Trailblazer Spurs Indian Church to Train More Women for Ordination

Jan 13, 2003 12:57 PM EST

Despite initial resistance to female pastors, the Gujarat diocese of the Church of North India (CNI) is now training more women for ordination, following the success of trailblazer Sonal Christian.

Christian became the first woman pastor in the CNI diocese in Gujarat nearly three years ago. Following in Christian's footsteps, four more women are at different stages of training to become pastors in the diocese.

"The response has been very positive and we are grooming more women to enter the service of the church," said Vinod Kumar Malaviya, the CNI bishop in Gujarat, India's most western state, which borders Pakistan.

The synod of the CNI, which brings together Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and other traditions, approved women's ordination in the 1970s.

But initially there was strong resistance from local people to women becoming pastors in the church, noted Bishop Malaviya.

"When [as a deacon] I invited a woman to read the Bible during a Good Friday service, many men walked out and they returned only after the woman finished reading," Malaviya recalled.

Christian told ENI, "I was apprehensive in the beginning. But I have not faced any problem as a woman pastor. There is not much difference between my dreams and the reality."

The pastor of Emmanuel Church at Saraspur, a suburb of Ahmedabad - the commercial capital of Gujarat and a major industrial centre, Christian has 75 families under her wing.

"I made it clear from the beginning, 'don't take me casually because I am a woman'. This has worked well," Christian explained, citing this as a clue to her success as the only woman alongside 80 male pastors in the diocese in Gujara.

Though Christian, who is in her thirties, "felt the call of God to become a pastor" from the age of 15 while in school, she only began her theological training in 1992 after graduating with a major in chemistry. "By then, I had made up my mind," she said.

"The stories my granny told about my grandfather's work as a pastor in tough conditions left a keen desire to become a pastor," Christian said, noting that she had never known him.

Though her mother died before she took up theological training, Christian said her father - a school teacher - had encouraged her "to fulfil the dream I had been cherishing as a school student."

Asked about whether she had considered marriage, Christian replied: "An unmarried woman pastor can serve the people better."

By Anto Akkara Ahmedabad