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“Women as Pastors”: Effie Rohrer

Effie Rohrer (far left) served at the Brethren in Christ Church's San Francisco Mission in its early years. In this picture, taken in 1913, she stands with fellow workers (L to R) Ella Linky, Lizzie Winger, and A.C. Winger. Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives.

The denomination’s seminar on “Women as Pastors” moved to the West Coast today, with a session at Pacific Christian Center (Upland, Calif.). Thus, our ongoing series profiling exceptional women in ministry and leadership focuses on a pioneer worker in the church’s San Francisco (U.S.) and Saharsa (India) missions.

After the jump: Effie Rohrer remembers her call to mission work and her overseas compatriots — in (mostly) her own words.

At age 91 — many years after she served as a home mission worker in Philadelphia and San Francisco, and as a foreign mission worker in India — Effie Rohrer recalled her conversion at her home church in Ohio:

. . . [T]he first cross road that I came to in my life was when I gave my heart to Jesus. My brother Emmanuel calls that time “changing kingdoms.” True it is, for we are transported from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. [1]

Like most (if not all) Brethren in Christ of her day, Rohrer saw a clear distinction between “the world” here on earth and the Kingdom of God. And, like most Brethren in Christ, Rohrer desired to guide as many people as possible into the latter kingdom. She remembers that call this way:

The second cross road came when I dedicated my life to the Lord’s service. At that time, India was laid upon my heart, but I kept my convictions to myself [even while I was working at the home mission in Philadelphia] . . .

[In the spring of 1911] General Conference was held in our brotherhood (in Ohio), to which I went and where my conviction for India was brought before the Foreign Mission Board. The result of that interview was that I was accepted as a candidate for India. I was told, however, that I should wait until there was a young married couple also ready to go. [2]

At the close of that General Conference, Rohrer left with California bishop Christian C. Burkholder, where she would live and work until the Foreign Mission Board called for her. She writes:

In preparation for my missionary work, I took training in practical nursing under Sister Shirk, R.H.[,] of Pasadena. I did some practicing following the completion of the course and then answered a call to help with the work at the San Francisco Mission. [3]

There, Rohrer partnered with the workers already at the Mission: A.C. and Lizzie Winger, and Ella Linky. The vacancy that Rohrer filled was created when Katie Burkholder, daughter of Bishop C.C. Burkholder, married Henry L. Smith of Pennsylvania. In later years, Rohrer would recall the then-unknown irony of her coming to and Katie’s leaving of the San Francisco work:

I discovered afterward that the sister [Katie Burkholder] who was released by my coming to San Francisco was the very sister with whom I would travel to India. I learned that before she left the mission to get married . . . both she and her intended husband realized that although both planned to do mission work their calls were now to India, not to Africa as previously thought. So they wrote each other a letter making it clear the direction of their new calls and stating that if the other’s convictions were still for Africa they should cancel the engagement. These letters crossed enroute [sic] to their destination. Imagine their delight when they found out that they both had India in mind. [4]

Shortly after the Smiths’ wedding, Rohrer received a letter from Foreign Mission Board member J.R. Zook, inquiring as to whether or not she still felt her call to work in India. She recalls her response:

My reply was in the affirmative. I felt I should walk through the open door. And so in the spring of 1913 we were summoned to the task. [5]

Brethren in Christ missions historians Anna R. Engle, John A. Climenhaga, and Leoda A. Buckwalter recall the departure of the trio:

On Wednesday, October 1, . . . amid prayers, fond farewells and lingering handclaps, Eld. and Sr. Henry Smith and Sr. Effie Rohrer boarded the S.S. Mongolia while friends and loved ones helped to sing “Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow.” [6]

Remembering her call to foreign missions in 1979, Rohrer would reference another hymn in summing up her life’s work:

I carefully sought God’s will in my early Christian life. Also in later life I would look to God as to my present situation and God would sweetly affirm by a song which I would catch myself singing: “All the way my Savior leads me: What I have to ask beside?” [7]


[1] [Effie Rohrer]. “Effie Rohrer’s Call to Missionary Work,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 2 (December 1979), 43.

[2] Ibid., 43-44.

[3] Ibid., 44.

[4] Ibid., 44-45.

[5] Ibid., 45.

[6] Anna R. Engle, John A. Climenhaga, and Leoda A. Buckwalter, There is No Difference (Nappanee, Ind.: E.V. Publishing House, 1950), 234.

[7] [Rohrer], 45.