It is a new year and a time to celebrate new beginnings. One of those new developments began a little over a hundred years ago and today some still think of it as a new: the ordination of women. It happened this way: Annie Clemmer Funk became the first Mennonite woman in North America to receive ordination.
Pastor Samuel N. Grubb ordained Ms. Funk in the Hereford Mennonite Church in Bally, Pennsylvania in 1906. Within 5 years, 5 more women would be ordained to serve in a variety of Mennonite ministries as pastors, missionaries and Deaconesses. These included Frieda Kaufman, Catherine Voth, Ida Epp and Martha Richert who were ordained in Kansas in 1908. And in 1911 Ann Jemima Allebach was ordained also by Reverend Grubb at First Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to 1906, only Dutch Mennonites ordained women.
Annie Funk grew up in Bucks country Pennsylvania and received teacher training at West Chester State Normal School and then continued her education in Massachusetts as the Northfield Institute. She began her professional work as a teacher in all Black schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Paterson, New Jersey. After she learned of the lack of education for women in India, especially children born into poverty, she made a momentous decision. Annie Funk declared her interest in joining missionary P. A. Penner and his wife Martha Richert Penner and become a teacher and start a school for girls in Jangjir, India.
Annie’s decision faced opposition from the beginning. The Mission board was not interested in sending an unmarried woman to India. But after a lengthy interview the board approved the appointment. Following the board’s decision to sponsor her as a missionary teacher, Ms. Funk was ordained in her home church in Bally, Pennsylvania.
After arriving in India, it didn’t take long for this energetic and talented leader to establish a school for girls. In 1907, 18 girls were enrolled and the school expanded over the years to accommodate 150 students. The school grew rapidly under Annie’s leadership and continued to serve the poor and children of leprosy victims.
In 1912, the Pennsylvania Mission Board sent her an ominous telegram. Her mother was seriously ill and requested that Annie return. The tickets arrived and within a few days, Ms. Funk was on a steamer headed for England where she needed to change to another liner for the voyage to America. When the ship arrived in England, her passage to America was delayed due to a strike by the ship’s crew. The travel agency, Thomas S. Cook, recommended she change to another liner, a new ship that would depart the next day on its maiden voyage. And that is why she boarded the Titanic and headed out to sea.
After the Titanic hit the iceberg, Annie waited in line for a life-boat but, according to eye witnesses, gave up her place on a boat to a mother with small children. Friends and family later agreed that she died the way she lived, “sacrificing her life so that others might live.” The girls school in India continued and was renamed the Annie C. Funk Memorial School. Over the years, this school educated thousands of women who went on to become teachers, nurses, doctors, village and religious leaders.
Surely the Lord would say of Annie Funk, well done thou good and faithful servant.
Photo source: GAMEO
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