What is the role of women in leadership in the Mennonite Church?

The Mennonite Church has very supportive statements about women in leadership and ministry. The most recent (1995) Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective states, “The church calls, trains, and appoints gifted men and women to a variety of leadership ministries on its behalf. These may include such offices as pastor, deacon, and elder as well as evangelists, missionaries, teachers, conference ministers, and overseers.” This is the ideal toward which the Mennonite Church strives.

 The role of women in leadership positions in the Mennonite Church has been changing in recent years, briefly outlined here:

  • In the past, women were not permitted to have a role of leadership ministry, though they have served as Sunday school teachers since the 19th century.
  • Today some churches do not accept women in those roles.
  • Other churches accept women as youth leaders, missionaries, worship leaders, song leaders, etc., but not as lead pastors.
  • Others, and the number is increasing, accept women as pastors or in other lead ministry roles.
  • On a denominational level, women have served as moderator and heads of major boards.

Interestingly, Mennonites did ordain Ann J. Allebach in 1911 for congregational ministry at age 36 at First Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Pa. The next Mennonite woman to be ordained for congregational leadership in North America was Emma Richards in 1973. Prior to Ann Allebach at least four women had been ordained as deaconesses, and at least one woman ordained as an overseas missionary. Women had served as probationary ministers in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination (now known as the Missionary Church in the USA and Evangelical Missionary Church in Canada) as early as the late 1880s.