Lutherans give Britain its first woman bishop

By staff writers
January 21, 2009

History was be made on Saturday 17 January 2009, as the first woman bishop to serve in a British church took office.

While the Church of England debates how and when women should be introduced to the episcopate and the Catholic Church maintains that only men can serve as priests or bishops, the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, became the first to take what some see as a radical step - and others as a necessary act of justice or a long overdue recognition of the grace of God.

The Rt Rev Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, whose parents were Latvian refugees but who was born in England, was consecrated as the Church’s first woman bishop at a ceremony in the City of London.

Lutherans in mainland Europe ordain women regularly. The service took place in the historic Wren church of St Anne & St Agnes on Gresham Street, in the City of London.

Jeruma-Grinberga's predecessor, the Rt Rev Walter Jagucki, presided at communion for the service, and bishops and other clergy from Nordic and European Lutheran churches participated in the consecration.

Lutherans take their name from Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and theologian in 16th century Germany. He believed that the church was ignoring or contradicting important teachings of Christ, and that it had become corrupt as an institution.

Because his convictions were deeply felt, in 1517 he published 95 theses for discussion and debate within the church. His aim was to reform the church so that Christ's gospel was restored to the central position in the church's life and teaching.

Luther did not want to leave the church, but the church's leadership regarded his views as disturbing and dangerous. In 1520 he was excommunicated, but he continued to proclaim his views in his preaching, teaching and writing.

He was supported by a growing number of people, including many clergy and secular rulers. In a short time large areas of Germany became 'Lutheran', and Lutheranism took root in other European countries and in Scandinavia.

Luther is seen as a key figure in the development of Enlightenment in Europe. But he also believed in a state church, and rigorously opposed Anabaptists and other dissenters on the 'left wing' of the Reformation.

The Lutheran Church was the first church to grow out of the Reformation movement. The Reformation was kindled by Luther's 95 theses and rapidly spread throughout western Europe, influencing also the church in Britain at the time of Henry VIII.

The Lutheran Church continues to be one of the largest churches in the world, developing first in Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic, and now comprising some 60-70 million members in all regions of the world.

Lutherans have worshipped in England since the 16th century, and the first official congregation was established in London in 1669, used by Germans and Scandinavians. By the end of the 17th century, two further congregations (one German and one Scandinavian) had been established.

Now there are Lutheran congregations in all parts of Britain and Lutheran worship is conducted in a wide range of languages, reflecting its international character - German, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, Icelandic, Polish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Cantonese, Amharic, Swahili, Hungarian and English.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.