By Mark Staples
When Ruth F. Doty received her Master of Divinity degree May 23 from
The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, it was a culmination
of a 14-year scholarly journey at the seminary.
Doty, a member of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Emmaus, Pa., and a resident
of Wescosville, blurted to her mother at the age of seven that she wanted
to be a pastor. Her brother was already on track to becoming a pastor.
So Doty was rather surprised when her mother then told her she couldn’t
become one “because they aren’t letting women become pastors
in the Lutheran Church.” It was then 1955, more than 15 years before
Lutherans began ordaining women.
Doty at her tender age had been reading from her first Bible, a gift
to Sunday school children from the American Bible Society, and had studied
a provided ABS help entitled “Where in the Bible it says things,” Doty
recalls. “I asked my mother where in the Bible does it say a woman
can’t be a pastor? She couldn’t give me an answer.”
So Doty went on with her studies at a Christian day elementary school
and excelled at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, a school for
gifted youth. A vicar from her Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation
took her on a field trip to Union Theological Seminary in New York City
and encouraged her to consider studying at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
The notion of studying theology wouldn’t leave her alone. So at
Valparaiso’s honors college, where she was encouraged to create
her own major, she chose a concentration in sociology, psychology and
theology. As she completed her Valparaiso studies, a professor suggested
she attend the University of Chicago Divinity School, mentioning that
now some Lutheran churches were beginning to ordain women.
“But I wasn’t sure I was being called to pastoral ministry at that
time,” Doty says. "And I didn’t see myself as one of
those persons on the front lines of the first women being ordained.” So
Doty began earning a Master of Family Life Education degree at Purdue
University. She met and married husband Richard, also a Purdue student,
who was studying to be a nuclear physicist. She completed an internship
in marriage counseling in connection with the University of Pennsylvania.
Later, Ruth and Richard moved to Florence, Ala., where Richard worked
as a physicist and Doty served as a marriage and family therapist for
a counseling center.
But the call for church involvement still burned within her. She and
her husband served as youth advisors for two neighborhood congregations
in Alabama. When her husband decided in 1984 to pursue a new career option
in Allentown, Pa., Ruth concentrated on being a mom for a while to sons
Matthew, now 28 and a physicist on the West Coast, and Jonathan, 25,
now a middle school teacher in Maine.
In 1990, Ruth decided to take up her studies again, observing that Muhlenberg
College in Allentown was a setting for an LTSP course offering, “An
Introduction to Theology.” She took one and sometimes two courses
a semester during her degree pursuit, some at Moravian College, some
in Philadelphia. The teachers included the Rev. Dr. Timothy Wengert,
now the Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor of Church History; the
Rev. Dr. Philip D. W. Krey, now president of the seminary and the Ministerium
of New York Professor of Early Church History, and Dr. Faith Rohrbaugh,
former LTSP dean who recently retired as president of Saskatoon Seminary
She decided fairly early in the process to declare that she was a candidate
for the Master of Divinity degree, which could lead to ordination. “But
to be honest, I wasn’t sure at that point I was being called to
the ordained ministry. But I also made myself answer the question, why
not go toward that goal?”
Doty said she had a strong belief in ministry of daily life “and
that whatever you do in the church as a lay person is ministry. For some,
the call to ordained ministry is a direct, clear process. For me it has
been a lengthy one that unfolds gradually.” During her years as
a seminarian she continued in her marriage and family therapy practice
as time permitted. Other ministry chapters she has engaged in over those
years have included serving as a youth advisor, participating in a work
camp ministry in Starks, Maine, with the youth of her congregation, Holy
Spirit, Emmaus, and doing counseling for troubled pastors and congregations
through the Church Renewal Center, a program that once was housed at
Allentown’s Good Shepherd Home and Rehabilitation Hospital. “If
that center were still running today I might have continued in that ministry,” Doty
speculates. But the program closed. Greater clarity about a call to ordained
ministry, however, came to her as she took on a fieldwork assignment
with Pastor Grace Olson of St. John Lutheran Church, Easton, Pa. And
the call became clearer this year as she worked on internship at St.
John Lutheran Church, Sinking Spring, Pa., with Pastor Harry Bohn.
During her seminary years she grew to deeply appreciate the quality of
the teaching she received in seminary but candidly admits she missed
the community support and life that would have been possible at the seminary
had she not been commuting so great a distance.
“My husband deserves a lot of credit for all the support he has given
me through this lengthy journey of mine,” she says. Once her internship
is complete, Doty hopes to become part of a team ministry in a congregation. “I
don’t see myself as the sole pastor in a congregation,” she
says. Where she could be assigned is likely to become clear during the
next year or so, she believes.