Duties between ministry and commission
Tomorrow, 8 March, is International Women's Day – a celebration that has its roots in the battle for equal rights. Women in the New Apostolic Church cannot exercise a ministry, but they do perform invaluable pastoral work. How does that fit together?
There has already been precedent for women in ministry: at the end of the nineteenth century and at the start of the twentieth century, there were New Apostolic Deaconesses. Their task was to care for the women in the congregation. That is how a manual from 1908 entitled "Hülfsbuch für die Priester und Diener der Neuapostolischen Gemeinde" [Guidebook for Priests and servants of the New Apostolic congregation] defines their function. In addition, an account from the year 1898 handed down to us from Chief Apostle Friedrich Krebs relates that the oldest Deaconess and the oldest Deacon took Holy Communion on behalf of the departed on one occasion.
There were already Deaconesses in the Catholic Apostolic Church. There they were chosen just like Deacons and Sub-Deacons, but contrary to their male counterparts, they did not receive the apostolic blessing. In the richly developed Catholic Apostolic order of hierarchy, the diaconal helpers of a congregation also included Sub-Deacons, Deaconesses, acolytes, singers, doorkeepers, and lay assistants. In particular, Deaconesses were tasked with overseeing the production of liturgical robes and visiting the sick female members of the congregation.
Sisters without ministry, but held in great esteem
As recently as 1938, there were still references to the Deaconess ministry in the New Apostolic book "Questions and Answers". An interesting note in this context: in its issue of 5 May 1995, the "Our Family" magazine features an article about two sisters who performed their services in Papua-New Guinea like Deaconesses. Under the heading, "Sisters arrange for a smooth divine service", the article states: "Although there is no Deaconess ministry in the New Apostolic Church, our sisters can still contribute beneficially to the orderly flow of a divine service, even without a ministry and the esteem it brings." Such was the experience of District Apostle Arthur Henry Rosentreter during a visit to the congregation of Maka.
Education and music
Today our sisters in faith take on a wide variety of important tasks to help our congregations function. The significance of women in the New Apostolic Church does not derive from the ministerial hierarchy, but from the tasks they perform in the congregation. Women often provide Church instruction for the children and also plan and organize the classes. Significant numbers of them are involved in work groups that develop content and strategic papers for children's care in the New Apostolic Church. Our pedagogical approach is well designed and can certainly hold its own when measured against other teaching manuals in similar environments.
Beyond that, women in the New Apostolic Church are also significantly involved in the Church's musical endeavours. Their commitment spans the gamut from involvement in the Church's advisory panels—for instance, as concerns the creation of hymnals and choir books—all the way to leadership tasks as local or regional choir or orchestra conductors.
Clarifying our conception of ministry
And what about ministries for women? Will such a thing ever come into being? "It is still too early to ask this question," noted Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider at a panel discussion on the occasion of the International Church Convention in Munich. "First, we must clearly define our conception of ministry: what is a ministry and what is a service? What happens during the ordination? Only then can we begin to talk about who can actually bear a ministry." In the process it would be necessary to consider both theological questions and societal ones: what will the congregation accept—and not just on an international level, but on a regional level as well?
Key term: Appointment
"An appointment is the assignment of a firmly defined task. It is not to be equated with ordination. An appointment can be limited in terms of both duration and location. In order to fulfil the various services and tasks within the congregations and districts, special mandates are issued to both brothers and sisters, independent of ministry." That is how the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church explains it. (CNAC 7.10).