On Sunday, Sally Azar, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, the holy land, became its first woman pastor at an event at the Lutheran church, in the heart of the Old City, which was attended by hundreds of international well-wishers.
Reverend Azar said, “I got more excited seeing the excitement of other people. It’s an indescribable feeling to take this step with the support of the church.”
“I hope that many girls and women will know this is possible and that other women in other churches will join us. I know it will take a long time, but I think it could be exciting if this changes in Palestine”, she said.
In the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Israel, Christians make up the minority. Most of the Christians come from the Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic Churches, which prohibit female priests.
In the past decades, women have been ordained in growing numbers of Protestant Churches. These have small local parishes and run schools and hospitals in the Holy Land.
Antje Jackelen recently retired Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, said “Everywhere where you have a patriarchal society and culture this is a major step.”
“Since I’ve been ordained for over 40 years, I’ve met many people who didn’t think it was possible. But now they’ve seen women actually serving as pastors, as bishops, as archbishops, we know it works and we know that it’s actually in accord with the Bible.”
In the Middle East, churches in Lebanon and Syria have granted holy orders to women, while one Palestinian woman is known to serve in the US.
Azar received her ordination from her father Bishop Sani Azar. While she saw her father as her inspiration, she never felt pressured to study theology.
She said, “It’s what I wanted, what I was called to do”.
Reverend Azar will carry different duties including leading services and bible studies in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour, in the West Bank, for English-speaking congregations.
Reverend Dr Munther Isaac, Lutheran Pastor of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour commented, “It’s a big, big day for the life of our Church, it’s an important step forward and it’s overdue.”
Rev Dr Isaac has written a book, in Arabic, about women’s leadership in the Bible and supports women’s ordination.
He said, “We accept women ministers, we accept women professors, we accept to go in surgery performed by women and it’s strange that we still have to argue that women can teach the Bible or perform the sacraments.”
“This tells me that despite the progress we’ve made as Palestinians when it comes to empowering women and women’s rights, there is still work to be done”, he continued.
Supporters of Rev Azar view her as the right person to challenge the stereotype and break the fashion.