Forty-three years ago as of last weekend, the “Philadelphia Eleven” were ordained as the first women priests in the Episcopal Church. It had been a long, emotionally fraught climb. Church officials labeled this ordination “irregular” since it occurred before ordination canons were changed to apply to both men and women. The next year, four more were ordained in D.C. The year after that, the 1976 General Convention finally opened the priesthood to women and recognized the 15 irregulars. Some male clergy expressed that these passionate deacon-irregulars should have been more patient, since most believed the approval would happen in the next few years anyway.
I’ve been thinking about this. I’d forgotten about the qualifier to the ordination, the “irregular” part. At factory outlets, one can buy merchandise that has flaws, marked irregular, quite cheaply. The word also smacks of being other than normal and accepted; implying that there’s us—okay—and them—not okay. We’ve been getting a small taste of what that must be like in recent national discussions about individuals who are transgender.
I am not implying that, 43 years ago, these priests felt like transgender people feel today… just that it must be beyond miserable to feel so incongruent with what people expect or demand you to be. I have trouble seeing a role for patience. Because: God has not created factory seconds among God’s people, not a soul less than beloved and worthy of honor and respect. God’s will is that we can be on the outside who we believe we are on the inside, whether that has to do with gender or life’s vocational passion. We are all beloved.
I’ve also been remembering that, as an adolescent, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was “a minister’s wife.” That’s pretty embarrassing to say in this day and age, but at that time, it was not possible for a woman to wear a collar, and being married to a collared person seemed as close as I could get. I knew I wanted to serve God in a community setting. I struggled with that much of my life, and eventually found a path that led me to my vocation in hospice and my role today at St. Alban’s. The ones that helped me find that path were the followers of the irregulars.
So today I give thanks for the extraordinary faithful women who have graced St. Alban’s over the years, who have borne witness to God’s radical, inclusive invitation to serve, to be regular. Bless you, Revs. Vienna, Marge, Caroline, Carlyle, Margot, Erin, Carol, Deborah, and Emily. And you, Bishops Barbara, Katherine, and Marianne. And anyone I’ve forgotten. You have lifted me and countless others to be accepted and empowered, as God has in mind for each of us. We’ve come a long way (baby,) and now must take that learning into the world.