House of Deputies

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Each morning as the Eternal City is waking up, the carillon of St. Paul’s Within the Walls sounds, ringing its varied tunes far and wide. The bells join forces to sing a song that blankets the busy thoroughfare of Via Nazionale with seasonal blessings, covering the hurried and huddled alike. A kind young Italian man named Giacomo, who has a passion for carillons, comes each season to register new tunes that will sound at 9 am, noon, and 6 pm each day. During this season of Advent, the tunes of expectation and hope that make up our Advent repertoire have gripped me with greater force.

Each morning I witness a flood of refugees pouring into the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, a day center for asylum seekers which serves as St. Paul’s primary outreach ministry, and I hear the bells ring out. They are Afghan, Malian, Pakistani, Eritrean--young men who have endured harrowing journeys to arrive on Europe’s shores; and who are often met with more rejection, suspicion, and violence upon arrival. In the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe, many attributed to rogue refugees benefitting from permissive policies for resettlement in Germany, Belgium, and France, hard-line anti-immigrant voices grow bolder and isolationist stances gain momentum in the polls. As those carillon bells toll “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” I see the captivity of an entire generation begging for ransom, begging for an end to an unchosen exile in a foreign land. What do songs of hope offer to refugees in this current climate? What difference does the birth and refugee flight of a Jewish child two millennia past make in this world of surging darkness, division, and fear?

I find it important to lash my hopes to the heart of the story, and to hold on to it for dear life while the winds and rain batter, buffeting the bow and threatening to sink the fragile ship of faith. In simple terms, the heart of Christian faith is this: God created and infused all creation with goodness and was in the midst of us. We humans forgot that God was with us and through a series of decisions over generations, we became ever more blind to God’s presence among us and to the goodness inherent in each other. That forgetting and our manufactured separation—what we have named sin—continued through the years, as did our collective amnesia, even though prophets begged the populace to wake up and remember the truth.

Finally, God gracefully determined to wake up the world from the inside, choosing the most inauspicious medium to come into being: an unmarried poor Jewish teenager and her skeptical but supportive fiancé. An unorthodox couple on the margins--fleeing into Egypt to escape the terror of a maniacal ruler--they cared for their vulnerable child of promise until he grew strong. Jesus, the Incarnation of Emmanuel, this God-among-us, never forgot God’s everlasting presence in all creation nor separated from his foundation in the divine, and outcast by outcast, meal by meal, miracle by miracle, revealed the truth to others, until finally he was publicly punished because of the threat he posed to the powerful. Death could not contain God’s love, nor the truth that all creation and its creatures are bound together inextricably and organically in the new resurrected life that destroys death.

From then on, all who wish to remain alive and awake to the truth do so through a new community in which love, respect, mercy and servanthood, rather than brute domination, deception, and self-interest, became the keys to unlocking the eternal realm of God in the present moment. The church of God--the Jesus Movement, as our Presiding Bishop refers to it--and its Episcopal branch succeeds or fails based on how closely we express and incarnate the qualities and motivations of Emmanuel in whose mystical resurrected Body we live.

When the bells ring out across Rome, they are ringing as a reminder to the salvation we know in this foundational story. When a volunteer serves breakfast to a hungry guest who has slept in the streets, or a fellow refugee guides a newly arrived guest through the bureaucratic process of asylum seeking, or when a compassionate citizen chooses to recognize the shared humanity of one from a foreign shore, the bells of the realm of God ring out once more. These are not the noisy gongs or clanging symbols of our forgetfulness, but the clear tones of the connected life of Christ that even death cannot destroy. They are signs of eternity’s realm in the midst of the fluctuations of earthly kingdoms; they are the peal of love’s enduring reign.

That is where hope lies, and why the story still shines within the darkness today.

May you add your unique ring to the chorus of bells that ring out across the world once more and announce the birth of Jesus. May you live in a way that reminds you of the shared heritage we have in God, and inspires others to add their lives and voices to the tune. And though the world’s forgetting may seem at its zenith in these dark days, and the need for powerful, vigilant prophecy still required, may love resonate in your heart and reverberate throughout Rome, throughout the world, and through all creation…as it did in Bethlehem so long ago.

Ring them bells Saint Peter where the four winds blow

Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down upon the sacred cow
-Bob Dylan “Ring Them Bells”

Every heart, every heart 
to love will come 
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 
 -Leonard Cohen “Anthem”


Mauai and BookerDeputy Brandon Mauai of North Dakota spent months helping to lead the Diocese of North Dakota's opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, but now that the immediate threat to water sources and sacred land on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has lifted, he has a new mission.
"This is not just happening at Standing Rock," he says. "It's happening everywhere. Social injustice and environmental racism happened in Flint," he says, referring to the contamination of public water with lead earlier this year, "and the same things are happening to Ojibwe people in Minnesota and in Navajoland, where another pipeline has been proposed."
"We have to recognize the injustices and work toward reconciliation."
On December 4, Mauai was on his way to Washington D.C. when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was denying an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River above the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. He was traveling to the capital to deliver a petition asking President Obama to stop the pipeline and call for an investigation of the military tactics used by local law enforcement against peaceful advocates at the pipeline site. A prayer vigil at St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, was planned for that evening.
"We went to visit Senator Heidi Heitkamp's office, where I spoke not only as an enrolled member of Standing Rock but as a clergy member of the Diocese of North Dakota and a leader of the Episcopal Church as a General Convention deputy," he says. "We sat down with staff and talked about justice and the need for an investigation." Jayce Hafner of the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations arranged Mauai's visits with legislators and accompanied him.

GuthrieOn the fortieth anniversary of General Convention’s official opening of ordination as priests and bishops to women, I give thanks for those women who were faithful to their call from God and were ordained “irregularly” in Philadelphia and Washington over two years before General Convention’s action. Without their faithfulness and courage, and the faithfulness and courage of the bishops and others who stood with them, I believe official action would have been a lot longer in coming.

What they challenged--what God challenged through them--was the unexamined, unconscious presupposition that only males are qualified to be priests. To adapt a gospel principle, they insisted that the canons were made for Jesus’ followers, not Jesus’ followers for the canons. What they did was costly--to themselves and to their supporters--in lots of different ways. They and their supporters found themselves--subtly as well as not so subtly--ostracized by many in the Episcopal Church.

That’s why it was ironic--but nevertheless fitting and right--that the presiding bishop herself led a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Philadelphia ordinations in 2014. My hope is that the church will continue to honor those pioneers by continuing widening of the opening it voted in 1976. My own experience and understanding of priesthood, as someone who had been ordained almost three decades before 1976, have been incredibly enriched by having women as colleagues and pastors. By openness and affirmative action we need to ensure that the whole church shares that enrichment.

Harvey H. Guthrie began teaching Old Testament at Episcopal Divinity School in 1958 and served as the seminary's president and dean from 1969-1985.

singer susannaI strategized resourcefully when I was an unusually young aspirant for ordination thirty years ago. My son was born during seminary so he’d be ready for kindergarten after my part-time MDiv. I took unconventional ministry paths (cathedral clergy, diocesan staff, seminary professor) because my spouse also had a career to tend. I have been richly blessed in my vocation, and I wish it had been easier to combine family and ministry.

Years later, despite progress being made, I still see my young women students struggling with the church’s demands for conformity to models of ministry designed for straight, married men. Ecclesial structures always reflect the surrounding culture. But by unreflectively accepting a “corporate” model for ordained leadership, and assuming a linear career path, we have capitulated to cultural norms. 

Our flawed system of calling, employment, and leadership selection disproportionately impacts women, particularly because caregiving is allowed to become a stumbling block to the exercise of our gifts. If we have children, we struggle to honor both family life and ministry. The relentless round of evening and weekend obligations take their toll, both on priests with partners who are supportive but who work a regular five-day week themselves, and even less sustainably on those who are single mothers. Yet search committees still look for a steady “upward” trajectory of responsibility and compensation throughout the years in which many women embrace non-traditional ministry pathways out of necessity. 

At the other end of life, women often find themselves bound by expectations that they will be principal care-givers to elderly relatives.  Add to that the double standards about the nature of ageing older professional men are typically seen as wise and experienced; older women (if they are seen at all) are considered “past it” -- and it becomes less and less possible for women to achieve that coveted final call, with the salary upon which their future security will depend because of the way our pension fund works.

Jesus calls women to ordained leadership as women, not despite being women. When will we break open our ecclesial structures to reflect this reality?

Susanna Singer is associate professor of ministry develoment at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

varghese winnie squareThe ordination of women in the Episcopal Church is a story of huge successes. It is a big deal and a good thing that women can be deacons, priests, and bishops. It is important and hard fought, still.

I’ve just come from four weeks in India visiting seminaries and churches and participating in what is billed as the longest procession in Asia for the Nativity of Mary. They prepared for 3 million people this year. In the Church of South India women’s ordination has been allowed since 1947, and yet, there are still dioceses that have no woman priests. I was in one diocese that used to have a few women priests, but because of lack of job opportunities I was told, there are now none. The first woman bishop was only elected in 2013.  

The fast and feast for Mary, the one with the long procession, is a fast of women. There are men there, but it is overwhelmingly women, women of all religious traditions, who come to pray to Mary for special intentions. I was struck by how not unusual that is, to be in a church space that is predominantly women, a space in which women support one another, run most things, but one in which only men exercise public, ordained leadership. This is not to downplay the importance of lay men and women who are the vast majority of the Christians on this planet, but rather to remind us that the movement towards equality is not inevitable. Legislation is not the end of the struggle.

For all of the many important issues of social justice that are women’s issues, in the church, the full and equal participation of women in ordained leadership is important, and one we cannot lose sight of. There is no guarantee that women will be elected or moved forward into key leadership roles if we are not vigilant and clear that gender equality must be a primary value of a church that seeks to follow Jesus.

Deputy Winnie Varghese is director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York.

Liz Tichenor ordinationPreaching at my ordination, Gene Robinson was proposing that people need clergy “to be the God person in their lives” when my young daughter, exhausted and hungry, interrupted. Wailing.

Gene was unfazed. He assured me that it was fine, to take my time. I took Alice and began digging through the layers of my alb. “Talk amongst yourselves!” he told the congregation, chuckling. “I’ll give you a topic. The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” To me, “that should keep ‘em going for a little while.”

Alice happily nursing, Gene continued. “To be the God person, remember that it’s not you, it’s what you represent.”

That charge, and the memorable context in which I received it, stuck with me. And I’ve kept nursing at church as a priest. Why? Because my babies are hungry.

And it’s deeper than that, too. For ages, women were required to act like men in order to lead. I’m tired of it. More than forty years on, I want to be a priest just as I am.

My hope resides in this lived experience: when I’m not in the pulpit, I listen to the sermon in the front pew and nurse my third baby. And it’s fine. My breastfeeding is tolerated by all, and even encouraged by most. As I look out with babe in arms, as both an incarnating mother and this church’s priest, I find hope. I don’t have to check part of myself at the door.

It gives me hope that I am welcome at the table — indeed, at the altar — as my whole self. I am convinced that when we welcome all of our bodies, fully, we see God more fully also.

What can I represent, then, as clergy? In recent weeks two young boys have confused me with God — not an unusual question for male clergy, especially our white, bearded elders. But for these boys in this church, God could just as well be a nursing mother.

Such is our hope. God takes us, hungry, exhausted and wailing, and nurses us. She comforts us, and gives us strength.

Liz Tichenor is associate rector at All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, California.

Photo credit:  Jenny Jimenez /

Katie Sherrod head shot square“This is my Body.”

I had heard those four words my entire life. But when first I heard them spoken by a woman, they caused joy and wonder, grief and rage, hope and elation to erupt in my soul. I realized I, too, was part of the Body of Christ. I, too, was a child of God, fully loved, fully valued, fully seen. It was revolutionary.

Women, nearly all of whom were not seeking ordination, embedded that revolutionary aspect into our history, our present time, and our future as they loved this institution into a radical change. They had learned well from their sisters and brothers of color. They paid it forward by aligning with those who were and are pushing for ever more radical inclusion.

We must never forget to honor the vision, courage, and dynamic generosity of these blessed uppity mischief makers. In making it possible for women to seek ordination, they also redefined lay ministry. No longer is it a second-best ministry for women because ordination is denied. Their dream was that one day, leadership everywhere will reflect the rich diversity of Creation, and in our church the leadership of those not ordained will be as honored as is the leadership of those who are ordained.

Women’s ordination continues to change The Episcopal Church, and the world. Episcopalians hear women saying “This is my body” routinely now, but it remains a radical act. It emerges from white women, women of color, disabled women, straight women, lesbian women, transgender women. It is a constant reminder to all who hear those words spoken by all manner of ordained people that we all are made in the image of an astonishing God. This repetitive radical act is slowly and surely undermining the patriarchal underpinnings of our faith and the world.

Katie Sherrod is an independent writer, producer and commentator in Fort Worth, Texas.

After 40 years, the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church continues to be a symbolic gesture that has not resulted in the equality of women in the church and society. For the full equality of women to become a reality, the Episcopal Church’s highest priority in the work for women’s equality in the next 40 years should be the elimination of the gender wage gap. That women’s wages are less than that of men is not only injustice but demonstrates the devaluing of women and their contribution to church and society. It is the devaluing of women and their contribution that has maintained the women’s inequality.  

The work of eliminating the gender wage gap must begin in the church. In the Episcopal Church, the devaluing of women’s work parallels that of the society, in general. The church data shows that more female priests are in assistant and associate positions — positions that pay much less — than male priests. Male priests, even newly ordained, are likely to be in solo rectorship or priest-in-charge positions — that pay much more. Maintaining compensation systems that favor male priests makes the ordination of women symbolic rather a true recognition that women and men are equally called to serve God and God’s people.

The church cannot fight for equal pay in the broader society while exonerating itself. That is rightly viewed as hypocrisy, which renders the church voiceless and ineffective in bringing about the just reign of God in this world. The church can only be prophetic, that is, the voice of protest against socioeconomic injustices when the church is making an effort to do justice. In the next 40 years, may the church take seriously the economic equality of women!

Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango is dean of students and George E. and Iris Battle Professor of Old Testament and Languages at Hood Theological Seminary and a member of the steering committee of the Chicago Consultation.

Lydia Kelsey BucklinI was born six years after the "Philadelphia Eleven." I have never known a time without women as clergy in the Episcopal Church. I was fortunate to be formed in a diocese that affirmed and supported women in ministry and I currently serve as a priest in a diocese where the number of women clergy far outnumber the men.

My 4-year-old daughter often holds her waffle up at breakfast and says "this is body of Christ" and then breaks it in half and gives a chunk to her 1 year old brother, saying, "The body of Christ." She thinks he would make a good priest someday, but asks suspiciously "Can boys even be priests?" She has so many strong, gifted women in ministry to look up to.

We have come a long way. I am beyond grateful for the women and men who worked so hard to make women's ordination a reality. I feel responsible for knowing that history and passing it on to the next generation, so that we do not take for granted just how hard a struggle it was or fool ourselves into believing the work is done.

My heart sinks when I look at the underwhelming number of women in the House of Bishops, especially women of color. I listen to my sisters across the church share their experiences of lower wages and fewer opportunities than their male colleagues, even today.

I have to wonder if we have fallen short of what might have been.  I wonder if we just bought into the same old system of competition and scarcity -- rather than mutuality and collaboration.

The good news, of course, is that the journey continues to unfold. It is an honor to stand on the shoulders of my sisters who have led the way and to continue to work for a church where ALL are honored for their gifts and affirmed in their calls of ministry. 

Lydia Kelsey Bucklin is young adult missioner in the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.

Bonillas ArianaI was in fifth grade when Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected as the first female presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. After returning from the General Convention where Katharine was elected, my mother printed out the article written up in the New York Times about her. I taped it to my bedroom door so that people who entered my space knew that this was already a Christian denomination I was proud to be a part of, even if I still couldn't spell it. We the church -- at the General Convention -- had elected a more-than-capable and inspiring woman to the head leadership position, to be the face of our faith.

In 2014, on the 40th anniversary of the ordination of the Philadelphia 11, I had the privilege to see the Church of the Advocate where they were ordained. Above my head were dozens of nets, there to catch pieces of the ceiling that would fall because midway through construction, money ran out and the ceiling was made of plaster that was now falling apart. The ceiling was not shattered, but it witnessed the start of a shattering glass ceiling for women in the clergy. In the 21st century, I find hope in the rise of not only women clergy since the Philadelphia 11, but also clergy with diverse backgrounds to truly represent and care for the entire body of God. A world that is good for women is good for everyone, and I thank the Philadelphia 11 women for paving the way for a stream of inspiring women who are passionate about a God that teaches us to be radical and revolutionary in our love and care for the world.

Ariana Gonzalez-Bonillas is a deputy from the Diocese of Arizona and a junior at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.