A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOME WOMEN IN MINISTRY
by Richard M. Riss
For a short Bio of Richard, Click Here
During the first century, many women were active in
Christian ministry. Acts 21:9 mentions the four virgin daughters of Philip the
evangelist as prophetesses who lived in his home at Caesarea, where Paul and his
associates visited during his third missionary journey. Priscilla, or Prisca,
and her husband Aquilla, were known as fellow-laborers in Christ with the
apostle Paul. Their expertise as teachers enabled them to explain the way of
God more accurately to Apollos of Alexandria, another important leader of the
early church (Acts 18:25-26).
Another associate of Paul's, Lydia, a seller of purple
dye, opened her home for ministry (Acts 16:40), as did many other Christian
women in the Roman empire, including the "elect lady" to whom John addressed his
second epistle. Close examination of II John would suggest that she was
functioning in a pastoral capacity, as would also have been the case for Lydia
(Acts 16:40), Nympha (Col. 4:15), and Chloe (I Cor. 1:11). Phoebe was a leader
of the Church at Cenchrea. In Romans 16: 1,2, Paul commanded the members of the
church at Rome to receive her as such, and to help her in whatever manner she
requested. Paul also mentions that Andronicus and Junia were outstanding among
the apostles (Romans 16:7), and there is little doubt that Junia was a feminine
name. Both John Chrysostom and Jerome made reference to her as a woman apostle,
and no commentator referred to her as a man until the late thirteenth century.
In the early fourth century, Catherine of Alexandria
defended the faith at Alexandria before philosophers and courtiers, before she
was tortured to death by Maxentius, the son of the Roman Emperor Maximian. At
about the same time, Dorothy of Caesarea in Cappadocia was martyred (A.D. 313).
As she was being led to her execution, Theophilus, a lawyer, taunted her, asking
her for a basket of flowers and fruit. Soon afterward, a child came to her with
a basket laden with roses and apples. She sent this to Theophilus, who as a
result of this incident became a Christian and later gave his own life as a
Macrina the Younger (328-380) was founder of a religious
community for women in the eastern church. With her brothers, Basil the Great
and Gregory of Nyssa, she was a pioneer in the monastic life. She healed,
prophesied, and actively spread the faith. John Chrysostom wrote of her that
"she was a great organizer, and independent thinker, and as well educated as
Basil himself." After the death of her mother, she reared and educated her
younger brother Peter, who became Bishop of Sebaste.
Marcella (325-410) was an important teacher in the early
church who was highly esteemed by Jerome. She was in the front lines in
interacting with heretics and bringing them to a better understanding of
Christian truth. Her palace on the Aventine Hill became a center of Christian
influence. At one point, when a dispute arose in Rome concerning the meaning of
the Scriptures, Jerome asked Marcella to settle it. Her Church of the Household
was not only a house of study and prayer, but a center for deeds of Christian
charity and sacrifice. It was here that another woman, Fabiola, received
inspiration to establish the first hospitals in Rome. Marcella later established
on the outskirts of Rome the first religious retreat for women. It was also at
Marcella's Church of the Household that Paula (347-404) and her daughter
Eustochium first made their decision to assist Jerome in his Latin translation
of the Bible. They went to Bethlehem in order to aid him in this work, revising
and correcting his translations and making new Latin translations from the
Hebrew and Greek texts. In turn, Jerome dedicated some of his books to them.
Paula founded three convents and a monastery in Bethlehem, where Biblical
manuscripts were copied. This became a model for what soon became the universal
practice at monasteries for many centuries.
Genevieve (422-500) lived in Paris when Attila and his
Huns invaded France in 451. She assured the inhabitants of Paris that God would
protect them if they would pray. While the men prepared for battle, she
persuaded the women to pray for hours in the church. Then, after Attila
destroyed Orleans, he decided not to touch Paris. At a later time, she was said
to have averted a famine in Paris and the surrounding cities by distributing
miraculous gifts of bread.
Bridget, also known as Bride (455-523), inspired the
convent system that made an indelible impact upon life in Ireland. After
settling in Kildare, she built for herself and her female friends a house for
refuge and devotion. As other houses were founded through her missionary
efforts, she became known as the "mother abess" of all of Ireland.
Theodora I (500-548), wife of the emperor Justinian, was
an important and influential Christian. A woman of outstanding intellect and
learning, she was a moral reformer. Justinian, as Christian Emperor, was, for
all practical purposes, head of the Church of his generation, and his wife, as
Empress, shared his power to select church leaders. The inscription "Theodora
Episcopa" or "Theodora, Bishop (fem.)" in a mosaic at the Basilica of Sts.
Prudentia and Praexedis in Rome, may have been a reference to the Empress.
Hilda (614-680) was appointed by Aidan as abess of the
convent at Hartlepool in County Durham in 649. Ten years later, she founded a
double monastery for men and women at Whitby in Yorkshire, which became world
famous as a school of theology and literature. Five of her disciples became
bishops and a sixth, Caedmon, became the earliest known English poet.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a German abbess,
mystic, and writer known throughout all of Europe. Skilled in subjects as
diverse as theology, medicine and politics, she did not hesitate to rebuke the
sins of the greatest men of her time in both Church and state. She exerted a
wide influence among many people, including the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and
various kings, prelates, and saints. Many miracles were attributed to her
during her lifetime.
Clare (1193-1253) was co-founder, with Francis of
Assisi, of the Poor Clares, a mendicant order which spread rapidly through Italy
and into France, Germany, and Spain. In 1249, when she was lame, her convent
was attacked by a group of Saracens. She told the sisters to carry her to the
door of the monastery, then addressed the Saracens and prayed aloud that God
would "deliver the defenseless children whom I have nourished with Thy love."
She heard a voice answer "I will always have them in my keeping," and turning to
the sisters, she said, "Fear not." At this moment, the Saracens scrambled down
the walls of the cloister, recoiling from her valiant words. Clare's care for
the poor was a tremendous inspiration to Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), a
princess who, in the last years of her short life, led a life of rigorous
self-sacrifice and service to the poor and sick.
Some other significant women of the thirteenth through
fifteenth centuries included Hechthild of Magdeburg, Gertrude the Great, Angela
of Foligno, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Sienna, Catherine of Sweden, Margery
Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Genoa, Isabella of Castile,
and Maragaret Beaufort.
During the Reformation, a member of the Bavarian
nobility, Argula von Grumback (1492-1563), challenged the Rector and all of the
faculty of the University of Ingolstadt to a debate in which she would defend
the principles of the Protestant Reformation. She offered to base this debate
upon a translation of the Bible published prior to the outbreak of the
Reformation. She was permitted to present her position in 1523 in Nuremberg
before the diet of the Empire. Martin Luther wrote of her, "that most noble
woman, Argula von Stauffer, is there making a valiant fight with great spirit,
boldness of speech and knowledge of Christ." Her extensive education and fine
critical abilities enabled her to become a force to be reckoned with. She
conducted church meetings in her home and officiated at funerals.
Two other important leaders of the Protestant
Reformation were Margaret of Navarre (1492-1549) and her daughter, Jeanne
d'Albret (1528-1572), the grandmother and mother of King Henry IV of France, who
issued the Edict of Nantes, granting religious toleration to the French
Protestants for almost a century. Jeanne d'Albret held services of the new
Reformed faith in her palace apartment. A friend of John Calvin, she also used
her palace as an institute for Reformation study.
During the Puritan era, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643),
became influential in that as many as eighty overflowed to the doorsteps of her
house, at a time when Boston had a population of roughly 1,000 people. These
meetings grew rapidly, and soon men, also, began to attend. Among her loyal
followers was Henry Vane, who served for a short time as governor of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony. Within two years of her arrival from England, she had
the strongest consistency of any leader in the entire colony. Her large
following, coupled with her strong exegetical and homiletical skills, deep
Christian commitment and insightful understanding of spiritual truths, may have
incurred the jealousy of several New England ministers, who became uncomfortable
enough with her successes that she was accused of heresy and banished from the
Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638.
Margaret Fell (1614-1702), the mother of Quakerism, was
an English peeress and wife of Judge Thomas Fell, member of the Long Parliament
and Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster. Her home became a place of refuge and renewal
for the persecuted Quakers for almost fifty years. She was arrested for holding
Quaker meetings in her home, Swarthmoor Hall, and imprisoned for four years.
After her release from prison, she visited Quakers in jails and travelled on
horseback with her daughters and servants to remote farms and villages as an
itinerant preacher. Many people sought wisdom and advice from her, including
Thomas Salthouse, and, of course, George Fox, who married her a number of years
after the death of her husband. Because she had his blessing in her preaching
ministry, she wrote many tracts and letters on the subject of women in ministry.
Madame Guyon (1648-1717) was a French mystic who was
imprisoned on several occasions for long periods of time because of her beliefs,
but she was never known to complain about this. An author of forty books,
including a twenty-volume commentary of the Bible, she had a wide following,
particularly in France and Switzerland. Among those profoundly influenced by
her ministry was Archbishop Francois Fenelon.
The founder of the first Methodist congregation in
America was Barbara Heck (1734-1804). In England, Lady Selina Hastings,
Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), founder of the Calivnistic Methodist
denomination during the Evangelical Awakening, functioned as a bishop by virtue
of her right as a peeress to appoint Anglican clergymen as household chaplains
and assign their duties, and to purchase presentation rights to chapels,
enabling her to decide who would conduct services and preach. Among the many
chaplains whom she appointed and continued to finance for many decades was
George Whitefield. In 1779, after sixty chapels were already functioning under
her auspices, this practice was disallowed by a consistory court of London.
Therefore, in order to continue to function, she was able, under the Toleration
Act, to register her chapels as dissenting places of worship, known as "The
Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion." Lady Selina frequently invited members of
the aristocracy to her home to hear the preaching of the Wesleys, Whitefield,
Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, Benjamin Ingham, John Fletcher, John Berridge,
William Romaine, Henry Venn, and others. She founded Trevecca House on property
adjoining the home of Howel Harris. A seminary for the training of ministers
for all denominations, its first president was John Fletcher. Joseph Benson
eventually became headmaster on John Wesley's recommendation. George Whitefield
preached the inaugural sermon when it opened in 1768.
In America, two important preachers during the first
years of the Second Awakening (1800-1808) were Deborah Peirce of Paris, N.Y. and
Martha Howell of Utica. Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874), "The Mother of the Holiness
Movement" began her ministry in 1835 with her Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion
of Holiness, which continued for 39 years in New York City, where she lived with
her husband, who was a physician. Hundreds of Methodist preachers, including at
least five bishops, were profoundly affected by her ministry. The success of
Phoebe Palmer's informal meetings encouraged other women to conduct the same
type of ministry, and dozens of them sprang up throughout North America. These
meetings brought together Christians of many denominations under the leadership
of women, particularly among Methodists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians,
Baptists, and Quakers.
In 1858, Walter Palmer, Phoebe's husband, purchased the
periodical GUIDE TO HOLINESS, which under her able editorship, grew in
circulation from 13,000 to 30,000 subscribers. She travelled widely with her
husband, conducting evangelistic meetings during the summer months. In the fall
of 1857, she and her husband travelled to Hamilton, Ontario, where they
attracted crowds of several thousand people when an afternoon prayer meeting
became a ten-day revival meeting during which four hundred people were converted
to Christ. They experienced similar successes in New York City and in England,
where they preached for four years to packed houses at Leeds, Sheffield,
Manchester, Birmingham, and dozens of other places. It is estimated that within
her lifetime, Phoebe Palmer brought over 25,000 people to faith in Christ.
Catherine Booth (1829-1890), with her husband, William
Booth, founded the Christian Revival Association in 1865 and the Salvation Army
in 1878. The Booths regarded the active participation of women to be vital to
Christianity. Before 1865, when they were still Methodists, Catherine began
preaching. Soon after her pulpit debut, her husband became ill, and his slow
recovery paved the way for her own preaching ministry. For a time, he was so
ill that she had to take over his entire preaching circuit. She eventually
became one of the most famous female preachers of England, and her last sermon
was delivered to an audience of 50,000 people.
Hannah Whitall Smith, author of THE CHRISTIAN'S
SECRET OF A HAPPY LIFE (1875) catalyzed the development of the Holiness
movement in Britain and throughout Europe. Her activities in England led to the
Keswick Convention in 1874.
Carrie Judd Montgomery was a healing evangelist of
considerable prominence beginning in 1879, and became a founding member, along
with A. B. Simpson, of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1887. She later
became a part of the Pentecostal revival and was ordained a minister by the
Assemblies of God in 1917, continuing in ministry until 1946.
Maria B. Woodworth-Etter was also involved in the
Holiness movement before she rose to prominence as an early Pentecostal leader.
In 1884, she was licensed to preach by the Churches of God general conference,
founded by John Winebrenner in 1825. Within a few months of this time her
meetings were already beginning to receive national press coverage, and in the
late 1880s she started twelve churches, added 1,000 members, erected six church
buildings, and started several Sunday Schools. Her work at this time resulted
in the licensing of twelve preachers. The revivals that she held at this time
were accompanied with unusual manifestations of God's power, many healings, and
mass conversions. During the early Pentecostal movement, Woodworth- Etter was
in continual demand, becoming a featured speaker at the Worldwide Pentecostal
Camp Meeting at Arroyo Seco, California, in April 1913. She founded the
Woodworth-Etter Tabernacle in western Indianapolis in 1918, which she pastored
until her death in 1924.
Beginning in 1906 and 1907, Florence L. Crawford, Mabel
Smith, Ivey Campbell, and Rachel A. Sizelove were some of the first women to
spread the blessings of the early Pentecostal revival through their separate
itinerant ministries. Florence Crawford planted and pastored several churches
in the Pacific Northwest, founding and becoming general overseer of the
Apostolic Faith Church based in Portland, Oregon, which later became part of the
Open Bible Standard Denomination.
Other pioneers of the Pentecostal movement in the U.S.
included Mrs. Scott Ladd, who opened a Pentecostal mission in Des Moines in
1907, the Duncan sisters, who had opened the Rochester Bible Training School at
Elim Faith Home, "Mother" Barnes of St. Louis, Missouri, who, with her
son-in-law, B. F. Lawrence, held tent meetings in southern Illinois in the
spring of 1908, and Marie Burgess, who preached in Chicago, Toledo, Detroit, and
New York City, where she founded Glad Tidings Hall, which soon became an
important center for the spread of the Pentecostal revival. Another early
Pentecostal pioneer in New York was Miss Maud Williams (Haycroft).
In Canada, some early pioneers of the Pentecostal
movement included Ellen Hebden in Toronto, Ella M. Goff in Winnipeg, Alice B.
Garrigus in Newfoundland, the Davis sisters in the Maritime provinces, Mrs. C.
E. Baker in Montreal, and Zelma Argue throughout all of the Canadian provinces.
Aimee Semple McPherson of Ingersoll, Ontario, began a preaching ministry in 1915
which began in Toronto and took her along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, and across
the United States in 1918. She eventually founded Angelus Temple in 1923, where
she continued as senior pastor until her death in 1944.
Kathryn Kuhlman's ministry began in the summer of 1923.
After her ordination by the Evangelical Church Alliance in Joliet, Illinois, she
established the Denver Revival Tabernacle in 1935, which she pastored for three
years. In the mid-1940s, she went to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where she began to
thrive as a preacher and radio evangelist. Many people were healed at her
meetings beginning in 1947, and she gained a reputation as one of the world's
outstanding healing evangelists, carrying on as a leading figure during the
charismatic movement until her death in 1976.
A few of the women working as Pentecostal pastors during
the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s included Charlotte Baker, Myrtle
D. Beall, Helen Beard, Aimee Cortese, Sue Curran, B. Maureen Gaglardi, Anne
Giminez, Ione Glaeser, Hattie Hammond, Alpha A. Henson, Marilyn Hickey, Violet
Kitely, Janet Kreis, Freda Lindsay, Fuchsia T. Pickett, Iverna Tompkins, and
Rachel Titus. A sampling of a few of the other women who were vital during the
time of the charismatic movement as speakers, authors, or evangelists, would
include Eleanor and Roberta Armstrong, Rita Bennett, Edith Blumhofer, Hazel
Bonawitz, Roxanne Brant, Mary Ann Brown, Shirley Carpenter, Jean Darnall,
Josephine Massynberde Ford, Katie Fortune, Shirlee Green, Nina Harris, Sue
Malachuk, Daisy Osborn, Dorothy Ranaghan, Agnes Sanford, Gwen Shaw, Bernice
Smith, Ruth Carter Stapleton, Jean Stone, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Corrie Ten