Celebrations, observances and reflections have abounded over the last days and weeks as we've approached this important anniversary in the life of the Episcopal Church -- the first ordinations of women as priests. In my parish, we had a Women's Ordination History Project -- featuring the stories of women who were either ordained from or have served at All Saints over the years.
In Philadelphia on Saturday, there was a day long celebration, including a symposium and festival Eucharist. Episcopal News Service provided extensive coverage ... including a video of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon ... along with a great historical time line, putting the events in context.
I preached on Sunday a sermon entitled "A Woman's Place Is ... ?"
And Diana Butler Bass posted this wonderful reflection by Bishop Daniel Corrigan, one of the bishops who participated in the service. She writes "These are his words, from 1975, on what it means to be part of a church in "a tradition of revolution." I was fortunate to know Daniel Corrigan in the final years of his life, and consider his vision of the "Great Coming Church" one that I cherish and try to humbly continue in my own work."
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Why I Ordained a Woman in Philadelphia
by Right Reverend Daniel Corrigan, 1975
During the month of July 1974 it came over me that this kind of decision had been demanded of me over and over again during fifty years of service as a minister in the Church of God. This kind of decision! What kind of decision? We emerge from a tradition of revolution. We are presently trying to muster up enough independence to celebrate this gift from our fathers which is well nigh spent. We live within a conform-or-perish society.
We are constantly having to choose between the teachings of Jesus and the presuppositions of this society which are deeply ingrained in most of us and take precedence for us over any honest response to the obvious demands of his words and life. It is even more disturbing when we become aware that the church herself is structured like the rest of society. This has been true by and large since Constantine. We have tended to point with pride to this identity. And in all times and all places men and women have made decisions which they thought conformed to his spirit and will in the face of powerful societies which demanded conformity or death.
The vows we have taken, do define our being, shape our thinking, and motivate our actions. I realize more and more that I have been formed by my life in the body of Christ. Serious conflicts between what seemed my duty as a Christian and the demands of citizenship have emerged many times. . .
What kind of decisions are demanded by life?
...I am affirming that the lifelong effort to conform our life to the vows which have been taken moves us into change, change in ourselves, change in our understanding of the scriptures, the creeds, the Thirty-nine Articles, the Ten Commandments, church history, etc. These changes challenge us to cross frontiers, to go into Samaria, Tyre and Sidon where we cry out, “What in God's name am I doing here?” So faithfulness to part of our vows leads into conflict with other parts. Some of our rules and ways no longer express the understandings to which we have been led. This process goes on within the church—not just the Episcopal Church—but the universal church and is for the sake of the “Coming Great Church”—no matter how she may evolve...
Those who have been involved with institutions in the twentieth century will know how frozen these become and how unable to respond to the most obvious appeals for the services they were created to render, e.g., schools, hospitals, social services and courts of justice. Their capacity to create mechanisms further to slow them down is frightening.
The church is such an institution....A time can come, can come many times, when a person's thoughts and feelings are torn between the word and the rubric. Even as we choose what we believe the word demands and we move in obedience, we hear our own soul cry, with the taste of death in the mouth, “What in God's world am I now doing?”
During our years we have had to make many decisions if we were to maintain a living relationship to the word. And our response to the hard choices which face us now has been formed by all the previous efforts to keep the word and the action together. Even now the four horsemen of the apocalypse fill the time and space that remains. We are forced to consider slavery, war, disease, famine, political and economic injustice, genocide, racism and the subjugation of women with whatever light we may have received from our life in Christ. We now must live with utterly new images of the Universe, the Earth on which we live; a totally new understanding of our own inner life and the diverse lives and minds of the people of the earth. O Christ the way, the truth and the life, what is the unique light you would lume within me?
I know. Wow! And then this morning, colleague Rachel Nyback reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago about women, the church and red blazers. So I'm going to close this blog with that ... go find my red blazer ... and go to work! Happy Anniversary, Church!
[December 2007] As I was printing out "stuff" yesterday for our pre-convention meeting this morning with our parish delegates I realized this will be my 20th Annual Meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles -- my first was back in 1987 and my, my, my ... what a difference a couple of decades make!
My first foray into "the councils of the church" was in 1987 when I was a lay delegate to Diocesan Convention from my parish in Ventura CA (St. Paul's) -- and my credential read "Mrs. Anthony Russell." (Never mind that MR Anthony Russell's involvement in the work of the Diocese of Los Angeles was to show up on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday -- that was how we rolled in 1987.)
It was back in the day when we didn't dare run more than one woman in any of the elections. I remember a literal coin toss between two women clergy one year about which ONE would run for General Convention Deputy because the diocese would never send TWO women! I remember when I was in the ordination process being told it wasn't a good idea to wear my red blazer (and I LOVED my red blazer!) because red was a "power color" and I'd better pack it away until after I got safely ordained.
And I remember if we sang a hymn that wasn't in the hymnal or -- God forbid -- used a liturgy with expansive language -- there would be a queue at the microphone afterwards with dour clergymen asking for a "point of personal privilege" to express their outrage.
So yep, the church has changed in the 20 years I've been a delegate to the Annual Meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles -- and my response to that versicle is "Thanks be to God!" There may be those who yearn for those halcyon days of yesteryear when women delegates were named "Mrs. Husband" and we knew better than to run more than one of us in any given election. But the rest of us are celebrating the steps forward this church has taken to overcome its sexism and are going to "keep on keepin' on" until we are fully the inclusive Body of Christ we are called to be.