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Especially the Ordinary

Especially the Ordinaryby Elizabeth A. Eaton

In 1979, during the summer between my middler and senior year of divinity school, I traveled with my moth- er to her father’s village in Transylvania. My mother’s people are Siebenbürgen Saxons who, 900 years ago, were asked to settle in what is now Romania to be a buffer against invaders from the east. The Saxons became Lutheran at the time of the Reformation.

It is a beautiful country where tradition is important. One of the traditions I encountered was Sunday worship. The church bell rings three times, once to call people to worship, 10 minutes later to hurry the late-comers, and 10 minutes after that to begin worship. Seating is highly regulated. Married men sit in one place, married women in another. Single men have their own section, as do single women.

The confirmands all sit together near the front of the church. Young children sit together, and along the perimeter in carved chairs sit the elders of the congregation—all men. Although I was a single woman, I was allowed to sit with my mother and her aunts amongst the married women. When the pastor and his wife entered the sanctuary everyone stood at attention.

It was with some trepidation that I accepted the pastor and his wife’s invitation to come to their home for coffee. He was literally Herr Pastor. What would they think of a woman seminarian? We had only been ordaining women in the United States since 1970. How would I be received in this very traditional culture?

As it turned out, I need not have worried. They were delightful and, in fact, delighted that I was going to be ordained. After the Second World War Stalin rounded up thousands of Saxons—mostly the men—and sent them in boxcars to forced labor camps in Siberia. The pastor was one of them. He was gone for a year. During that time his wife kept the congregation going. She baptized and preached and buried the dead. She brought gospel hope to her people. They both thought it was about time that women were ordained.

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton is presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, based in Chicago. Previously, she was bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. You can read an article about her in the March 2014 issue of Gather magazine.

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