Associate professor of New Testament Amy Peeler will be ordained on Friday, April 1, becoming the third female professor at Wheaton to be ordained.
Peeler joins the ranks of associate professor of history Kathryn Long, who was ordained in 1994, and associate professor of theology and history of Christianity Jennifer Powell McNutt, who was ordained in 2010.
While these women are the first female faculty members to be ordained, they are not the only ones in Wheaton’s history to enter into ordained ministry. McNutt shared in an email that Wheaton has a unique history of supporting women who enter ministry. “Wheaton was groundbreaking in terms of its unisex curriculum and training female students in homiletics,” she said, referring to the ability to preach and write sermons.
The issue of women in ordination has long been a debated one in evangelical circles. The Southern Baptist Convention and Lutheran Missouri Synod are two notable denominations where women are not ordained. While these denominations refrain from ordaining women, they emphasize the equality of men and women, though this equality manifests itself in differentiated roles within the church. Pastors John Piper and Wayne Grudem are proponents of this position, and further explore its role in the church in their 1991 booklet, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” Discussion around the issue centers around notable passages from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Romans and Timothy, and debate comes to head over differing historical and cultural readings of these passages.
On the college’s archival blog, associate professor of library science David Malone shared about Wheaton’s past support of women in ordained ministry. Three female students from the late 1800s served as ordained ministers in the Methodist and Baptist denominations. Malone said in his post from September 2009, “It was not out of place for these alumnae of Wheaton College to be active leaders in the church.”
The college’s second president, Charles Blanchard, praised these three women, calling them “daughters true” in an article from The Record in 1892. Interestingly, the first full-time Bible teacher was Edith Torrey, a woman hired in 1919.
In his 2007 co-authored book “Women, Ministry, and the Gospel: Exploring New Paradigms,” Timothy Larsen, the Carolyn and Fred McManis professor of Christian Thought, said “women in public ministry is a historic distinctive of evangelicalism.”
Peeler talked about her colleagues’ support for her upcoming ordination, which has come from both those who support the ordination of women and those who do not. This support demonstrates the “boundedness” that a community like Wheaton — and the church — provides. This community’s faith commitment, she said, “gives the freedom to be passionate about our differences and remain in community.”
While the Wheaton community, in these professors’ experiences, has largely been supportive of the calls on their lives, they recognize that not everyone is enthusiastic about discussing women’s ordination. Peeler said that is part of what makes Wheaton an advantageous place to talk about this issue. There is a platform of academic integrity that allows people to see the “robust conversation on both sides.”
Long went further by saying these conversations may help people realize that individuals with a high view of Scripture’s authority and inspiration “may come to different conclusions about the role of women in ministry.” Ultimately, these conversations aid the Christian in developing humility and considering the Protestant emphasis of the priesthood of all believers.
These conversations are not ones everyone is interested in having, Peeler said, but that it was okay. For those who are willing to have this conversation, it can be an opportunity to “investigate God’s word faithfully” no matter where you stand on the issue.
Approaching conversations about women in ordained ministry is admittedly complex, but McNutt suggested recognizing the heritage Wheaton possesses of supporting women in ministry as one way to start conversation.
For these women of faith, ordination has caused both Long and McNutt to think about the intersection of academia with their faith, though their decision to become ordained in their respective denominations sprang from a commitment to obediently respond to God’s call on their own lives. Ordination has allowed for the unique privilege of serving the sacraments at campus events and in local churches for Long and McNutt and challenged both to think of their ministries on-campus as opportunities for pastoral care as ordained ministers.
For Peeler’s part, she expects that her visible role on- and off-campus will not shift too much. She will continue teaching Sunday school, preaching, serving the Eucharist at her church and conducting classes here.
The larger part of her shift includes the unique privilege of now presiding over the Eucharist, an important aspect to the liturgical tradition. This means that Peeler will be able to conduct the liturgy, rather than simply distributing the bread and wine.
Already the path to ordination has been “deeply informative of (her) own spiritual journey.” While she has already served the Eucharist as a deacon at her own church and spoken at Wheaton’s undergraduate chapel, Peeler described her “yes” to this part of God’s plan as one that will continue to develop and lead her deeper into service.