Her name was Damaris. Ever wondered about her? She appears to be somewhat of an afterthought, (one of Luke’s “oh, by the way” comments), as one of the “few” who believed upon hearing Paul’s speech in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34). Some biblical commentators speculate that to have been mentioned as a woman, she must have been of high social status. This might accord with the fact that Christian tradition also identifies her as the wife of Dionysius the Areopagite, the one other person who is named among the “few” who believed, and who later went on to become the bishop of Athens’ fledgling church. The Eastern Orthodox church actually sets aside a day to honor Saint Damaris, but, for Reformed Protestants like myself, Damaris takes her place in a long line of forgotten saints and sinners, whose contributions remain shrouded in mystery and unknown except to God.
Yet, that anonymity does not make Damaris’ contributions any less meaningful, or her commitment to building up God’s people any less compelling. Often our best mentors and role models are those whose presence is easily taken for granted. (I suspect any parent who sacrifices their professional aspirations to rear children can appreciate this truth.) Such persons may dwell inconspicuously “in the margins,” but the imprint they make is unquestionable.
Recently, I was reminded of this truth when standing in the International Museum of the Reformation, in Geneva, Switzerland. There, a panoply of male Reformers and their writings, from Calvin and Luther to those lesser known, bedecks exhibit rooms, each representing a century-long “chapter” in the story of the Reformation. Women theologians and philosophers only make their debut in the very last room. I was surprised and a bit rueful to think that only now was I making an acquaintance with most of them. Amy Plantinga Pauw makes a similar observation about women’s representation in mainline ministry settings: they “remain heavily concentrated in associate positions, in small and struggling churches and in alternative ministry settings.”
The other day at the grocery store my two-year-old daughter, Sam, was introducing herself very loudly, in her latest dialect of English, to anyone in the dairy section who might listen. “She’s making herself known—and that’s a good thing!” someone exclaimed—and yes, I had to agree, it was a good thing.
But Damaris’ legacy is not ultimately about making herself known. It is about making known, in her own unique “dialect,” the God she has encountered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I only hope that more and more women in the church will, like Damaris, find their voice wherever they are called to minister.