The first woman to receive an AMBS MDiv lived a life of ministry

Published: May 9, 2013

We give thanks for the life and ministry of Barbara Prasse, the first woman to receive a Master of Divinity from AMBS. At the age of 91, she died on May 5 in Bloomfield, Conn.

Barbara graduated in 1970, part of a class that included 21 other students—all men. She was not the first woman to receive a degree from AMBS; many had previously graduated with a Master of Religious Education or other degree. But she paved the way for women to earn the MDiv.

Barbara’s obituary, which appeared Wednesday in The Elkhart Truth, tells how she was born in 1921 in Berlin, Germany, and at age 14, to escape the Nazi regime, she went to a Quaker boarding school in England. Her family came to the U.S. and she joined them in 1938.

She started her seminary study at Union Theological Seminary. In a note to Sara Wenger Shenk in 2010, Barbara wrote that she got “waylaid by a husband (pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elkhart, 1950-1969) and four children.”

In spite of that, Barbara used her gifts in a variety of ministry roles after earning her degree. She was one of the first women ordained to the ministry by the Presbyerian Church (USA). For ten years she was dean of students at McCormick Theological Seminary, and she served in pastorates with her husband and served on a denominational commission for the Presbyterian Church.

In addition, Barbara was actively involved in efforts such as Operation Head Start, Trick or Treat for UNICEF, open housing initiatives and support of people with AIDS.

She was preceeded in death by Edgar, her husband; and she is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Barbara’s note to Sara Wenger Shenk came just after Sara’s inauguration as president of the seminary. Barbara wrote, “The progress of women in the church is almost miraculous—and you are a testimony to it. I join the chorus of those to whom AMBS has been a blessing.”

We give thanks to God for Barbara’s faithful service to the Kingdom.


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