catholic James II, so advocated for the "Toleration Act" of 1689. This Act both prevented British monarchs from being Catholic or marrying a Catholic, and allowed nonconformist Protestant denominations the freedom to worship. After that, over 2,500 English Dissenter places of worship were licensed, and the Presbyterian Church was recognized as Scotland's official church. However in New England, the Quakers women travelling ministers were undermining Puritan religious leaders. In Plymouth and Massachusetts, laws were passed making it illegal to give aid or shelter to Quakers. Boston banned all Quakers in 1658 under penalty of death. Quakers paid for their stance for the egalitarian priesthood of believers.

2. The Salvation Army was founded by a husband and wife team, William and Catherine Booth. It was hearing Catherine preach a serman that made William change his mind and accept women as preachers. From the day it started in 1865, the Salvation Army gave men and women equal roles as lieutenant, captain, colonel, and general. As they set up their mission, leading politicians and representatives of the Church of England were hostile to William Booth in part because of his "elevation of women to the man's status". In the 1880s, British authorities broke up their meetings and subjected Booth's followers to fines and imprisonment for disturbing the peace. The Salvation Army came to Canada in 1882. In 1915, Mable Broome became the first black officer in the Salvation Army officer, demonstrating the commitment to award leadershp roles regardless of race or gender.

3. In 1819, Jarena Lee became the first woman to be authorized to preach by Bishop Richard Allen. He withdrew from his local Methodicst Episcopal Church in 1787 because of restrictions on numbers of black worshippers and segregated seating. After Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he was attending church in 1819 when the minister scheduled to speak was mysteriously silenced. A black woman, Jarena Lee, impulsively rose from her seat and addressed the men and women using the text that the minister had chosen from Jonah. She said she was like Jonah, because it had been nearly eight years since the Lord had called her to preach and she had delayed in doing God's bidding. On hearing her preach, Allen announced that he believed she was called to be a preacher. When no church hired her, she preached anyway, becoming a traveling evangelist.

4. In 1861, Bishop B. T. Roberts argued that women should work shoulder to shoulder with men in building the kingdom of God. A white American preacher, he founded the Free Methodist Church, breaking away from the Methodist denomination for three main reasins: the segregation of worship into male and female; the commercialization of the church; and discrimination against the poor (with leadership being overly concerned with social prestige and wealth). Roberts was tried for "unchristian and immoral conduct" and found guilty in 1858 and his ordination was taken from him. The new denomination added the word "free" to indicate free from slavery, secret orders, worldliness and formality.

5. The Apostolic Faith Movement (which separated from the Pentecostal movement in 1916), trained women for ministry from 1900 onwards. White American Charles Fox Parham led churches in the Midwest, was director of a bible college in Kansas, opened a bible school in Texas. When a female student, Agnes Ozman, was baptized by the Holy Spirit in December 1900, Mr Parham realized women could be gifted by God. Parham married a Quaker woman, preached alongside his sister-in-law Lilian Thistlewaite, and commissioned a number of women to establish church plants and serve as pastors. Parham was first in a long line of Pentecostal evangelists including Mary Woodworth-Etter, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Kathryn Kuhlman. His influence waned as he separated himself from the racial integration popular with William Joseph Seymour.