God’s call came very naturally to Rev. Dr. Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir. She recalled a sense of God since the age of six. At 16, she had finished a summer job working in a local hospital but decided then she would pursue theology as a career instead of medicine.
During my interviews of women pastors around the world, I have learned that many of them had family and friends tell them that they should use their gifts for other pursuits like medicine or law. One American pastor shared her plan to become a pastor; she was met with the response, “What a waste.”
When Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir began her studies in theology, there was only one woman ordained and no women teaching in theology in Iceland. She said, “So it was not a logical thing to do but I really felt very strongly about studying theology in order to teach. That was my goal.”
Ordained in 1987, Arnfríður received her Ph.d. from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 1996 and began teaching Systematic Theology at the University of Iceland. Since 2014, she is the Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University, where the country’s pastors are trained. She has written many articles in the fields of Systematic Theology, Lutheran Theology, Feminist Theology, Women and the Church, as well as Religion and Film.
While Arnfríður thinks women in Iceland know they can become pastors, she thinks it is can still be quite difficult for them. She believes that more women teaching theology and building a stronger networks for women have helped. “In 2009, we decided to form an association of women pastors. Of course the reason why we did that is women needed more support and there was a need of solidarity of becoming friends. They don’t need to agree on everything but they can support each other.” (Below is a picture of the women pastors of Iceland. Arnfríður has found herself in the front row, second from the left. Iceland's first female bishop, Agnes Sigurðardóttir is located in the front row, center, wearing the cross.)
Rev. Dr. Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir is the author of Meeting God on the Cross: Christ, the Cross, and the Feminist Critique, published by Oxford University Press, 2010. You can read more about it here. She argues that there is a redemptive message hidden in the cross of Christ that is valuable to women today. Despite its potential for abuse and its well-documented history of misuse against women, a theology of the cross can also affirm Jesus as a divine co-sufferer who brings good news to all who are poor and oppressed. Such a theology, Guðmundsdóttir contends, offers women meaning and strength from a God who takes human form and enters redemptively into their suffering.