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CALL : +685 24414
FAX 20429
5th Floor John Williams Building
Tamaligi, Apia

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Monday 17 June 
A first among women

 

Read Exodus 15:1–3, 19–21
Then the prophet Miriam … took a tambourine in her hand; and all the  women went out after her … (verse 20)

This year marks 60 years since Dame Revd Dr Phyllis Guthardt was ordained by the Conference of the Methodist Church in New Zealand, the first woman to be ordained in any denomination in Aotearoa New Zealand. The significance of this went largely unnoticed at the time. Dame Phyllis herself has reflected that she was responding to the call of God, and did not see herself as a ‘first’. Subsequently, in 1985, Dr Guthardt was the first woman to become President of the Conference. In A Kind of Opening, a publication of the Wesley Historical Society to mark the 50th anniversary of Phyllis’ ordination, a number of women reflect on the influence she was in their lives and ministries. Today, however, less than one third of the deacons and presbyters in the Church are women, and only eight women have ever been elected President of the Conference.

Verse 20 in today’s text is the first time in the narrative that the sister of Moses and Aaron is named. Note that Miriam is described as Aaron’s sister, without reference to Moses. Not only is she a prophet, but she is also a musician, and a leader among the women. The nameless sister who showed her initiative to keep the infant Moses safe is the first female prophet to appear in the Hebrew scriptures.

There is nothing in the narrative to indicate what qualities led to Miriam being identified as a prophet. Was her leadership exercised only among the women of the community? Was it only to fulfil ritual functions? Is the figure of Miriam representative of the wisdom and experience of women in general? In many communities today, women’s leadership continues to be behind the scenes, unacknowledged and unnamed.

†  Pray for the work of leadership training for girls and young women in church and community. Amen