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Where May Women Preach?
Abstract: What happens when the Societas Trinitatis Sanctae holds a retreat at a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Seminary?
The Societas Trinitatis Sanctae (or in English, Society of the Holy Trinity) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. In contrast to most Lutheran organizations the Society (STS) has pushed its Lutheran identity into its tagline: "A Lutheran Ministerium dedicated to the renewal of the Ministry and the Church.".
The Society is a kind of religious order, an association of pastors ordained in various Lutheran communions throughout North America and Australia who come together for mutual support in fulfilling their ordination vows. The Society has approximately 200 members, admits both men and women, and makes its decisions by consensus. Pastors join the society by formally subscribing to the Society's Rule. New members are accepted at the Society's annual General Retreat.
This year's retreat was held the third week in August at Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. This marks the first time a Lutheran institution has hosted the Society's General Retreat.
Pr. Erma Wolf was scheduled to preach at worship during the retreat, and this caused the hosting seminary some anxiety because the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) does not ordain women and reserves the ministry of Word and Sacrament (including preaching) for those who are ordained.
Concordia President Dean Wenthe proposed that Pr. Wolf preach not in the school's chapel, but in the auditorium. Pr. Frank Senn, the Senior of the Society, took this suggestion a step further, and his comments are instructive:
I decided that if one of our members had to preach in Sihler Auditorium, all members would preach there - except for the Missouri Synod pastor who is preaching at our closing Eucharist. Therefore, the prayer offices with sermons will be held in Sihler Auditorium and not in Kramer Chapel. This may not be an ideal arrangement, but it seems to satisfy Missouri sensitivities and STS integrity.
But the fact that we had to deal with this issue should prompt us to consider what it means, in terms of our vocation as a pastoral society, a religious order, to be holding meetings in institutions of the church. Religious orders exist on the margins of the church structure. Meeting here or in any seminary means moving from the margins to the center. While educational institutions also have a vocation to be at the margins of society, most of them are not. They occupy positions of power and prestige and sometimes of great wealth when one considers endowments. Theological seminaries are not wealthy, but they are owned lock, stock, and barrel by their denominations. If we are going to move to the centers of our church bodies, we have to play by their rules. The problem with that is that then we are not in a position to be what religious orders have always been: agents of renewal - renewal both of their members and of the church at large. The history of monasticism and of religious orders shows that these groups lose their ability to renew church and society by moving from the margins to the center, by acquiring wealth, power, and prestige.