Women’s history month is drawing to a close. As I write, our nation is preparing to put aside our recent focus on the oft-silenced stories of women and return to our regularly scheduled programming of male-dominated narratives and textbooks.
But before we do, I’d like to get in one more women’s history shout-out, one from a specifically Christian perspective. After all, where have women been more often silenced than the Church? And yet, where else can we so clearly see the fingerprints of women whose work, even if not fully recognized at the time, shaped an institution into what it is today?
There are thousands of women throughout church history that we could lift up. Here are a few that serve as particular inspirations to me:
1.) Hildegard of Bingen – This 12th-century German nun was a mystic, philosopher, composer, and
theologian. Who needs a “Renaissance man” when you’ve got Hildegard? History records that Hildegard internalized the cultural narratives of her time of women as the “weaker sex,” and yet, when the Spirit called, Hildegard answered. Christians today still treasure the volumes of theology, philosophy, music, and even natural science that she contributed to history.
2.) Anna Howard Shaw – Rev. Anna Howard Shaw was a Methodist minister and one of the first women ordained as minister in the United States. Her
call to ministry and ordination in 1880 led her from the pulpit to the political platform, where she became a prominent leader in the women’s suffrage movement. She died only months before the nineteenth amendment was passed.
3.) Dorothy Day – Day was a Catholic advocate and journalist who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. Day’s faith fueled her commitment to nonviolence, redistribution of wealth, hospitality, and daily practice of caring for those in need. Day’s legacy lives on in the Catholic Worker Movement and other hospitality houses founded on similar principles.
4.) Katie Cannon – Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon is the first African American woman ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is a pioneer of Womanist theology and ethics in American Christianity. I had the privilege of studying ethics with Dr. Cannon while at Union Presbyterian Seminary, where she taught me that theology and ethics of the head are nothing without theology of the heart and body.
5.) Mercy Oduyoye – Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye is a Methodist theologian from Ghana – perhaps the most well-known feminist/womanist African theologian. Oduyoye’s ministry of education has been liberating for women in her own country and across the globe. Oduyoye has spoken out on everything from economic oppression of women to female genital mutilation to her journey through the blame, isolation, and shame associated with childlessness in her Ghanaian context.
6.) Simone Campbell – Sister Simone Campbell is a Roman Catholic nun of the Sisters of Social Services, the Executive Director of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and the leader of the famous “Nuns on the Bus.” Along with being the only person I’ve ever seen toleave Stephen Colbert speechless, Campbell is arguably one of the most effective religious advocates of our time for justice and peace. Like Anna Howard Shaw, Campbell is a woman whose Christian convictions led her into the dangerous, public, political sphere – where she has been ever since!
Like I said, I’ve chosen six among many; who are the women you would lift up from Christian history or the modern church? Who are the people that make up your great cloud of witnesses? And how can we – the whole Church – honor their witness through our own?