AMBS book explores impact of first ordination of woman pastorBy Mary E. Klassen Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary
ELKHART, Ind. — A new book describes how the first ordination of a Mennonite woman pastor 40 years ago opened doors and inspired others for pastoral ministry.
By telling the story of Emma Sommers Richards’ ordination in 1973, According to the Grace Given to Her aims to show that “all church members will share in the benefits and blessings that God will shower on faithful Anabaptist Mennonite congregations.”
Released by the Institute of Mennonites Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, the book shares the impact of Richards’ ordination from a variety of perspectives.
Three editors, James E. Horsch, John D. Rempel and Eldon D. Nafziger, and nearly 20 contributors describe the influences and themes of Richards’ life that led to her ordination and reflect on what it meant in their lives and ministries.
The book begins with Miriam Book describing the setting of the call to women to serve in the Mennonite church. Then Elaine Sommers Rich, Richards’ sister, recounts influences in their family life. Arlene Mark tells about other early influences through education and church involvement. Nancy V. Lee tells about the ministry of Richards and her husband, E. Joe, as missionaries in Japan.
Additional chapters are testimonials from pastors for whom Richards was a mentor or source of inspiration, including Dan Schrock, John Gray, Rachel Fisher, David Sutter and Janice Yordy Sutter.
Richards was ordained in June 1973 by Illinois Mennonite Conference at the request of Lombard (Ill.) Mennonite Church, where she was serving on the pastoral team.
“It was an ordination that marked a breakthrough in North American Mennonites’ understanding that the Holy Spirit calls forth both women and men,” said Mary H. Schertz, director of IMS, at a Feb. 26 celebration of the book’s release.
Beginning of a shift
At the celebration, Gayle Gerber Koontz, AMBS professor of theology and ethics, emphasized the significance of Richards’ ordination.
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