Coquette Consecrators

It's a fairly well-kept secret that women have been allowed to consecrate the Sacrament within the WELS. Needless to say, this is a deviation from the historic church practice and unheard-of in the other churches of the former Synodical Conference (WELS, LCMS, ELS). 

Of course, more liberal churches which allow for women's ordination would naturally allow for women to consecrate the sacrament. I am addressing confessional Lutheranism in the United States which claims to hold to the Book of Concord and inerrant, inspired Scriptures. ELCA need not apply.

The WELS Q&A - an official outlet of the WELS on questions of theology - has memory-holed question and answer of a parishioner who learned of the occurrence of women consecrating the sacrament via an ELS convention (more on that later). We can read the original Q&A via the Wayback Machine: Women Serving Communion to other Women (In the WELS) - Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) ( Highlights are mine.

Q:I was recently a guest at the ELS convention when I learned of a proposal to the ELS doctrine committee regarding the role of women in the WELS. A report was read by an ELS Pastor that was published by a Professor of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. In the report it had stated of women communing other women and that a small group of WELS pastors see nothing wrong with this practice happening because it did not violate the rules of women serving over men. And also the idea at a future time as women serving as Pastors in the WELS ONLY to other women. But doesn't doctrine state that the job of a Pastor is for men only and only a MALE Pastor is to administer the sacraments? The ELS had voted this down because this clearly goes against doctrine. What is the WELS going to do with this statement and ideas by these Pastors. If nothing is done and it this passes, would the ELS and WELS break fellowship?

ELS and WELS leaders have been in regular talks about church and ministry throughout the time ELS has been formulating and discussing its doctrinal statement. Since both ELS and WELS are committed to letting Holy Scripture have the last word, I have no doubt that they will eventually arrive at an agreement on this matter.

The differences, however, are only apparent because, as your question suggests, ELS and WELS approach the matter of women communing women from different starting points. The ELS approaches it from the point of the vested duties of the pastor. The Bible establishes all of public gospel ministry but does not establish a pastoral office as such or vest certain duties exclusive to that office.  Tradition has shaped our concept of pastoral duties as we know them today, so the suggestion within WELS that women could assume certain duties of that office may certainly be offensive and confusing to some.

Since the Bible does not assign specific duties to the pastor, WELS approaches the matter of women communing women from Scripture's man and women role relationship principle. WELS doctrinal statements on the role of man and woman say that a woman may have any part in public ministry that does not assume teaching authority over a man. That, of course, would include women communing women. WELS has had only two instances of women communing women, and our Conference of Presidents has since issued an indefinite moratorium on such practice to keep from offending our brothers until the matter is mutually resolved.  WELS does not consider women who lawfully assume certain duties of the pastoral office to be pastors, does not call them pastors, and does not intend to call them pastors. The word pastor has the traditional meaning of exercising authority over both men and women and would be an inappropriate title for women who minister only to women.

Twenty-five years ago WELS had ELS had years-long discussions of issues involving the Lord's Supper. The God-pleasing resolution of that issue is one we can also anticipate in this one where both sides at the table submit to the authority of the Word of God. 

The highlighted parts make it clear how the WELS functional view of the Ministry allows for this:

1) A Pastor does not have specific duties

2) Women must not assume authority over a man

3) Anyone can assume any ministerial role without being called pastor

4) A woman can therefore minister to other women, but we won't call her Pastor

Therefore, coquette consecrators.

John Brug - retired Seminary professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary - would take this further saying a woman can be ordained and can be a pastor or elder, subject to the headship principle in his paper Application of the Scriptural Principles Concerning the Service of Women in the Church (

Father Hollywood provides a corrective and perspective from the LCMS in Girls Gone Wild, WELS Edition.

In other words, the theology of male and female boils down to an oversimplified and law-based overarching principle that women are free to do anything and everything in the Lord's economy so long as she does not exercise authority over a man in doing so - when in fact, the role of women is much richer than the "anything other than..." approach of the WELS. Accepting these two premises and following them to their logical end yields the result of women saying the Words of Institution over bread and wine, and distributing the elements to each other as if they were the true body and blood.

Finally, David Jay Webber (ELS pastor) wrote an excellent brief treatise Is It Proper for a Woman to be Called to Administer the Lord's Supper? ( His conclusion:

The sacrament that Christ has given to us is a sacrament that is always a sacrament of and for the whole church. When the celebrant by dominical mandate speaks the Words of Institution aloud, these words are, among other things, Christ’s invitation to any and all worthy communicants to receive the body and blood of their Savior for the forgiveness of their sins (cf. FC SD VII:79-82, Kolb/Wengert p. 607). The only Supper that Jesus has instituted is a Supper to which all communicants in good standing are always welcome. But when a woman serves as the celebrant, the invitation to commune that is issued through her lips is a self-contradiction. On the one hand, through her lips Jesus is inviting all worthy communicants – both men and women – to approach the Lord’s Table. But on the other hand, the fact that she is a woman, and not a man, means that it would be wrong and disorderly for a man to receive the Lord’s body and blood from her hand, since a woman is not permitted by God’s Word “to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12; cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35). Again, we are not speaking at this point about the secondary question of whether men and women are actually both present in the room when this is taking place. Rather, we are speaking of the ecclesial character of the sacrament itself, and of the ecclesial character of the words of Christ which were spoken by him in the original institution and which are repeated at his command today by the “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

The WELS has been rebuked by the ELS for this practice in their 2007 synod convention. Prior conventions have rebuked the WELS for papers like Dr. Brug's which postulate the possibility of ladypastors. To resolve the issue the WELS put out a Conference of Presidents (COP) statement:

WELS COP March 27, 2007

Concerning Women Administering Communion to Women 

While Scripture does not address the specific action of a woman administering communion to another woman, we will refrain from this practice for the following reasons:

 • Concern that speaking of such action as permissible without confining it to unusual circumstances, especially cases of casuistry, causes confusion about the role of women in public ministry, and it may appear that women are now functioning in a role historically assigned to the pastoral ministry. In addition, historically women communing women has not been a practice within the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

 • Concern for the proper spiritual care of communicants; the logical inference from the study of pertinent passages of Scripture leads us to conclude that the administration of communion is usually one of the responsibilities of the overseeing minister of the church (1 Corinthians 4:1), and this oversight position for congregations is restricted to males (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:11-12, 1 Timothy 3:1ff). This does not mean that in every case only the overseeing ministers are the administrants of the sacrament; properly trained male leaders in congregations may, when properly called and under appropriate supervision and when the need arises, serve as administrants.

 • Concern about whether others have sufficient theological training and ongoing experience to preside at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper; generally the one trained as the overseeing minister is entrusted evangelically to determine whether a communicant in a worthy manner is receiving the Lord’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

 • Concern that the reception of the Lord’s Supper not be regarded as an emergency situation; unlike Baptism, the Lord’s Supper is not an emergency sacrament, and generally sacraments are administered by the overseeing minister; we do acknowledge, however, that there may be an exceptional case of casuistry, in which the law of love would require a woman to administer communion to another Christian, so as not to deprive a communicant of grace and comfort.

 • Concern that circumstances may arise in which such a practice would blur the biblical roles of man and woman.

 • Concern that when the Lord’s Supper is offered both male and female communicants, generally, should be welcome to attend. The gender of the administrant should not be considered as a reason for prohibiting someone from taking the sacrament. 

The above remarks are not to be understood as implying that the efficacy of the sacrament depends on the kind of call held by the administrant. 

 For these above reasons, we conclude that the practice of women privately or publicly distributing the Lord’s Supper to women is something from which we will refrain. 

 adopted by WELS COP, March 27, 2007

Two issues with this statement: First, there is no repentance. To the WELS, this remains a valid practice curbed only to prevent concerns of the weaker brother. Secondly, invoking the "law of love" requiring a woman to administer the sacrament to another Christian. See, love covers a multitude of sins, therefore anything goes when my neeeeeeeed for comfort is not being met.

At the end of the day - the WELS functional view of the ministry coupled with a complementarian view of men and women means "novelty" that two thousand years of careful Church practice could not recognize.