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25 Years Ordaining Women

The journey of women in the Christian Reformed Church in North America entails a long history and legacy of women using their God-given gifts and callings in local and global missions. An overall theme of experiencing the joy in serving God and His church comes through every generation. Although these stories are not without struggles and triumph,  God uses our unique and shared experiences from the past and present to advance his work. We believe God’s story is yet being told.

Benchmark Ordained CRC women

Ruth Hofman

Ruth Hofman

Ruth became the first woman ordained Minister of the Word in Canada in 1996 but had been serving as an "exhorter" with First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto since 1993. Currently, she co-pastors with her husband at Friendship Community Christian Reformed Church and, together with a team of young leaders, is privileged to minister on the campus of York University.

Mary Hulst

Rev. Dr. Mary S. Hulst was the first woman ordained as Minister of the Word in the United States in 1996 at Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. She left Eastern Ave in 2003 to pursue a PhD in communication ethics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After earning her degree, Dr. Hulst taught for one year in the Communications Arts and Sciences Department at Calvin College and at Calvin Theological Seminary as Assistant Professor of Preaching from 2007-2009, where she was the first female Professor of Preaching (tenure track). She has served as University Pastor at Calvin University since 2009. She lectures around the country on preaching, teaches occasionally at Calvin Theological Seminary, and consults with churches and search committees on how to listen to sermons.

Mary-Lee Bouma

Mary-Lee Bouma

While in seminary from 1991-93 Mary-Lee Bouma planted a Black/White/Asian/Latin church,  which met in Oakdale Park CRC's space. In 1994, she became the un-ordained pastor of Trinity CRC in Mt Pleasant, MI and was ordained in 1997 when the CRC opened ordination to women. Active in local justice, racial reconciliation and prayer ministry, she also served on  the grass-roots Urban Mission Board (1990-1998); the Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members  synodical committee (1996-2002); the Candidacy Committee (2010-2016); and is currently a  missionary in downtown Vancouver, BC, and on the the Human Sexuality synodical committee.

Lesli VanMilligan

Lesli was one of the first women ordained as Evangelist, serving North Hills CRC from 1996- 1999. She then served Crosspoint CRC, Cincinnati from 1999-2008, followed by New Life CRC as pastor from 2010-2013. Lesli has also become ordained as Minister of the Word in the CRC, and says she can say that she has held every ‘minister’ title: Evangelist, Commissioned Pastor and now Reverend. She is currently serving the denomination with Faith Formation Ministries as a Regional Catalyzer for Eastern Canada.

Amanda Benckhuysen

Amanda Benckhuysen was ordained in 1998 when she was called to serve at Campus Chapel in campus ministry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 2001, Amanda returned to school to pursue a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at the Toronto School of Theology. She began her teaching ministry in 2008 at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary where she served as a professor of Old Testament. After six years, she began teaching Old Testament studies at Calvin Theological Seminary. In 2021, Amanda was appointed as director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church.

Insoon Hoagland

Rev. Insoon Hoagland was the first ordained female chaplain, female military chaplain, the first minority chaplain, and the first female Korean ordained minister in the CRC. She retired from the United States Army on June 30, 2018 two days after celebrating 20 years of ordained service (6/28/1998). She has her own private practice as a pastoral counselor, clinical chaplain and Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist, Leavenworth, KS. She is also working on her Ph.D in Counselor Education and Supervision at Kansas State University.

Sheila Holmes

Rev. Sheila Holmes was the first African American female to be ordained in the CRCNA and has served as the pastor of Northside Community CRC in Paterson, NJ since October 8, 1998. She served as vice president of Synod in 2009 and second clerk in 2011, as well as president of the bi-national Board of Trustees for the CRCNA in 2013-2014. She is a facilitator for trauma awareness and resilience, dance of racial and ethnic reconciliation, trainer for youth mentors as well as a Disaster Chaplain. Her key ministry Scripture is Ephesians 4:12-14.

Thea Leunk

Thea Leunk was ordained in 2001 and has served as Pastor of Discipleship at Crosspoint CRC of Cincinnati, Ohio, was the Classis Coach for the Classis Renewal Team and recently retired after 15 years as the senior pastor at Eastern Avenue CRC of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was a woman advisor to Synod twice before women could be delegates. In 2008, Thea was the first woman elected an officer of synod and has served Synod in these official capacities: vice president in 2008, Clerk in 2012, and vice president in 2017 and 2019. She has also served our denomination as a Synodical Deputy, again the first female to do so, and chaired the Synod Review Task Force that reported to Synod 2019.

Bonny Mulder-Behnia

Bonny, an ordained Minister of the Word in the CRC has been privileged to serve as a pastor at Rosewood CRC in Bellflower, CA, for 16.5 years now, currently as Executive Pastor. While at Rosewood, she has served on the Classis Greater Los Angeles leadership team for five years. In 2015 Bonny served as the First Clerk of Synod, previously having worked as a Synod News Officer for ten years during the '90s. Prior to pastorate at Rosewood, she served as Director of Youth & Children's Ministries at Madison Square CRC in Grand Rapids and as Marketing Coordinator for CRC Publications.

Marchiene Vroon Rienstra

Marchiene was the first and only woman to enter Calvin Seminary in 1972. She graduated with a master of divinity degree from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1978. Marchiene applied for ordination as a minister in the CRC and was denied. She continued to pursue ministry and was ordained and served in the Presbyterian Church, RCA and the CRC.

Other Notable Women Pioneers of the CRC

Carol Bremer-Bennett

Carol’s extensive experience in Christian ministry includes more than 20 years of organizational leadership, leadership development, and administration in a variety of teaching, principal, superintendent, and director positions in the Rehoboth, New Mexico, private school system. In 2015 she was the first Native American executive woman to be appointed as the U.S. Director World Renew.

Norma Coleman-James

The first woman to serve in an executive leadership position in the bi-national denominational office of the CRCNA, Norma was appointed in 1993 to serve as the denomination’s first Director of Human Resources with the overall responsibility to develop and establish a bi-national personnel office. She served in this position for 15 years.

Sini den Otter

In 1988 Sini den Otter was hired as a chaplain in the new 400 bed active treatment hospital in Edmonton and was granted the designation of Specialist in Institutional Ministry, a long process for which local, classical and ecclesiastical endorsement was needed. Ordination for women was not possible at that time in the CRC. Her home church, however, granted her the position of deacon at large which allowed her to proceed with training as required by CAPE (Canadian Association for Pastoral Education). Sini also obtained her Masters of Theological Studies. Having served in hospital ministry as chaplain for 20 some years, Sini is thankful to God for leading her on this path of bedside ministry and for providing people who supported her in this unique journey.

Neva Evenhouse

Neva began the Coffee Break/Story Hour ministry in 1970 in her house in South Holland, IL. She felt God pulling her along as she wrote Bible study materials and led groups of women in study. Neva followed God’s call to ministry, seminary, and eventually became ordained in the Reformed Church of America.

Magdalene Hollis

Maggie was the first black woman to become a missionary in the Christian Reformed Church without going to Calvin College. She also served as bus driver for the Grand Rapids Christian Schools, as a volunteer at Madison Square CRC in Grand Rapids, MI, and was confirmed by Madison Square as a missionary in the CRC. She served as an elder in Immanuel CRC, Kalamazoo, MI, and as the missionary staff person at House of Hope, a shelter for the homeless. Maggie currently works at Maple Ave Church Ministries in Holland.

Sandy Johnson

Sandy Johnson served the Christian Reformed Church as the Director of Denominational Ministries from 2007-2011. She was a pioneer in leading from the Director position as a woman  leader. In that role she had the privilege of serving alongside the ministry directors; to be part  of the depth and the breadth of the CRC, and to see God at work around the world within and  through our ministries.

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo

Ida was the first female director to be appointed to the role of international Director of World Renew, a role that she filled from 2006 to 2022. She has served in other various roles within the CRCNA including program consultant with World Renew for 4 years, Uganda Country Director for World Renew for 5 years, East and Southern Africa Regional Team Leader for World Renew for 6 years and the first ServiceLink Coordinator for CRCNA in Canada for 5 years. In addition to living out her calling and passion for justice and mercy in these roles, Ida has served various volunteer roles as pastoral elder, Hamilton Classis Interim Committee member and chair of council for Immanuel CRC in Hamilton. She represents the CRCNA at national ecumenical networks like KAIROS and international networks like ACT Alliance and Integral Alliance. She also teaches two evening courses at Redeemer University, Introduction to International Development and Transforming Church Conflict.

Grace Paek

Grace Paek has been serving the CRCNA as a trainer, Korean Coffee Break (CB) Representative, and Global Ministry Coordinator for CB Ministries since 1998. As a proactive leader in Korean CB and Global CB Ministry, Grace has been raising leaders globally, translating materials, building bridges between leaders & churches, and reaching out to various communities & cultures. Also, she has been promoting CB Ministry worldwide and continuously raising leaders globally and developing contextualized training curricula.

Beth Swagman

Beth developed and directed the Safe Church Ministry for the CRCNA from November, 1994 until April, 2011. The CRCNA became one of the first denominations to institute child safety policies. In July, 1995, she was appointed Director of Pastoral Ministries which included Safe Church Ministry, Chaplaincy Ministries, Disability Concerns, Pastor-Church Relations, and Race Relations, and held that position until March, 1998.

Those Who Have Gone Before…

Thea Van Halsema (1924-2016)

Thea Van Halsema’s life work included serving as social work professor and Dean of Women at Reformed Bible College (now Kuyper College), working with The United Way of Grand Rapids, authoring books about Christian historical figures such as John Calvin and the history of the Christian Reformed Church and its creeds, participating in early Christian Reformed Church committees about the role of women in the denomination, and serving on the board of the Latin America Mission.

Lillian Grissen (1922-2015)

Lillian Grissen served in God's kingdom as a loving, caring wife, mother, and  grandmother; as a master teacher in elementary, high school, and college; as an author of  many articles and books; as associate editor of the Banner in 1982-89; and as a full-time volunteer at Grace Christian Reformed Church. She loved God above all; she cared deeply about each person in her life; and she loved words, thoughts, and ideas.

Johanna Timmer (1901-1978)

Johanna Timmer, was appointed to the faculty at Calvin College in 1927, and at age 26 became the first dean of women at Calvin College. In 1940 she became the ‘acting president’ of Reformed Bible Institute, now Kuyper College, and was the first dean there. During her years at RBI she was instrumental in creating young women’s societies throughout the denomination, eventually becoming the Young Calvinists of the CRC.

Johanna Veenstra (1894–1933)

Johanna Veenstra was the first missionary of the Christian Reformed Church  to go to Nigeria. Johanna Veenstra assumed leadership of the work in Lupwe and was engaged primarily in medical work and in preaching. During her ministry in Lupwe, a number of people became Christians and also became more educated. The roots of the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria (CRCN) and the Reform Church of Christ in Nigeria (RCCN) lay in part in the work of Johanna Veenstra. When she was only 38 years old, Johanna died from an appendectomy.


A Story Yet Being Told - God’s Faithfulness and Our Greatest Joy Watch this video presentation of past and present women leaders in the CRC that was prepared for a celebration of Women in Leadership at Synod, 2018.