Each year, I contribute to the altar flowers on the Sunday nearest that date, in thanks for the courage of those women and the bishops who ordained them … and in thanks for the ministry of all women who are priests in our church and all who worked toward the ordination of women.
Early today, Elizabeth Kaeton asked the HoBD list, “Where were you on July 29, 1974?” For that’s the date on which those eleven brave women were ordained priests in the Episcopal Church and four brave bishops had the courage to ordain them. There have been some marvelous responses to her question.
The ordination was held at the hauntingly beautiful Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia – the church in which Barbara Harris was once a waif and in which she eventually became an acolyte … and from which she eventually became a bishop in our church. I've worshipped in that church, and it is hauntingly holy.
Where was I on that July day? I was attending a Roman Catholic college and contemplating conversion to Roman Catholicism. I didn’t even hear the news from the Episcopal Church. I knew nothing of the Episcopal Church – much less the news that some women had been ordained there. I was in full flight from the Southern Baptist Church of my childhood and inclining toward the Roman Catholic Church. The Episcopalians weren’t even on my radar.
It was nearly 20 years later when that event came to matter to me. I had fled organized religion. I was in that group that we now call “spiritual but not religious.” I had Quit The Church of My Upbringing. I had no interest in going to church on Sundays.
Then … through a professional colleague and friend … I met the Rev. Nancy Wittig – one of the “Philadelphia Eleven” – who was then a parish priest in suburban Philadelphia. I didn’t know what a ground-breaking role she had played. I just felt something of Spirit when we talked. Our paths crossed regularly over the course of a few years – I living in Atlanta, and she in Philadelphia. I barked regularly: “How the hell can a smart woman like you believe in the Hoary Old Guy in the White Beard?!?” She and my other Episcopalian friend responded calmly, pastorally. Ever so slowly, I came to see that Episcopalians were different. I came to see that the Episcopal Church had something to say to me.
In 1996, my path took me to move to Philadelphia, and I began attending Nancy Wittig’s parish. Not long thereafter, I moved into the confirmation process, under Nancy’s direction. I’ll never forget the marvelous conversations we had as I moved toward confirmation. I challenged her and God … and she challenged me right back. After months of conversation, in April, 1997, I was confirmed an Episcopalian by then-new Bishop Charles Bennison. [I think his confirmations in that parish that day were his first episcopal acts. Go figure!] My confirmation “took,” despite what happened to Bishop Bennison since then.
I have always been grateful to Nancy Wittig and my friend for reaching out to me … helping me find a God whom I could love and who could love me … helping me find a church in which I could find spiritual growth. God bless Nancy … and God bless the bishops who had the courage to ordain these women to the priesthood. I give thanks for Nancy and for Bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. DeWitt, Edward R Welles, and Antonio Ramos.