A Brief History of the 50th Anniversary of Ordaining Women in the Lutheran Church

The Rev. Elizabeth Platz began serving as campus pastor at the University of Maryland in November 1970.

By Susan Shinn Turner

During 2019 and 2020, the Lutheran church is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women, the 40th anniversary of women of color being ordained and the 10th year of LGBTQIA+ individuals being able to serve.

The ELCA’s website and other sources provide us with information about the women behind these numbers.

On Nov. 22, 1970, Elizabeth Platz was ordained as the first woman to serve in the Lutheran Church of America. Just one month later, on Dec. 22, 1970, Barbara L. Andrews was ordained in the American Lutheran Church. In 1988, these two Lutheran bodies merged to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Platz spent her entire career as chaplain at the University of Maryland and retired in 2017. Born with cerebral palsy, Andrews served the church in a variety of roles, both as a parish pastor and a nursing home chaplain. She died in a fire in her Detroit apartment in 1978 at age 42.

On March 4, 1979, Lydia Rivera Kalb became the first Latina woman ordained by the LCA. She served West Indian, Latino, Euro-American, and African-American parishioners in the Chicago area and was director of the Multicultural Center at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

On Aug. 26, 1979, Earleen Miller was the first black woman to be ordained by the LCA. Ordained in North Carolina at her first call, Prince of Peace, she also served parishes in Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Columbus, Ohio. She died in 2014.

On Jan. 22, 1990, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart were the first openly lesbian women to be ordained into the ELCA. According to the ELCA website: “Because of the ELCA’s policies on clergy in same-gender relationships, the congregation that called them, St. Francis, was put on ecclesiastical trial, suspended from the ELCA for five years and then expelled in 1996. Frost and Zillhart were formally received back into the ELCA in 2010.”

In 2013, Elizabeth Eaton was elected as the first female presiding bishop of the ELCA. Ordained in 1981, she was re-elected in 2019.

Pastor Laura reflects, “As we look back on these amazing women who trailblazed a path for all women in ministry today, I am grateful for their courage and grit. It is hard to be the first to do something. I appreciate their trust in God to lead and guide them in a way that some thought wasn’t possible. I am sure it was lonely at times. When I look around the landscape of colleagues, I look at the richness that my female colleagues bring to ministry.”

 

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