WOMEN CAN BE PRIESTSheader

Responsive image

HOME

REASONS

DEFY THE POPE?!

DEBATE

MENU

Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A Priest Forever by Carter Heyward

A Priest Forever

by Carter Heyward

published by Harper & Row, 1976, pp. 55-79. (Section IV)
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

We had not decided whether to talk to Paul Moore about our plans, for we had not concluded whether his awareness, and hence, his approval or his admonition, would impede or assist us in what we were trying to do.

***

Paul Moore found out about our plans for the witness. Several days before the ordination, he, Carol Anderson, John Coburn (Carol’s rector and employer), and I met to discuss it.

Carol and I stated, yet again, why “the issue”—i.e., the immediacy of our lives and vocations—seemed so important to us. Paul Moore and John Coburn dealt with us sympathetically, and yet in apparent annoyance that we believed they could do more than they were doing to “further the cause.”

“You could ordain us, Paul,” I suggested seriously.

John Coburn stated emphatically that this was not so.

“Of course he could!” I insisted “We’re ready to be ordained priests. We’ll be presented and taking the vows. Paul could lay his hands on our heads and ordain us. He could, but he won’t

The two men continued to look at me as if they were thoroughly puzzled.

Carol and I continued to speak of justice, human rights, and being female in a Church in which male members are the ones with the power to say yes or no to such possibilities as the one we presented. And the two male priests—both bright, sensitive, earnest clergymen with longstanding commitments to justice and human rights—stared at us as if we were speaking a foreign language.

Not until Carol began to explicate our conversation about “justice” in such a way as to assure the rector and the bishop that we were indeed talking about “God,” did their faces register any signs of comprehension. It felt as if our experiences—our feelings, our goals, our vocations, our perceptions and concerns —lacked viability, credibility, and import unless we were to articulate them in the language of the Book of Common Prayer and to justify them by the canonical structures of a tradition that, from the beginning, has taken no account of women’s experiences or our yearnings for a freedom to be who we are.

***

This makes me think of my college friend May’s trying to convince me that the war in Vietnam was not only wrong, but also worthy of our active protests. She might as well have been speaking Vietnamese to me. It was not that I did not care; it was that I did not care enough. And, in 1965, I still had “faith” in the United States Government to see things through with righteousness.

***

Perhaps New York’s women deacons lacked “faith” in ecclesiastical structures to see things through with righteousness. On the evening preceding the ordination of men, the five of us women met, along with spouses and others who would be with us the next day. We decided that, during the service, one of us would rise in objection to the exclusion of women deacons from the ordination. She would speak for the rest of us, asking that the ordination not take place without us. We would then take the vows, and hopefully, be ordained! As if suddenly, somewhat unconsciously and certainly unwittingly, we were not intending to make simply a witness. We were intending to be ordained to the priesthood. True to catholic theology, the symbol would be real.

We were unable to conclude what we would do should Paul Moore refuse to ordain us, as he had indicated would be the case. We were hoping against hope: an exercise in pain, but an experience in imagination that would carry us far beyond that day. Several of us felt that, if we were rejected, we should plant ourselves kneeling in the sanctuary, an offensive symbol of an offensive injustice. Others of us believed that we should instead leave the cathedral, a symbol of the brokenness of the Body. We could agree only that the five of us would make a corporate response and that we could not know what it was to be until the moment bore down upon us.

***

At the next morning’s ordination, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Bishop of New York asked, as required, for knowledge of “any impediment or crime because of which we should not proceed.” Speaking for the others from a draft prepared by all of us, I moved to the lectern:

My sisters and brothers, there is an impediment because of which we should not proceed.

There are ten deacons here today. All ten of us have been presented, but only five of us are listed in the order of service. Each of us has been called by God to the priesthood of the Church, examined by bishops and others, and found qualified, and ready, to be ordained priests.

Yet five of us have been told by the Episcopal Church that we cannot be ordained today, because—and only because—we are women.

Ordination is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The grace of God. A unifying grace that makes us one in the Body of Jesus Christ. A grace that destroys all barriers to unity, including the barrier of gender. And yet our gender—our womanhood—has been interpreted by the Church as the specific barrier to our partaking in this holy sacrament of ordination.

If the service proceeds without us, the sacrament of ordination will be used to perpetrate injustice. It will be an outward and visible sign of the intentional sin and division of the Church. The sacrament will be debased just as much as it would be if black people were excluded.

To sin is human, a condition in which all of us participate. To perpetuate willfully this sin—this intentional brokenness, this prolonged injustice, this exclusion of women throughout history—is a condition we find intolerable. Especially as the Church perpetuates it in the name of God.

If this ordination does proceed without the women deacons, let those here know what is being said to all of us by the Church:
that the structural unity of the Protestant Episcopal Church is more important than the unity of the people of God;
that peace in the House of Bishops is more important than justice;
that the law of man, established by church convention, is more compelling than the Gospel of the Lord.

We know, of course, what a special day this is for our brothers, these five male deacons, who are here to be ordained to the priesthood. We did not come to block you, but to join you.

We are also aware of the uncomfortable position in which our pastor and friend, Bishop Paul Moore, finds himself. There are precedents in Church history for this uncomfortable position. Jesus himself was no stranger to the snares of Pharisaic law. Paul, we cannot spare you the discomfort of your position.

We are asking to be included in this service not only for our sake, but for the sake of other women; for the sake of all women and men; for the sake of the Episcopal Church. We intend to be examined and to take the vows that follow in the service.

We are asking you, Paul, as Bishop of New York—together with other bishops present—to ordain us today, along with our brothers.

Statement signed by Carol Anderson,
Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward,
Barbara Schlachter, Julia Sibley.

December 15, 1973

***

As we expected and did not expect, the bishop turned us down. Paul Moore’s expression, as I looked up at him from my kneeling position, was one of anguish. He meant us no harm, no injustice, no “personal” rejection. Yet, as a bishop of the Church, he had dealt us as real a blow as if he had flailed us with his crozier. We meant him no harm, and yet our very beings, bursting free, would continue to batter him. Members of families set at odds, as if at war, against each other.

Like our brother deacons, we had been educated, examined, and supported by our parishes and the diocese itself as candidates for ordination to the priesthood. Like the men, we had passed all physical, psychiatric, academic, and spiritual examinations. Like our male colleagues, we had been ordained deacons for at least six months. (Two of us, Carol Anderson and Julia Sibley, had been deacons for two years.)

Surely our bishop had realized, when he encouraged us pastorally and financially in our vocational pursuits, accepted us as candidates, and gave us the final examinations for priesthood that we would indeed want to be priests; and that the communities in which we worked would expect us to be.

But there we stood, like the child who has been taken swimming and is not permitted to go into the water, or the doctor who has served well an internship and residency, graduated at the top of her class, and is not permitted to practice because she is female.

***

For several seconds we knelt immobile at Paul Moore’s feet. Then, spontaneously, we rose and strode quickly down the center aisle towards the mammoth bronze exit of the cathedral. At least a third of the congregation followed us out. For five minutes, I wept into the shoulder of my clergy presenter and friend, Brooke Mosley, himself a bishop and president of Union Seminary. This was one of few times in my life that I have felt as if my heart were breaking. Each of the five of us, it seemed, had found a space in the back of the cathedral to be alone, or with whomever she could be, to tend her wounds.

***

Within half an hour, we had gathered among friends at Union Seminary for an agape meal, in which we could share our experience of the body and blood of Christ. We made our communion with integrity.

***

The next months incorporated both pain and premonition of what was to come. In April, 1974, St. Mary’s church officially requested that Emily and I be ordained priests on May 17, the date which had been scheduled for the ordination to the priesthood of our parish colleague, Dan Jones.

Dear Bishop Moore and Fr. Pike [Chairman of Standing Committee] :

At its meeting on April 16, 1974, the Vestry of St. Mary’s Church noted that we have three candidates to the priesthood, all of whom we warmly and equally support as members and pastors of this congregation. They are: the Rev. Emily Hewitt, the Rev. I. Carter Heyward, and the Rev. Daniel B. Jones.

Enclosed are the necessary executed documents for the Revs. Hewitt and Heyward, except for Ms. Hewitt’s Application which will come under separate cover. You already have the necessary documents and authorization for the Rev. Jones. We request that these three deacons be together ordained to the priesthood in St. Mary’s Church on Friday, May 17, 1974.

Because you may have questions about our request, members of the Vestry are available to meet with you to discuss these questions at your earliest convenience....

Very truly yours,
Allen Mellen
Vestry Clerk

Dear Mr. Mellen:

Your letter from the Vestry of St. Mary’s Church was read at yesterday’s meeting of the Standing Committee.... I think you would be pleased with the thoughtful and concerned discussion that took place around the question of the ordination of women and the appropriateness of any action by the Standing Committee. The minutes of the Standing Committee will include the statement that “it concurs in the opinion of the Diocesan and Suffragan Bishops of New York that women cannot at this time be ordained to the priesthood.” ...

The ordination of women to the priesthood is a painful and complex matter which we shall continue to deal with in the foreseeable future. Let us hope that the need for such correspondence as ours will some day soon be unnecessary.

Faithfully yours,
Thomas F. Pike President,
Standing Committee

Nearly two weeks after the first, another letter would be mailed to the bishop, this time on behalf of the congregation itself:

Dear Bishop Moore:

I appreciated hearing from Fr. Secor [the rector] of your recent conversations with him regarding our Vestry’s support of all three of our deacons for ordination to the priesthood on May 17....

Your comments, Fr. Pike’s letter to me, and Fr. Pike’s telephone conversation with our past warden ... were reported to the 151st Annual Meeting of St. Mary’s held on April 28. Fr. Secor and all three of our deacons were present at that meeting. It is probably important for you and the Standing Committee to know that our clergy are in no way “lobbying” with or pressuring the congregation. As is the Vestry, the clergy are highly aware that for St. Mary’s, this is an essentially pastoral/congregational matter about which we are deeply concerned and highly perplexed....

The Congregation of St. Mary’s enthusiastically supports all three of our deacons as being fully qualified for the priesthood ... and continues to hope that the Bishops and Standing Committee of our diocese will change their positions so that our three deacons may become priests on May 17, 1974.

The Congregation of St. Mary’s ... sincerely desires the personal counsel of the Bishops and Standing Committee and hopes we might have mutual conversations in this regard in the near future.

The Congregation of St. Mary’s will undertake a special Christian Education endeavor both within its own parish and with any other similarly concerned parishes so that the issue of ordaining women who have been called into the priesthood is perceived not simply as a political one or just as a vocational issue for the women so called, but rather as the congregational/pastoral issue of Christ’s Church, which we deeply feel it to be. (Italics mine.)

No matter what the final decisions of the Bishops and Standing Committee regarding the May 17 service of ordination . . . the Congregation will continue to be vitally concerned with and vigorously pursue the issues involved and most particularly the ordination to the priesthood of I. Carter Heyward and Emily Hewitt, members and pastors of St. Mary’s. (Italics mine.)

Thank you, Bishop, for your continuing concern. We realize your present “bind” and are trying to be supportive of your feelings and judgments, rather than of the legalisms which have trapped us all....

Very truly yours,
E. Allen Mellen
Newly Elected Warden, and Clerk

Diocesan response to the pleas of the vestry and congregation was largely bewilderment and anger. Perhaps recalling the events in the cathedral on December 15, the bishops assumed the “worst” and made it clear that they wanted no “demonstration” at this ordination. The ordaining Suffragan Bishop told Dan, in fact, that he would not ordain him if there were to be any demonstrations by “the women.” Dan’s own bishop, of another diocese, for whom he was being ordained in New York, wrote Dan that he had heard

that there is a possibility that some of the female deacons will try to use the occasion of your ordination as a demonstration to promote their cause.... Therefore, I will withdraw my request to the Bishop of New York to ordain you, if this is going to take place. You can come back to ______, and I will ordain you here. If you can be certain that this demonstration will not take place, go ahead with your ordination there, but I will not embarrass the Bishop of New York in any way.

To my knowledge there had been no talk of “demonstrating.” When it had become apparent that Emily and I would not be ordained, Dan invited me to preach at the service.

***

On May 17, St. Mary’s rector, wardens, and vestry distributed a statement to members of the congregation at Dan’s ordination. Its conclusion read:

St. Mary’s ... will continue to work and pray for the ordination of all of God’s children called to the priesthood. Especially we will work and pray for the ordinations of Carter Heyward and Emily Hewitt at the very earliest time.

Tonight we rejoice with Dan. We are grateful that persons such as Daniel Jones have been called by God and accepted by His Church. We are dismayed that persons such as Carter Heyward and Emily Hewitt have been called by God but rejected by His Church.

We ask you to pray for Daniel, to pray for Carter and Emily, to pray for our Bishops, to pray for your parish, and to pray for the Church of God.

Has it ever occurred to you that if Christ intended women to be priests, He would have chosen at least one of them to be his apostle? There were no females present at the Last Supper. —Letter to me from layman,

Diocese of New York, winter, 1975.

Not long after Dan’s ordination, I had the last of my lamb dreams to date. I was walking along a riverbank and fell into the river. The current was strong, the undertow fierce. I began struggling to swim and soon realized that my efforts were futile. I knew that my only hope was to give in to the current and let myself wash downstream with it towards its end, and so I did. I floated, dived, bobbed, went under, and came up time and again. After minutes, days, years—perhaps a lifetime—I found myself moving in the manner of a fish gracefully down towards the bottom of the river. When I came to rest, I noticed that I had landed on a bed of oysters, which oddly enough were not sharp or painful but rather seemed to provide a cushioned floor on which I could sleep. After a long nap on the riverbed, I woke up and saw, literally galloping towards me across the oyster shells, the lamb. I was ecstatic as she barrelled into my arms, and when she began nuzzling me, a pearl fell out of her mouth into my hand. I awoke, laughing.

***

We women priests have laughed our way to Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Rochester, Oberlin, Cambridge, Detroit, Woods Hole, and on, believing God to be most surely our authority, in whom resonates a wise, merciful laughter that cuts through the cosmos, transforming people of dread into people of hope.

In faith, the movement among us is irrepressible. Faith, not our working to win votes. Faith, not our certainty about what may happen next. Faith, not our idealism that things will change if we try hard enough. “The Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you’” (Luke 17:6).

When I find myself wondering whether we eleven will ever make it to the Promised Land, I always know in some deep way that we have made it already. Having made it long ago, we celebrated once more our arrival on July 29, 1974. That is what Philadelphia was all about.

You have ministered to me and my sisters in a way that I don’t even understand completely. At the Riverside Service, I felt like it was my birthday. I felt redeemed and that Jesus Christ was sacrificed for me in a way that I have never \nown before.

—Letter to me from laywoman,
Diocese of Ohio, fall, 1974.

In late May, 1974, along with several of my Union Seminary colleagues, I took off for the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

Esalen was no heaven. It was simply a time and a space for solitude and prayer; for relationship and new experiences. In the middle of the month a phone call would come, confirming what we had been hoping for months: several bishops were willing to ordain women deacons to the priesthood if we wanted to take the step at this time. Esalen was an offering to me of resources by which I would make spiritual retreat in preparation for experiences I had barely dared to dream.

***

From my journal, June 2, 1974: It seems as if I’ve died and gone to heaven. Spellbound by the vast aqua space sparkling with red and gold emanations from the brilliant sun, set on the sea’s horizon like a steady beach ball, I sit like a crystal, reflecting the silence and color that surrounds me. The bus swerves in smooth strokes around coastal mountain curves, south from Monterey along the legendary Pacific stretch which reaches toward Big Sur, where I will spend the month with other ministers at Esalen. We are guests of Jean and Sidney Lanier—she, a Gestalt therapist; he, an Episcopal priest; both, spiritual questers and, for the moment, a catalyst around which fourteen of us have been invited to explore various dimensions of religious experience.

June 3: Feelings: calm, quiet, alone. Womanly, childlike, expectant, reserved, warm, somewhat anxious. Powerful. Prayerful. Sewn together as a patchwork quilt with its own peculiar pattern, I feel less ripped into pieces now than I have for a long while.

If God comes to us as a body, does this not give us some clue that, if we are to be aware of God, we must be aware of our bodies? It seems to me that a Christian, of all people, should know the significance of the body! I have been so seldom in touch with my own. As if “it” were a shell, simply an encasement of “me,” and as if I can ignore “it” and get on with “being myself” in ignorance of “it”: my body, myself, me. “Fat” is not simply a yellow organic paste that lines the skin; it is related to, produced out of, all that I am. If my body feels heavy to me, it is because I am weighted down.

June 4: The Church feels weighty to me. I feel discouraged. I am enraged!

June 6: I must build some internal bridges between now and later, between Esalen and New York. Church problems will not be resolved here at Esalen. But being here among other ministers, including five Episcopalians, is helpful in terms of reality testing. I am not alone in my observations, my feelings, my concerns.

June 7: Thank God for [Bishop] Bob DeWitt! He’s one of few men in my life, especially my Church life, who seems not to fear me or to take offense at my struggling for a rightful place to be and grow within the Church. One of the few to whom I do not have to be forever “explaining myself” or attempting to justify my feelings. One of few “authority figures” before whom I am not expected to bow and scrape (“Yes, sir; Of course, sir; Indeed, sir; I will, sir”) in order to “show respect.” He is not afraid of losing his authority, for he seems to know that the real authority on which he lives and works cannot be lost. I detect moving through him the authority of the Holy Spirit.

June 8: This brings me to the question of “authority,” certainly the central issue in my life and, I believe, the life of the Church. In raising the issue of “women’s ordination,” we must be careful always to raise the issue of authority which rests at the heart of the matter.

The only real problem I have is that of authority, within which all other problems spring into being and find their rest. What is my authority ? What is my God ? From what, or whom, do I take my signals? On what basis do I decide, act, evaluate, live? Big questions, and not too big to answer. Not to answer them is not to be at all. The only one who can answer for me is me. There is no person, no book, no tradition, no Church, no story that is my authority, unless I know it as my own. Unless it is mine.

I need space in which to be alone. I believe I am learning something about prayer. I need to claim occasions daily for myself in which I can quietly allow myself the awareness of the Holy Spirit’s movement making organic, mystical connection to all creation.

June 9: What is at stake is my soul. What is affected is my vocation—broadly construed, my life. The question of authority touches all that I am and do.

June 11: A vision: There was a fire in that fireplace. I was afraid. I remember inviting “fear” into myself in order to name it, and in the tradition of the casting out of demons, to expel it. It’s as though I were staring into the face of evil. Through the flames came the faces of many people, not evil people, but people like myself to whom I have given up my authority; people to whom I have given responsibility for my decisions, my feelings, my actions; people at whom I have later been angry for “trying to run my life.”

June 12: What do you do when, expecting to see a Queen, you look in the mirror and see a Jester ?

I had to laugh.

The time has come to start withdrawing my projections. To own up to the authority I have given others over my life. To admit that I have given the Church a power to define me, and to devastate me. To realize that some part of my anger is not at “the Church”—its bishops or others—but rather at myself for putting such stock in others’ opinions of me, descriptions of me, and decisions about my life which I can choose to accept or reject on the basis of what I know about myself.

June 13: And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).

To sisters, brothers, strangers, self:

Somewhere and sometime I knew you.
I knew you well.
I knew you distantly and deeply.
You and I were different
Beings, Bodies
All in one.
Your eyes were my eyes.
You saw what I saw.
Your way was my way.
Wisdom was our way.

We went separate ways, all of us.
The androgyne cracked, dividing itself
Male and Female
Created it them.
Person and person, created it them.
Plant and plant, rock and rock, dog and dog, created it them
Alien and bonded
Separate and connected
Alone, and together alone
All of us went journeying towards reunion.

Towards a unity not to be kept, nor forewarned, nor avoided
Not to be welcomed, nor gained cheaply
A unity predicated by its own acceptance, in whole and in part,
Prior to its coming
A unity unknown: accepted in faith, vision, madness, and rage.
An unwelcomed Stranger.

I am scared of such strange unity.
I am scared of looking into your eyes again.
I am scared of seeing myself in yourself.
I prefer to distance these selves from me and call them “you.”

I am afraid of you.
I knew it the moment I looked at you
You! Man! Nigger! WASP! Bishop! Bigot! Starving baby! Messed up Lover! Teacher! Student! Best friend! You!

I have escaped before.
Trembling away from you.
I have escaped myself
and known neither the divine nor the demonic
As holy.

Yes! Somewhere and sometime I have known you
You in particular
You in general.

The temptation has been to give myself to you
To turn myself over to you, into you
To be overpowered, empowered, underpowered
By your strong soul.

Hold me! help me! protect me! defend me!
Forgive me! love me! be me!
And—if it please you—kill me!

It is a time to rest
It is a silent time
Wisdom is not as simple in words
As in the silent vision:

We do not leap without risking.
We do not see without leaping.
We do not know without seeing.
And we are unwise if we do not know
That we are afraid to leap

Then leaping, we tremble towards integrity.

In which the “I” and the “you” become “Thou”
One in being
Embracing the two
And the two billion
And all that has been
And all that will be.

I lay naked on the beach
Sun streaming pouring into me
And me into the sand
An old woman
Wrinkled skin and gray hair
Broken, whole Body.

The bodies of my parents lay in graves behind me.
I lay calm and was pleased to have lived such a life.

I ran to waves and dived in
Going under, coming out
And meeting myself twice over, returned to my sand space:
Old woman, little girl, me now.
The three of us lay down together
Crying and laughing
Regretful, at peace
Ashamed and proud
Guilty. Absolved.

Knowing, thinking, nothing
I knew and saw everything in a flash of faces
Streaming before me
Through me, beyond me,
Carrying me, leaving me
Alone.

I caught then a glimpse of the Unity.

an affirmation of what is happening;
the power of wisdom, and the powerlessness of power.

And I knew that my own growth is yours,
And that to struggle for your being is to enhance my own.
I knew that as long as anyone is a slave, no one is free,
And that no one and nothing is unaffected by what is happening
Here and Now.

I knew

That you are you
Whom I do not know
Whom I do know from somewhere and sometime
And that I am I (old woman, child, fool, wise person, enigmatic being, teacher, priest, and more)
Whom I know, of course,
And whom I do not know at all.

I knew

Both of us, and all of us,
As one
Together and alone
Embodied in mysterious process
Of all that we can tentatively name
as either “demonic” or “divine”
Participants in the Journey
Which is tedious growth Which is Terribly Good
Which is God.

And so, we go.
Your way.
My way.
Meeting
Meeting not.

Sometime and somewhere we will see again
And we will know again

Our way
Wise way
and with Wisdom
We will cry aloud in the street
We will raise our voices
and our tears and our laughter will be one.

We will have learned to dance
And we will dance!
There will be no more to say.
Only movement
And music
And at the end of the dance
The silence that has been here all along.

June 14: The trouble with some Episcopalians is that they want to be nursed by the Church forever. They are resistant to weaning. It is tempting. And I myself have fallen into this temptation from time to time, although I have been adamant in my insistence that I have not. The irresponsibility implicit in remaining an adult-infant tied symbolically to any institutional authority (Church, seminary, Esalen, whatever) for one’s life-sustenance is appalling.

I have attempted to stand on my own two feet, as it were, and to reap ecclesiastical approval. Can’t have it both ways.

So many in the same bag. I listen to Vic, Susan, Jean, Lee, Dallas. The primal screaming, the historic tears: “LET US BE!” But it doesn’t work that way. We expend so much energy “asking permission” to feel what we feel, think what we think, do what we need to do, be who we are. And when “they” say “no,” we begin making demands.

A movement is in process—from “May I please be who I am?” to “Dammit, let me be who I am!” to “I am who I am.” And that, said she, is that.

June 15:I feel taller, healthier, more honest.

June 16: A surprise phone call from a sister deacon asking me to come to a meeting to plan our ordination to the priesthood! “They’re really going to do it? I’ll believe it when I feel the hands on my head! Of course I’ll be there! Yes—I’m ready. Hallelujah!”

June 21: Hands—a symbol of my vocation. Hands write, mold, build, touch, hold, feel, pull, press, push, smooth over, soothe, bless, heal, hit, hurt, break, shield, reach, stretch, embrace, clasp, grasp, make love, celebrate, commune, carry me on.

June 22: I am a person: minister, deacon, student, priest, teacher, prophet, writer, fool and clown, and wise old woman. Little girl as well. Age twenty-eight. I believe in a God of authority, mystery, love, justice, human freedom, anger, compassion, and many surprises. I am fluid and grounded—in sin and grace, in courage and fear. My eyes tell my story—full of sadness and joy, rage and peace, inextricably bound up together.

I am a woman seeking, with my sisters, and some brothers, a priesthood that will be more than a male trophy, a priesthood that could, and will, be born out of nothing less than reformation.

Knowing my own humanness, I am all the more unwilling to join in, or facilitate, my brothers’ and sisters’ disclaimers of responsibility for what they do—to themselves, to each other, to me. I cannot accept Church tradition, canon law, collegiality among bishops, polls, priority of other issues, timing, misogyny or fear as excuses....

I am unwilling to participate in a game of plastic smiles, new committees, old study projects; a game of watching and waiting as my sisters and I suffocate in coerced compliance; ... a game called “Church.”

If you, my Episcopal colleagues, have something to say to me, say it! I learn nothing more from your quotes of canon law and scores of faceless saints and bishops sacrosanctly upheld as defenders of some “Holy Catholic Apostolic Church,” said to be one and built on the splintered bodies of its outcasts. You always speak the words of someone or thing other than yourself. Always some crutch (“church” misspelled?) to hold you up. I wait for you to stand on your own feet and speak for yourself.

. . . Oh, we may collide—and we will do so wholeheartedly! Who knows? We may discover we are soulmates—searching, struggling, changing, and cherishing parts of the tradition we can share.... We may find the Church, reform the Church, be ourselves reformed, conformed, informed by a Christ whose form may surprise us

June 28: Spiritual disease, sin, evil—call the problem what you will—is rooted in misplaced authority. Each person must struggle between turning herself—her soul—over to others and accepting the essential responsibility for living her own life. The demon, whose name is NON-BEING NO AUTHORITY NOTHING NO SELF is exorcised when we accept our humanness—our power and our lack of power; our capacity to pick up ourselves and walk, and when we can’t, to acknowledge it and ask for help. The autonomous person will know her interdependence, derived from the autonomy and interdependent needs of others. She will be able to ask for and pursue what she needs. She will not have to manipulate, seduce, or pretend that she has no needs. She will know that all others have needs, which they are entitled to pursue; and that it is in autonomous interdependence that the pursuits of all people become a common pursuit. The common pursuit, a holy pursuit of organic human wholeness, is the mission of the Christian Church.

The absolute terror with which NON-BEING NO AUTHORITY NOTHING NO SELF threatens the human soul is as indescribable as the ecstasy of simply being.

From my experience with this evil, I’d say that the battle against it is, like God, an ongoing process for each of us. The journey at times seems long, and the lamb at times seems heavy, and there are many people, institutions, laws, and traditions that would think they were doing me a favor to carry that lamb for me.

June 29: My Esalen soulmate Lee dreamt that when she returned to New York, she discovered that nothing about her had changed, and that this frightened her. I know the feeling. I believe the change is not as much in who we are as in our awareness of who we are. I leave Esalen the same person I was a month ago and, at the same time, with a different perception of this person. I feel better.

June 30: Having just boarded a bus in San Francisco. My anger, somewhat mellowed and more appropriately directed; my feelings, released; my body, stronger; my words, often incidental I think, inadequate expressions of what it is I would like to say; my desire for space and aloneness, real and crucial; my movement, freed up a little; my ability to pray, enhanced; my doubts about myself in the Church, significantly dispelled; my anticipation of this upcoming ordination, delightful, and mind-boggling.

July 1/2: Headed toward Laramie, Wyoming. Sunset is exquisite, and in it the desert’s browns and grays look golden. Soft blue hills rise in the distance and, behind them, the light shades into coral pink. It’s beautiful, and I’m sad. I’m often sad at sunset, a subdued time, in which I feel subdued. It’s true, there’s a sadness in my eyes. There’s a sense in which I am a sad person. How else can I be? Human pain and tragedy—newspapers on this bus informing us of the assassination in Atlanta of Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr., the wars and the hunger; the prejudices and acts of discrimination; the alienations each of us experience along the way; the hurt that has come to churchpeople and will come to churchpeople; the pathos of being human. It seems to me that sadness is not an option for anyone who feels. It’s a given.

July 4: In Kansas City, Missouri. More than halfway home. With Susan Thornton, friend, feminist, Presbyterian minister who knows what I mean: I anticipate the ordination with a combination of disbelief, excitement, and dread. One should not have to dread one’s ordination. Then again, we should not have been put into a discriminatory box from which the only exit is considerably less dreadful than remaining where we are. Thank God that this opportunity is ours! We will celebrate another Independence Day this year!

July 7: Charlotte, N.C. I told Bart [my former rector and employer, at St. Martin’s] about our plans. He was amazed! He affirmed me and did not judge my intention to participate in the ordination. He wished me blessings and sent me off with love. Bart means a lot to me both personally and professionally. Were he not going abroad soon, I might well have asked him to consider being my clergy presenter. Perhaps it’s just as well he’s leaving. Would he say “no” if I were to ask him? How hard that would be to hear. My relationship to Bart may be a prototype of the strained support relationships we are likely to experience long after the proposed ordinations. Many who like us personally and who agree that women should be allowed to be ordained priests and bishops will discover that they cannot go against the official position and join us, or support us, in the ordination and its natural aftermath—e.g., the implementation of our priestly ministries. What will this do to us ? Bart is an excellent priest and an honest friend. How will all of the Bart Shermans and Carter Heywards in this Church be able to maneuver our collision courses without badly hurting each other ?

July 8: On to Philadelphia tomorrow for a plenary session with the bishops, other clergy and laypeople, and a handful of us women deacons. This time the question is not whether we will do it. The questions are when, where, and who. I feel excited and anxious, stepping into this chaos, into the surfacing of a Church crisis as old as the traditions which have covered it up. I belong there, and God knows where from there. I am probably freer than I think I am. I hope so.

My parents are concerned about what this means, especially for our “vocational futures” in the Church. I don’t know what it means for my vocational future in the Episcopal Church, and at some level, I don’t care. I do know what it means in terms of viable Christian community, however. Mama and Daddy have asked me to let them know the date and location so that they can be there.

July 9: En route to Philadelphia. At no time have I been as certain that we are what we think, feel, and do. To act on our convictions, to “practice what we preach,” is a minimum attempt at integration, the bringing together of parts that have belonged together all along.

***

As the Gospel of John suggests, Jesus of Nazareth—the person, the Jewish male, the carpenter, in all of his historicity and facticity—not only gave us signs; he himself was a sign, a living symbol pointing towards a less visible and tangible layer of reality. He not only instituted what we have come to call “sacraments”; he himself was a sacrament, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Jesus not only spoke in parables; he himself was a parable, a word presented to make a point. Jesus not only told us and showed us the way to live in relationship to God, to sisters and brothers, and to self; he himself was the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

In John, we see an identification of the person Jesus with all that he said and did. There is no dichotomy, or split, between the man and the message.

I see this mode of being as profoundly instructive, if risky, for anyone who calls herself Christian. Gestalt therapy centers on the wholistic bringing together of the splits we normally make between ourselves (who we “really are”) on the one hand, and what we do, say, or feel on the other hand. Rather than being people who “have” bodies, spirit, feelings, relationships, and who “do” things, we are our bodies, feelings, actions, and so forth. The healthier and better integrated a person is, the less she will experience a split between who she is and the things she does and says.

Or so it seems to me. And so it seemed to the gathering of people in the DeWitt living room who had decided to live into our convictions on the matter of “women’s ordination.” We found among us an unflappable determination to proceed toward an ordination on July 29, the Feast Day of Mary and Martha.

We were not a fearless group, and we shared our fears about the chaos that would surely ensue. We knew that people would journey from all parts of the nation to celebrate with us. We knew that others would feel wounded, personally attacked, embittered, or outraged. We knew that still others would be unwilling to join us and would privately and absently enjoy the ordination as a symbol of their own liberation. Most Episcopalians, we realized, would be puzzled. They would not understand what was happening, and why.

We could do little about the wounded and embittered except relate to them honestly and responsibly, hoping that on the other side of the steep and rugged mountain, we might together find a common path on which to journey.

We could do little about the quiet and camouflaged supporters except recognize in them our own humanity.

The best we could do for the bewildered in the Church was to proceed with our plans and let education emerge from the ordination itself and its aftermath.

We would notify our own parishes and diocesan bishops immediately. We would inform all bishops, standing committees, and other church leaders shortly before the ordination. We would alert the press approximately twenty-four hours beforehand, so that the general public would know what was happening and so that those within reasonable distance could be with us if they so desired. We would tell our families and close confidants as soon as we wanted to. Otherwise, “mum” would be the word, primarily for security reasons.

***

I left the Philadelphia meeting on July 10, knowing that, God willing, women deacons would be ordained priests in two and a half weeks. I believed that God was not only willing, but the Prime Mover in the process. Within the days and weeks that were to follow, I would discover a community of people throughout the world who shared this belief.

For the next week and a half, I worked on a syllabus for the fall semester course I would be teaching at Union, “Feminism and Vocation,” in which spiritual dimensions of one’s “call” and fundamental dynamics of the women’s movement would be examined together. Basically, it was to be a course on the spirituality which undergirds people’s efforts to be who they are created to be. The summer was an experiential offering in preparation for this course.

Marie Moorefield, Emily Hewitt, and I had wired Bishop Paul Moore, who was vacationing in Europe. We had placed a call to him as well and waited for him to return it. Paul Moore was finally able to reach Emily and to convey his shock that we were planning to take this step; nonetheless, his wish for blessings upon us. Several days later, each of us received a letter from Suffragan Bishop Stuart Wetmore and a “personal and confidential” letter from Paul Moore. Both men, considered strong supporters of women’s ordination in principle, asked us to reconsider our intentions, and Bishop Moore officially admonished us not to proceed.

Continuation of "A Priest Forever"

Note

13. The June 22 excerpt from the journal was published in Christianity and Crisis 34, no. 15, (September 16, 1974), p. 192.

Contents page of book Support our campaign Sitemap Contemporary theologians Join Campaign activities Go back to home page


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.



The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.


Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
Email:
Name:
Surname:
City:
Country:
 
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.