I can tell you where I was 39 years ago today, when 11 women were ordained as Episcopal priests in Philadelphia. It was that kind of historic, cataclysmic event. I’d just turned 23 and was attending the National Institute for Lay Training at the General Theological Seminary in New York.
Our faculty – Capt. Howard Galley, Sr. Brooke Bushong and Capt. Tom Tull, all of the Church Army – canceled classes the next day to deal with women’s ordination and the history that had just been made at Church of the Advocate in Philly.
By the time we were done I was a supporter of women’s ordination, and of course I still am. I believe it’s God’s will. I believe God called those 11 women, and those male bishops who ordained them, and the women who have followed them.
TODAY, Deacon Leilani Nelson of the Diocese of California (and our volunteer staff) read an article by the Rev. Alla Renée Bozarth and made this comment on Facebook:
I was not of this group of uppity women. I was ordained in 1989 – and then to the order of Deacons. I did not consider myself of the first wave of ordained women. But reading this article called up so many memories and plucked so many heartstrings! The group of large pledgers who protested my hiring by lowering their pledges to $52.00 a year and called themselves “The 52 club”. The lies told about my theology and education. The folks who came up to the altar rail to stare into my eyes as they refused to take communion from me. Death threats, too. AND – The women who came up to me with shining eyes to tell me thank you for being a symbol of possibility and inclusion for their daughters. The families who asked me to baptize their babies. The fellowship of women clergy. The Bishop dropping in unexpectedly to check in and offer support. So much pain and so much grace.
I mean, that’s just shocking. And Lani was far from the only woman this happened to; it was common.
The Episcopal Church split over women’s ordination. So did worldwide Anglicanism – though in fact these 11 weren’t the first women priests. The Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained in Hong Kong during World War II because the bishop there didn’t have enough priests to go around. (Does that remind you of any Churches today?)
My message to you on this holy Feast of Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus is this: click that link above to Mother Alla Renée Bozarth’s article.
It’s very long, but it’s chock-full of historic photographs. So if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, do what Christians have always done – just look at the stained-glass windows. That’s why they’re there.
The article, the photos – the 11 themselves, and those who’ve come after, and women clergy of other denominations – all are gifts to God and to the Church; they’re gifts of God for the People of God.
Go! I’m done. Read the article, see those wonderful pictures.
And thank the women clergy as you go in peace to love and serve the Lord.