Growing up in a small town in rural west central Minnesota, I did not see a woman basketball player until I was 12 years when our school quickly got on board with the requirements of Title IX. I did not see a woman pastor until I was 32 years old. And I realize that even today in the United States and many places in the world, there are large numbers of people have no experience with a female pastor. That is not the case in Iceland.
During my interviews of Icelandic pastors, nearly every one spoke of the importance of the example and teachings of Iceland’s first ordained woman, Rev. Auður Eir Vilhjálmsdóttir. (See blog post for February 13, 2016 to learn more about her.)
Many also pointed to Iceland’s first woman president from 1980-96, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as a shaping influence in their lives. Finnbogadóttir was an example of strong leadership-- contributing to their belief that women can hold offices of position and power. She was reelected three times and hosted the summit between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Finnbogadóttir promoted girls’ education and her motto was: “Never let the women down.” (Finnbogadóttir pictured below:)
Pastor Arndis Linn was not raised in the church, but had strong examples in her grandparents. Her grandmother had no opportunities for education, but was an intelligent, strong and hardworking person. Her grandfather told her stories about Jesus and God, “God has always been a reality in my life. I’ve talked to God my whole life and used to read the Bible for support as a teenager.”
For Arndis, motherhood was a first call, seeking to become a pastor when her children were raised. Ordained in 2013, she now serves as the pastor of The Women’s Church in Reykjavik, which was established by seven women, including Rev. Auður Eir Vilhjálmsdóttir. The Women’s Church is a good fit for Pastor Arndis, especially since feminist theology has given her a greater appreciation of God and God’s church. “I used to think that the church was dull and hard to relate to – until I began reading feminist theology.” In fact, it was the subject of her candidate thesis for her theological training.
The Women’s Church, open to men and women, has mixed old liturgies with new ones. Inclusive language is important—as well as female images for God. A new hymnbook was written in 2003 called Bread and Roses featuring hymns with inclusive language and female hymn writers.