Bishop Nelson Lakra in Ranchi. (Hardeep Singh)
Ranchi, Dec. 16: Less than a month after the Church of England voted against the appointment of women bishops, Ranchi’s Gossner Evangelical Lutheran (GEL) Church, Chotanagpur’s oldest, has declared it would surely have one in the “not-too-distant future”.
Gender equality received a historic blow in the western world on November 20 this year when the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod, went against liberal popular sentiment and voted against it.
But Bishop Nelson Lakra, the moderator of the 167-year-old GEL Church, took a stoutly progressive view.
“I am absolutely confident that one day I will consecrate a woman bishop. Twenty-five out of the 200 pastors at GEL Church are women. And they are a dedicated lot. They are better communicators than many of their male counterparts,” Bishop Lakra said.
GEL Church made a small beginning in 1845 in Ranchi, a year after four German missionaries, handpicked by Fr Johannes Evangelista Gossner, the founder of the Berlin Mission, arrived in Calcutta. The missionary quartet established their first base on the present-day GEL compound.
The church has taken the lead in recognising spiritual dedication among women.
In 1995, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of GEL Church, three women were ordained as pastors. Twelve years on, their numbers have swelled to 25.
“Many women pastors are posted in the more difficult rural areas. They have their families. Yet, they have struck the perfect balance between home and church. In many cases, the enthusiasm of our women pastors surpasses that of our men. Their dedication to their families as well as in spreading the message of peace, love and goodwill makes them leaders in their own right,” Lakra said.
He added that the constitution of GEL Church did not prohibit women from being ordained as bishops.
“According to our constitution, a bishop should be over 50 years of age, have a strong theological foundation and should be a person of sound integrity. These are the only qualifications,” he said.
He added that the average age of the female pastors at GEL was between 40 and 45 years. Age is the consideration; gender is not.
Lakra, however, said he could not give a definite time when one of their women pastors would be elevated as bishop.
“I am certain that women are going to be bishops at GEL Church. I am aware of the Church of England’s recent decision to reject a motion that would have allowed women to be ordained as bishops. At the same time, there are independent churches in many countries, belonging to the worldwide Anglican Communion, which allow women to be ordained as bishops,” he said.
While refraining from comments on the thorny Church of England debate that finally went against women, Bishop Lakra chose to focus on theological and administrative duties needed of a bishop.
“From becoming a priest to bishop is a long and continuing process. It demands a lot of preparation. Over the years, we have been encouraging a number of our women to undertake higher theological studies to prepare them for higher responsibilities in the church. Many of our women leaders are already doing a great job in managing and running our schools, educational institutions and healthcare facilities. Having a woman lead the GEL Church, the region’s oldest, will be a natural corollary,” the GEL moderator said.