Church celebrates 50 years since first women ordained as elders

Gladys Ramsay
Pauline Weibye retiring Secretary to the Council of Assembly with Gladys Ramsay, one of the first women to be ordained as a church elder in July 1966..

The Church of Scotland celebrated 50 years of women's ordination Tuesday with a gathering that included the first woman Moderator and some of the longest-serving women elders from congregations across Scotland.

Moderator Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr welcomed guests and introduced the host Dr Alison Elliot, who was the first woman to be Moderator and one of the few elders to be appointed to the post.

He also asked the crowd to acknowledge Gladys Ramsay, who was ordained as an elder on July 10 1966 at Camperdown Church in Dundee just weeks after the Church agreed to admit women to the eldership.

Mrs Ramsay, who is currently the session clerk in her church, said being an elder means giving others help and support.

"Since the time I started serving, I've always found it a great honour and privilege to meet with people sharing their joyous moments and being with them at sadder times, through bereavements and illness. I would recommend eldership to all who feel they could accept the invitation to serve."

Dr Elliot, now an elder at Greyfriars Kirk, said ordaining women as elders was first discussed in 1914, but it had taken 50 years of "batting it back forth from committees to the Assembly to Presbyteries and back to the Assembly and so on," before the Church finally agreed to ordain women as elders.

"By the mid-60s they'd got to the stage where 45 Presbyteries agreed that they should have women elders and 17 said no, but 45 to 17 that was good enough and so they went ahead with that vote and it was two years after that they also said we should have women ministers."

The first seven women were ordained as elders on June 19, 1966 in Culross Abbey. Two years later the Kirk allowed women to be ordained as ministers.

Today Dr Elliot said 54 percent of elders are women, the exact ratio of women to men in the Church according to the 2011 census.

"It looks like we've made it so that's a great achievement. I think that counts as a success for that particular initiative," she says. "We should remember of course that there are still Presbyteries where there are no women elders and there is always the question of how well women are represented in the decision making of the Church.

BBC Reporting Scotland carried an excellent film previewing the event which included some of those attending.

Speakers at the event were: Janette Wilson, who has just retired from her post as Solicitor the Church; Pauline Weibye, this week retiring as Secretary to the Council of Assembly; Helen Fisher, a former Boys Brigade leader, deaconess, World Mission worker and elder; and Sarah Davidson, Director General Communities for the Scottish Government.

Each of the speakers had interesting stories to share. Several expressed gratitude to those women who had blazed the path before them.

Speakers from the floor, including Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood and several ministers spoke about everything from the influence of women elders as role models for young women to the barriers they had faced.