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Celebrating 25 Years of Women’s Ordination

August 10, 2022
Ruth Haley Barton (left), Rob Dixon (center), and Elaine May (right) at the dinner to celebrate 25 years of women’s ordination in the CRCNA.
Ruth Haley Barton (left), Rob Dixon (center), and Elaine May (right) at the dinner to celebrate 25 years of women’s ordination in the CRCNA.

“It all began [for me] on a warm, Wednesday afternoon at Providence Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. We had just finished catechism class, and my classmate and I were standing in the hallway talking to our pastor, waiting for our moms to pick us up,” recalled Rev. Mary Hulst, one of the first women ordained as a minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church.

Hulst was speaking to a group of about 70 men and women who had gathered at the Tinley Park (Ill.) Convention Center the day before Inspire 2022 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Synod 1995’s decision to allow the ordination of women to all church offices.

Hosted by Rev. Elaine May, the CRCNA’s Women’s Leadership ministry developer, the dinner was the culmination of events that were intended to begin at Synod 2020. After two years of COVID-19 delays, those events could finally be held this year.

This year’s events began with a commemoration at Synod 2022. Because the CRCNA recognizes two different perspectives and convictions on this issue, both of which honor Scripture as the Word of God, the synod event was limited to a commemoration.

A more celebratory event was planned to coincide with the Inspire 2022 conference. In attendance were several female CRC pastors, supporters who had advocated for women’s ordination from before 1995, and many who have benefited from the gifts of women leaders in the years since. More than 200 women are currently ordained as ministers of the Word in the CRCNA.

Hulst was the opening speaker at the celebration. She shared that her childhood pastor, Rev. Terry Lapinsky, had introduced several liturgical elements to the church service during his time at the congregation and that these had stayed with her – but nothing, she said, influenced her quite as much as the conversation after catechism that Wednesday night.

“At one point [Rev. Lapinsky] turned to me and said, ‘You are going to be a minister one day,” she said. “I was in the seventh grade. [And in our congregation] we weren’t ordaining women as anything at that point – deacons, elders, or pastors.” (The CRC had opened ordination to women deacons since 1973, but not all congregations participated in that change.)

Lapinsky took a call to a different church when Hulst was in the eighth grade, but he would come back and preach a sermon every summer while vacationing at his family’s cottage in the Holland area. And as he shook hands with members of Providence CRC after the service each summer, said Hulst, he would look at her and say, “You are going to seminary one day. Are you getting ready?”

Hulst was ordained on Sept. 29, 1996, at Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.), and Rev. Lapinsky participated in that service. As he draped a pulpit robe on her shoulders, he said to Hulst, “Clothe yourself in compassion and kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” she recalled. Hulst said he also instructed her to forgive those in the church just as Christ had forgiven her, to clothe herself in love, and most of all to have fun.

“He planted a seed when I was in the seventh grade,” she said, “and now here we are.”

Hulst challenged the group to think about seventh graders, fourth graders, or college freshmen they know who may need someone to look at them and speak words of confidence and encouragement about the gifts they have from God.

Similarly, Pastor Elly Boersma Sarkany, a commissioned pastor serving at Covenant CRC, St. Catharines, Ont., shared about people in her life who motivated and encouraged her to seek out a calling in pastoral ministry.

And Rev. Ashley Bonnes, a pastor at Lafayette CRC, Ind., shared about some people she has ministered to in her service as a pastor, and how that has encouraged her in her own life and ministry. Rev. Lesli van Milligen, a regional catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries, concluded this portion of the evening by sharing about the importance of mentoring members of the next generation.

At their tables, attendees shared about their own journeys to wherever God has called them, and about the people who have influenced them along the way. They were also encouraged to think about whom they could mentor or support in their own life.

“As we think about the next 25, 50, or 75 years, this is where it starts,” said Hulst. “It starts with the seventh graders. And it starts with us. Maybe for other people you can be the one who says, ‘You can do this job. You have what it takes. This is for you.’ That was the gift that was given to me. That’s the gift that we get to give to others.”

Following the dinner, Dr. Ruth Haley Barton, author, speaker, and founder of the Transforming Center, spoke on “Women and Men in Transforming Community: Renewing Our Vision for Partnering Together in Christ.”

“Ruth spoke with conviction about how Jesus came to redeem the male-female team God commissioned in Genesis. She challenged both women and men to work toward healthy partnerships rooted in Jesus and committed to his mission,” said May.

A recording of this talk will be shared by Women’s Leadership at a future date.

Rob Dixon, adjunct professor at Fresno Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary, and author of Together in Ministry: Women and Men in Flourishing Partnerships, continued the conversation with a workshop on Aug. 4.

“The preconference celebration gave us an opportunity to reflect on the past and to recommit ourselves to releasing the gifts of women in the church,” said May. “The work ahead requires both men and women working together, just as it did over 25 years ago.”