Several years ago when speaking to a group of pastors about the challenges we in the Christian church are facing in the 21st century, I commented rather spontaneously “this is not your grandfather’s church.” By that I simply meant that many things have changed, both in the world and in the church, since my grandfathers were alive. One was born in 1881 and the other in 1893.
To that I might also add “it’s not your grandmother’s church, either.” One example should suffice.
Earlier this month I preached for the 150th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Wayside, Wis., a beautiful farming community near Green Bay. Before the first service started, Pastor Steve Kline gave me a brief tour of the facilities.
He began with “the museum,” which appeared to have been a cry room at one time. Terry and I enjoyed viewing and reading some of the priceless memorabilia, including the “Rules for Women Teachers – 1915.” Here we go:
- You will not marry during the terms of your contract.
- You are not to keep company with men.
- You must be home between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless attending a school function.
- You may not loiter downtown in ice-cream stores.
- You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the Chairman of the Board.
- You may not ride a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
- You may not smoke cigarettes.
- You may not dress in bright colors.
- You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
- You must wear at least two petticoats.
- Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
- To keep the schoolroom neat and clean you must:
- Sweep the floor at least once daily.
- Scrub the floor at least once a week with hot soapy water.
- Clean the blackboard at least once a day.
- Start the fire at 7:00 a.m. so the room will be warm at 8:00 a.m.
My, how things have changed! While still a very conservative congregation, Zion, like other 21st century Christian congregations, has implemented many changes in the past 150 years. Today they even have women voters, officers and public worship service Scripture readers/lectors. And I imagine it’s OK for women teachers at Zion to do most of the things forbidden above.
The people of Zion take seriously what Holy Scripture has to say, being guided by passages like: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28)
And from Peter: “This (what happened at Pentecost 2,000 years ago) is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy … even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.’” (Acts 2:16-18)
My grandmothers were born in 1887 and 1897. If they were still alive today, I believe they would agree with what Zion has decided the Bible allows women to do in church. By the way, our church body in convention the past 45 years has said a lot about that topic.
My grandmothers would surely want us to remain faithful to Holy Scripture. They, along with us, would continue to struggle with the meaning of other passages about women. And in the process, they would understand that the church of today had better be concerned about figuring out how it is called to be the church of our daughters and granddaughters.