1989-05-03 00:00:00

The Church of South India in Kerala state will have its first woman priest when Marathagavalli David, 36, a housewife, is ordained as the denomination´s fifth priest at the end of May.

The Church of South India (CSI), which has five million members throughout south India and in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, announced the ordination last October, but it was not scheduled by CSI leaders until the first week of April.

The decision was welcomed by the Kerala Council of Churches at its triennial assembly last December. It asked member churches to ensure participation by women in their ministries.

The CSI is a united church formed since 1901 in a series of linkages of various Protestant churches, including Anglicans. Bitter debate preceded the CSI synod´s decision 12 years ago to grant priesthood to women.

However, the choice of David by the annual diocesan council was unanimous. "I am excited," she said. "My life-long mission comes to near fruition."

She is the daughter of a deacon and a school teacher, and her husband is pastor of Attingal parish near Trivandrum. They have two daughters and will be the first "priest couple" in the state.

A graduate of the CSI United Theological Seminary of Trivandrum, she contends that "there is no scriptural objection to a woman becoming a priest."

But more than a decade after the CSI decision to ordain women priests, the issue remains controversial. D. Fernandes, convenor of a coastal CSI parish council, voiced the disapproval of some lay people and clerics.

"Not that the heavens will fall if a woman serves bread and wine from the altar following a sermon," he said.

"It is a question of traditions, centuries-old practices and beliefs. There is no reason why these should be shattered."

Father Jacob George, an orthodox priest, voiced similar objections.

"The scriptures never wanted any women, however saintly they were, to perform priestly functions," he said. "These functions are revered by clergy and laity alike and they have had divine sanction through the ages.

"It is outrageous to break these canons," he said.

David´s husband, a CSI priest for eight years, disagrees.

"It is just nonsense to presume that the scriptures ever prohibited women from performing any of the priestly functions, which include baptism of children, holy communion, administration of marriages, conducting funeral services and prayer services," he said.

According to Pastor David, only church practice stood in the way of women being priests. "These practices have evolved over a period of time, with innumerable modifications, and they can´t hold good for all time to come."

His wife agreed. "These things never happen without God´s approval," Marathagavalli David said. "This is a chosen job to serve God and His people, and it cannot come about against God´s wishes.

"Of course, in the Old Testament, Eve is a temptress, an instrument of the primordial sin," she said. "But the same God who had cursed woman, later chose the womb of a virgin for the immaculate conception, paving the way for the incarnation of a savior."

"Why don´t those who blame woman for the great fall admit that Jesus showed great compassion towards them?" she asked, referring to Mary Magdalene.

"My experience as a housewife and mother will equip me better to deal with temporal and spiritual problems of women, who constitute the majority of laity in our parish."


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