The world's first female bishop

Maria Jepsen © Stephan Wallocha (epd)

25 years ago, on 30. August 1992, was the first time a woman was installed as an Evangelical Lutheran bishop. Maria Jepsen took part in the main church St. Michaelis received the cross of office from her predecessor, Bishop Peter Krusche.

The Gospel contains clear words "against paternalism by patriarchal people," said Maria Jepsen (47) 25 years ago in her sermon to about 4.000 guests. The urge for recognition is also in the church again and again the cause of disputes. She refrained from using words of power or authority during her 18 years in office.

The themes of her first episcopal sermon also became determinative for her term of office. Jepsen recalled the riots in Rostock-Lichtenhagen a few days earlier, the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and the famine in Somalia. The church's yardstick should be the people on the margins.

No fear of a woman

The men should not be "frightened by a female bishop," said Mayor Henning Voscherau (SPD) whimsically at the subsequent reception in the town hall. Some might be "redeemed by female spirituality". Catholic auxiliary bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke joked that he regretted that his first name was not "Joseph". This would suit Maria well. Good relations with the archdiocese were then also formative for Jepsen's term of office.

Four months earlier, on 4. April 1992, she had been elected bishop. Already in the first ballot she received 78 of 137 votes in Michel. 44 was given to her opponent Michel main pastor Helge Adolphsen.

Protest and recognition

The fact that the first female bishop was elected in the North Elbian Church was not a big surprise. With Schleswig, Lubeck and Hamburg, three bishop's seats were available at once. The first attempt was made by the Kiel pastor Rut Rohrandt in Schleswig at the end of 1990, but she lost to the later bishop Hans Christian Knuth. In the summer of 1991, Kathe Mahn (Hanover) ran unsuccessfully against Karl Ludwig Kohlwage in Lubeck. The male bastion was then broken in the third attempt.

The election of a liberal, feminist theologian also provoked protest from church-conservative groups. Tubingen theology professor Peter Beyerhaus declared her election a "most serious spiritual catastrophe". More important than the question of men or women, Jepsen countered, was to bring the voice of the church into the public sphere in the first place. She was tireless in her travels around the city, visiting AIDS aid, hospices, daycare centers, hospitals, retirement homes and homeless shelters.

What does it do today?

In April 2002, she was re-elected for a second ten-year term. But on 16. July 2010, the then 65-year-old announced her resignation. At the beginning of 2010, cases of sexual abuse by a pastor in Ahrensburg near Hamburg came to light. She amed responsibility for church policy, even though she could not be proven to have committed any crime. She later said she had wanted to "avert harm" from the church and the bishop's office.

Two months later, she left Hamburg and moved to Husum with her husband Peter. "I'm still bumming off overtime," says the now 72-year-old. She is committed to the Husum-Schwesing concentration camp memorial, where the Nazis operated a subcamp. She avoids receptions and honorary offices. Instead, she visits exhibitions and flea markets, goes for walks and bike rides. She regularly translates texts from the Old Testament: "Hebrew is full of poetry and permeates life right into mundane everyday life."

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