Marathagavally David: Symbol of Woman Courage

"Strangely, even women came out against the idea of allowing me to the pulpit."
( [email protected] ) Dec 19, 2003 10:51 AM EST

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India., Dec. 19 - She ushered in winds of change when she became the first woman priest in the State. In fact, eyebrows were raised. However, Marathagavally David has silenced all by her efficiency in over two decades of priesthood.

Even as a child, Marthagavally had a zeal for everything religious; a deacon father, pious mother and a priest uncle spurred this fervour. "My parents insisted that I lead the family prayers and attend Sunday school without fail. But the decision to pursue this career was my own," she says.

After graduation, she joined the Kerala United Theological Seminary in Thiruvananthapuram. "It was a rigorous course. It gave me a new insight into Biblical teachings and interpretations."

The journey to priesthood was not easy for the Bachelor of Divinity graduate. In 1989, when she was working as general secretary of the CSI South Kerala Diocese Women's Fellowship, suggestion came up that she be ordained priest.

"There were many dissenting voices within the CSI itself. But feminist theology was approved long ago in Europe and in the U.S. Moreover, there were women priests in the CSI churches in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh," she says.

"Strangely, even women came out against the idea of allowing me to the pulpit." Finally, it was Bishop Jesudasan, the then moderator of the CSI and Bishop of the South Kerala Diocese, who took the initiative to bring in gender equality in matters of the Church.

He argued that Christianity had always given importance to women in the Church and in the family. In fact, Christ had beseeched a woman to announce to the world that he had resurrected.

After mulling over the idea, the Pastoral Board and the Diocesan Council gave the nod and Marathagavally was ordained priest of the Church of South India's South Kerala Diocese on May 28, 1989, at the age of 39.

Did the detractors make her a bit diffident?

"No.They made me take up the vocation as a challenge. They, in fact, prompted me to go ahead and prove my mettle. Theological doctrines are based on societal factors. And when women have claimed equality in many other fields, why not in the Church?" she asks.

Wherever she has served, she has been successful in managing the affairs of her parish. She has worked at the Nediyakala, Nannamkuzhy and Kaippallykonam churches and is now pastor of the Meenara CSI church.

She has visited umpteen churches, conducted baptism and marriages and presided over death ceremonies. "My husband accompanies me at times. Being a pastor, he knows the responsibility I owe to my parish."

D. David is now pastor of the Puthukunnu CSI Church. "The church committee members are also cooperative," she adds.

The members of the laity are all praise.

"She has always been one among us and we can approach her any time with our problems," they say.

Marathagavally was quick to react to the charge that conversions are being carried out under the guise of missionary work. "Missionary work is something divine. We do not force anyone to accept our religion. They embrace Christianity on their own," she said.

She has done missionary work when she was in Andhra Pradesh soon after marriage. "It was very interesting. I could do a lot for the people and it gave me great self- satisfaction," she reminisces.

However, she finds priesthood more satisfying than missionary work. "As a pastor, I can reach out to a larger group and help them solve problems." She has worked as Bible Woman too at the Kollam and Maruthur churches.

Being priests, what are the Davids planning for their twin daughters? "I wouldn't say that they should follow in our footsteps and don the cassock. However, I would like them to serve God and humanity."