from taking on leadership positions within the church. From this perspective, female ministry means service-oriented activity that is rooted within the domestic sphere. At the more liberal end of this scale, the Bible endorses women's spiritual equality with men, and the numerous examples of biblical female leadership give women the right to occupy formal positions within the church hierarchy. From this perspective, female ministry means public leadership activity, such as being an elder or deacon, voting in church assemblies, and in particular, operating as a preacher, evangelist and minister.
For women in nineteenth-century Protestantism, service-oriented ministry was a growth industry. As the number of charitable and philanthropic organisations expanded, women found increased opportunities to exercise their faith in active and useful ways. However, the justification for this activity was often based on restrictive attitudes towards women's 'suitable', 'proper' or 'natural' sphere of influence. In the nineteenth century, women were perceived to be more religious than men and to be the guardians of their family's spiritual and moral development. Charitable work was seen as simply an extension of women's primary role in society, that of mother and wife.
Women's public ministry was another matter. Throughout the nineteenth century, mainline Protestant denominations on both sides of the Atlantic restricted the exercise of public ministry to men. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists, and to a certain extent Methodists, officially excluded women from the ordained clergy and severely restricted their involvement as lay church leaders. Despite these prohibitions, women throughout the nineteenth century served as itinerant evangelists, deacons, delegates to their denominational conferences, foreign missionaries and temperance speakers. From the mid-i86os American women were being ordained and others were finding greater institutional acceptance of slightly more limited roles. In this respect, and unlike some interpretations, female ministry is not something that 'emerges' in 1800 and 'declines' by 1914. Rather, it should be seen as what Catherine Brekus calls a series of'discontinuities' and 'reinventions'. Throughout the nineteenth century, women from a diverse range of denominational and social backgrounds sought, at different times and in different places, to forge a tradition of female religious leadership and to take their places alongside men in the exercise of their religious ambitions.2 What links these women together is their common experience of a divine 'call' to ministry and the informal and vulnerable nature of their authority. For most of them, public ministry
2 Brekus, Strangers and pilgrims, pp. 15-16.
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