When she was ordained the first woman priest of a mainstream Christian Church in Kerala 21 years ago, it was not without a bit of anxiety that Reverend Marathakavalli David took up clerical duties.
Now, when she looks back, she feels that she has been able to carry out the spiritual tasks entrusted to her by Trivandrum Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) satisfactorily without centuries of male dominance posing any hurdles in her way.
Wife of a fellow priest and mother of two daughters, Marathakavalli even feels that she could address the spiritual and social problems of her parishioners far more sensitively and understandingly than many of her male counterparts.
"Women could be more compassionate and her soothing words and empathetic approach could give greater solace to those who suffer from physical and mental traumas", says 59-year-old Marathakavalli.
"When I look back to my clerical experiences of the last 21 years, I feel great satisfaction. When the synod of the church decided to ordain me, many in the church had doubts about the acceptability of a female priest. But I could prove such misgivings were wrong," she told PTI.
A leading Protesant church of India, CSI was formed through unification of Anglican, Methodists, Presbyterian and Reformed Congregations in 1947.
Born at Neyyattinkara near Thiruvananthapuram, Marathakavalli wanted to be a priest since her school days.
Apart from the disciplined and religious atmosphere of her home and the Bible classes she attended at the Sunday school, her acquaintance with Rev Haris, an aged parish priest, helped her nurture her hopes of becoming a priest.
"His (Rev Haris's) selfless services influenced me a lot. I learnt the dignity and divinity of being a priest from him. I thought a priest could serve society better than anybody else," she said.
She was also moved by the stories of Florence Nightingale, famed as the lady with the lamp for her services to the wounded, and William Carry, the missionary who preached the Gospel among the poor and needy in India.
"I was fortunate that my parents or relatives did not raise any objections when I revealed to them my plans. Luckily by the time I graduated from Kerala university, the United Christian Seminary here started a women batch for theological studies for the first time, though only four women turned up for it", she recalled.
On completing the three-year-course in theology, she was appointed as 'the Bible woman' at the Christ Church, Kollam.
She used to make house-to-house rounds of the parish to spread messages of the scripture, conduct Bible classes and assist the parish priest in his pastoral works.
After her marriage to Rev Dr D David, now head priest of CSI church at Kazhakkuttam, the couple were sent out for missionary work by the church to the backward regions of Andhra Pradesh.
"We worked with Bhinsa Mission in Adilabad in north Andhra Pradesh. I could meet different kinds of people, majority of them grief-stricken due to one reason or other. Giving solace to them was as important as saying prayers myself, she said.
The mission work also helped her pick up knowledge of parish governance and managing the church-run schools in the
Acknowledging her work as a missionary, Marathakavalli was ordained as the first woman Christian priest in the state at the M M Church at Palayam here on May 28, 1989, along with eight male priests.
"Though all in the church were not happy with the ordination of a woman, I believe that in course of time I could reverse the opinion of the skeptics through my dedicated work", she said.
"From by experience, I can say with confidence that women priests are better equipped to console the grief-stricken," she said.
As a female cleric, she dons the same religious robes as those worn by male priests. She also performs all pastoral duties like baptism, wedding rituals, death ceremonies, Sunday services.
"I can easily intervene in the problems of parishioners including social and family affairs as I am a woman. If we can motivate women, the result will get to the entire family," Marathakavalli, who is now the CSI church head priest at Akkulam near here, said.
Giving all credit of her success as a priest to her husband, she said her only regret was that she could not give enough attention to her twin-daughters Shobha and Shubha when they were children.