Faith that moves mountains: the ordination of women

Have you ever read a book and said to yourself “I wish I could meet those characters in that book. I wish they can come to life and chat with me.”

I’ve just read one such book. It’s “Heavenly Vision, the story of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore 1952 – 1991” by Warren Lau.  The chapter I found enthralling is titled “The Ordination of Women Workers.”

My interest was piqued because prior to 1993 only men were allowed to be ordained under the LCMS[1] Constitution.

The call for ordination of women began in 1965. It was repeated in 1984 and in 1990. But these calls were repeatedly rejected or not resolved[2].

Then a group of mainly lay women, called the Sisters’ Fellowship, started a movement to change the history of the LCMS.

In 1993 they successfully pushed for the ordination of women.

In August 1994, the first women pastors were ordained. They were Rev Mah Choy Yin, Rev Low Wui Li and Rev Lui Bee Leng.

The glass ceiling over women was shattered. The doors to ordination were opened for all women in LCM to seek ordination.

Who are these audacious women? I wish I could meet them”, I said to myself.  Then I learnt that some of the leaders of the Sisters Fellowship still live in the Klang valley.

Rev Mah and Rev Low have recently retired. Rev Lui is still serving in the Lutheran Church.

With the help of Luther Centre, pastors and church members, my wish was fulfilled. On 13 April, I had lunch with three past leaders of the Sisters’ Fellowship: Ms Koo Moo Meng, Ms Lai Yoke Kiew and Mrs Shirley Leong. Later, via Zoom, I met Rev Mah, Rev Low, and Rev Lui.[3]

 “Why did you pursue this issue of ordination of women pastors?” I asked the ladies over lunch.

Koo Moo Meng explained that a real situation precipitated the matter. Two members, one male, the other female, from the same Congregation, went for the same theological studies at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. They would graduate in the same year, with the same Master of Divinity degree.

But according to the Constitution then, only the male graduate could seek ordination. The lady could not. Something had to be done. The Sisters’ Fellowship decided to do it.

How did you go about doing it?” I asked.

They told me their strategy was 2-pronged. First, they educated congregations (in particular the women) at the grassroots level, that women can be ordained. Second, they addressed the Executive Committee.

Why at the grassroots level?” I asked.

Ms Lai explained that “Sometimes, the resistance against women’s ordination comes from the women themselves.”  Mrs Leong nodded.

The culture at that time was patriarchal. There was a need to educate people to change their mind-sets and for them to accept these changes.

The Sisters’ Fellowship pooled their resources. They held several National Level Seminars with invited speakers. They emphasised the importance of women in the Bible and in the Church. They conducted field visits to churches in other denominations.

They visited churches which had already ordained women ministers.[4] They visited Basel churches in Sabah. Three-Self churches in China. Taiwan churches. Lutheran churches in East & West Germany.

Then, in 1991,  they organised a Women’s Symposium under the sponsorship of the Federation of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Malaysia with the joint participation of LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (“ELCMS”).

At the end of the 3-day symposium, the delegates adopted a seven-point resolution in favour of the ordination of women. The resolution was submitted to the highest authorities of both the LCMS and ELCMS.[5]

During the Zoom Meeting, the 3 women pastors explained that at that time in LCMS there were potentially 3 candidates for women’s ordination.

Lui Bee Leng was pastor-in-charge of Jelapang. Mah Choy Yin in Damansara Utama and Low Wui Li was expected to graduate in 1992.

Each of them had their own personal struggles, experiences and recollections of that time.

Rev Lui recalls attending a ministerium meeting (as an invitee) at which there was lively debate for and against their ordination.

Low wrote a thesis on women’s ordination. Her thesis included a thorough study from the Biblical perspective. It showed that in Christ there is neither male or female, there is equality between men and women.

Rev Mah remembers going to a seminar about the issue in Taiwan with a member of the Sisters’ Fellowship.  It was through the debate and discussion there that her resolve to seek ordination was fortified.

There was no doubt in their minds that ordination was important. Why? Because ordination affirms calling and marks a new milestone in the journey of service for God.

“I have to get a man’s perspective on this, for a more balanced view” I thought to myself. Whom better to ask than the writer of the book himself, Warren Lau?

Why couldn’t the women be ordained much earlier?” was my first question to him.

His answer was that the church was “not ready.” The church was adamant that ordination involved preaching of the Word and administering the sacraments. He explained that from the beginning the church’s chief concern was how they could equip women workers to take on this role.

Then in the 1990’s, Gideon Chang was appointed bishop. The winds of change started blowing.  He was a strong proponent of women’s ordination.

God also raised up many other male pastors with the same view, e.g. Rev. Paul Chong and Rev. Peter Chua.  And then there were these 3 ladies who are living examples. They were all qualified and proved that they were able to pastor congregations.

Just like cendol on a hot day, objections melted away. The church was ready.

In 1993, the Ministerium proposed it. The Executive Committee (“EXCO”) accepted it. And the biennial convention passed it.[6]

In August 1994, Mah Choy Yin, Lui Bee Leng, Low Wui Li, together with Warren Lau, were ordained.  All of them remember Bishop Gideon Chang’s pronouncement of blessing and the affirmation before the Congregation.  It is was a joyous and historic moment for the church.

During the Zoom meeting, Rev Low made a profound statement. She said “Women can move mountains.”

Yes, women of faith can move mountains.  They moved the mountain of impediment for women. They moved the mountain of cultural inertia. They led the people to a new phase in the life of the Church.

What also struck me was that all those whom I interviewed echoed the same phrase: “It was God’s timing.”

Yes, sometimes good things take time.  It takes faith to believe in God and in His Word, faith to believe in yourself, faith to believe in the good in others.

Do you have a mountain in your life? Seek God and seek His timing and may He give you the audacious faith to move mountains.

P.S. Special thanks to Rev Chan Mun Kwan and Janis Chong from LCM for all their help

[1] The Lutheran Church in Malaysia (LCM) was previously known as Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore (LCMS). The Lutheran Church in Singapore was constituted as a separate national body in 1997.  In April 2012, LCMS changed its name to Lutheran Church in Malaysia (LCM)

[2] Page 174 – 175 of A Heavenly Vision by Warren Lau.

[3] Thanks to Rev Lui, who set up the Zoom Meeting.

[4] Meeting with Ms Koo Moo Meng, Ms Lai Yoke Kiew and Ms Shirley Leong on 13.4.2023.

[5] Also in pages 174 – 176 of A Heavenly Vision by Warren Lau.

[6] The LCM Constitution now provides that, inter alia, the church shall call and ordain “men and women’ for the office of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments

5 thoughts on “Faith that moves mountains: the ordination of women”

  1. What an amazing journey you had unearthing all these gems regarding Women’s ordination. A piece to keep for our future generations to encourage and inspire. Thank you, Tammy.

  2. Judith Grieninger

    Dear Tammy , thank you for all you accomplished. Abba Father bless you greatly for this. Wolfgang and I got to know you and are blessed to have such a wonderful sister in Christ. Shalom ,much love Judith

    1. Dear Judith and Wolfgang, Thank you for all your years of service and for drawing many people (including myself) closer to Christ. Both of you have been such an inspiration to me. Thank you Wolfgang for your guidance in the research.

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