In high school, Muriel Spurgeon approached her father saying, “I think God is calling me to be a minister.” Although this was unheard of in the 1930s, she recounts her father’s simple response: “Are you sure? Have you prayed about it?” With raised eyebrows, Muriel recalls her abiding conviction about this trajectory: “If Christ calls you to ministry, what are you going to do?”
Muriel went on to pursue a BA in Greek and Latin at McMaster, but pushed the boundaries by requesting to take an extra course for free, undergraduate Hebrew. She began to be known among her professors for her intent to apply for ordination. One even remarked: “There’s dear little Miss Spurgeon. They’ll decide at the next Convention whether they’ll ordain women. If one of you would just marry her, I wouldn’t be left with a problem.”
At the June Convention, Muriel was approached by newspaper reporters and followed by tales of misinformation, saying that she had organized dances on campus and was breaking down social mores, which was untrue. But she also felt the warm encouragement of community members at McMaster.
During the 1947 Assembly of CBOQ churches, Muriel recalls sitting under a balcony where observers were permitted, while the delegates debated women’s ordination. Muriel says words from Galatians 3:28 strengthened her while she sat nervously awaiting the decision: in Christ there is no male or female. “It passed just like that,” she recalls, “only three dissenting votes.”
Shortly after her ground-breaking ordination that same year, Muriel boarded a ship to India, arriving just after the country’s independence. She worked for the Canadian Baptist Foreign Mission Board, and just over three years later married a young man whom she had met at McMaster, Gordon Carder. They lived in the province of Andhra Pradesh, India for 30 years, while Muriel taught at a seminary and served as a reviewer of a modern translation of the New Testament in the local language, Telugu.
After returning to Canada in 1976 and pursuing clinical pastoral education, Muriel took on a part-time job as the first Protestant Chaplain at a psychiatric care facility in Cobourg. During this time, the pressures of ministry and family life began to converge. With her husband temporarily working in another city, the disjointedness of their family life drew her to pray with fresh urgency. “I reminded myself: God is my God, my Saviour. The Holy Spirit is my helper. Understanding my true identity in relation to God enabled me to ask how to face particular situations. And if you don’t ask, how will you receive?”
More than 66 years after her ordination, Muriel continues to put on her clergy collar and serve as a chaplain near her current home in Woodstock. Until recently, she organized the church service schedule for two different care facilities and one hospital, and she continues to occasionally lead services. Walking down her driveway, she stopped to show us her garbage bin full of debris picked up during a recent neighbourhood clean-up walk. At age 91, she remains alert and vigorous, ready to serve, and never shying away from God’s bold call on her life.