Church Schism Paves Way for Female Priests
by STEPHANIE SIMON [source link]
[Note quote from fabulous colleague Katie Sherrod at the end of the piece.]
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For three decades, a succession of conservative bishops here barred women from being ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.
But the conservatives went their own way last fall, forming the Anglican Church in North America. And so on Sunday, exactly one year after that schism, Susan Slaughter will become the first woman in the Episcopal Church's Forth Worth diocese to don a red stole for ordination to the priesthood.
"God works in mysterious ways," Ms. Slaughter said, "and this is one of those."
The national Episcopal Church has been ordaining women priests since 1977, but a handful of holdout bishops around the country, including here in Fort Worth, refused. Bishop Jack Iker viewed women's ordination as a departure from traditional church practices and a break from the Biblical model of male priesthood.
Bishop Iker and the traditional faction of the diocese that he leads have taken little note of Ms. Slaughter's pending ordination. "What they're doing, they're doing," Dean Ryan Reed said. "We're heading down two different paths."
Those aligned with the national church, meanwhile, are rejoicing. "It's like Juneteenth," said Father Vernon Gotcher, referring to a holiday marking the day the last slaves in America were liberated. "You discover that you are free. The new has arrived."
The ceremony at St. Luke's in the Meadow -- where Ms. Slaughter will become rector after her ordination -- is expected to be packed. It will be streamed live online for those who can't find seats.
Ms. Slaughter said she's overwhelmed. "The joy others are feeling humbles me," she said.
A former speech pathologist and counselor, Ms. Slaughter said she felt a call to the priesthood decades ago but did her best to ignore it. "It scared me to death," she said. Other women who felt the same call had left the diocese over the decades to be ordained elsewhere. In fact, Bishop Iker encouraged them to do so, giving them good references to pave their way.
But Ms. Slaughter's family was in Fort Worth; her career was here; her church was here. She stayed.
Bishop Iker did ordain her as a deacon in 2002. In that role, she helped prepare the altar for communion and read aloud the Scripture during Mass. She ministered to the poor, the sick and the lonely. It was fulfilling, but it did not still her tug toward the priesthood.
After the Fort Worth diocese fractured a year ago, Ms. Slaughter—who had been taking seminary courses on her own for a decade—met with a bishop from the national church, Edwin Gulik Jr. He will preside over the ordination.
"It will be a great moment," Bishop Gulik said.
Ms. Slaughter says she doesn't consider her ordination a political statement but she recognizes that many in the audience will find the moment deeply meaningful.
Katie Sherrod is one of them. The wife of a retired Episcopal priest, Ms. Sherrod still recalls with absolute clarity the moment she first heard a woman consecrate the Eucharist, years ago, in a different diocese.
"My whole life, I'd heard it said in a man's voice," Ms. Sherrod said. So when a woman priest held up the host, or communion wafer, and declared 'This is my body," Ms. Sherrod said joy and relief washed over her. "It was the first time I got it. It spoke to me. I was part of the body of Christ too," Ms. Sherrod said. "It changed everything."