House of Deputies

Between conventions, the ministry of deputies carries out the resolutions of General Convention and enriches the church. Share your stories This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Bonillas LuisaMy hope for the future is that women in the church will be leaders without reservation. In the past, women were sent to the back of the line in leadership opportunities. For a number of years now, women have been welcome in all walks of church life in the Episcopal Church. After the election of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, I so clearly remember thinking that my daughter, who was then 10 years old, could one day become any leader in our church, without reservation. This has proven true for my daughter. Ariana served as a first time lay deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Arizona in 2015, at the age of 19. I believe that young women like Ariana have been encouraged to begin to lead as they share their gifts with the church. 

Latino ministry encourages women to become involved in all areas through leadership training and radical welcome and invitation. Young Latinas, often first- or second-generation in the United States, have served as representatives for their parents in their community. In the Episcopal Church they are invited to be themselves without reservation. Young women in Latino ministry often participate in churchwide conferences to fully engage in their church. 

I attended my first Episcopal Church service in 1996, at the age of 24. I was a new mother and a graduate student in California. My young family and I received a radical welcome in our local parish and we were immediately hooked. The Episcopal Church was exactly what we were looking for. I have had the opportunity to serve as a leader in the church in a mission, parish, cathedral, diocese, and church wide. I currently serve as the Commission on Ministry secretary in the Diocese of Arizona and every time I do work for the Commission I am encouraged with our church. I have hope that the Episcopal Church is headed in the right direction in continuing to welcome women in all areas of the church. 

 

Luisa Bonillas is a lay leader in the Diocese of Arizona and a college and career specialist at Chandler High School.

Rose MargaretOn September 11, I attended the celebration of ministry and retirement of Susan Harriss, the rector of Christ Church in Rye, New York. Susan, who was ordained priest in 1980, has for the last 16 years been the rector of Christ’s Church. At the end of an excellent sermon, there was applause and a standing ovation. It was a wonderful celebration. Yet, not extraordinary. This is what we do when we say thank you to priests who have served faithfully and well over many years.

But it was not always like this, as those of us ordained some years ago know well.

As the ordination and leadership of women becomes normative, let us not forget that it was the lay women, not seeking ordination themselves, who were the leaders. They understood that “being made in the image of God” meant that men and women alike should have the chance to answer an authentic call to ministry, lay or ordained. They taught me that ordination was not a question of equal rights, but one of baptism. Let us remember with gratitude, the courage, passion and sacrifice of so many, whose desire for the passage of this resolution was deeply rooted in their own faithfulness and call as disciples of Jesus.    

I remember, too, the cautions in those early days, raised by Bishop John Burgess and others who were aware that the ordinations of many white women would likely come before there was equity in the church and ordination process for women and men women of color. We still have far to go.

Finally, I remember with gratitude the Philadelphia 11, the Washington 5, the bishops and a host of others, lay and ordained, who risked so much in 1974 and 1975. Their choices were forged of struggle and a conviction, not unlike that of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” explaining “why we can’t wait.” The spirit which led these women and men to Philadelphia and Washington laid the path for us all to walk more justly.

Margaret R. Rose is deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration at the Episcopal Church Center.

Hall GaryIn March of 1976 (my senior year at Episcopal Divinity School) I preached a sermon in the chapel declaring my intention to delay my own ordination to the priesthood until the ordination of women was approved by the General Convention. I called on my fellow graduating men to do the same. Although the local response was disappointing (none of my fellow male seniors joined my movement), the pushback from my own diocese was swift and cranky. I was immediately fired from the curacy I hadn’t even begun yet. My bishop (not entirely understanding his own irony) told me I had a “moral obligation” to be ordained to the priesthood. Would he could have said that to my seminarian sisters.

Luckily, I did not have to face many consequences for my moment of conscience. My bishop relented and gave me a staff job to live out my diaconate. I was ordained to the priesthood in January 1977 along with Victoria Hatch, the first woman priest in Los Angeles. I was, of course, branded as a troublemaker, a reputation I have worked hard over the years to maintain.

I bring my story up because, in many of the recent celebrations of the ordination of women, the narrative has lacked much of a sense of the danger women and their allies experienced at the time. Women priests and bishops were not welcomed with open arms. People participating in the Philadelphia and Washington ordinations did so under the threat of ecclesiastical discipline. Disgruntled opponents of the ordination of women directed a lot of invective and worse in the direction of women clergy and ordinands. The public debate and the reprisals often turned ugly and vindictive in the extreme.

As we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the General Convention’s action, I hope that all of us will pause to remember that the ordination of women did not just happen. It was the product of a decades-long movement that required vision, persistence, and courage. Many people—mostly women, but many allies—struggled and suffered to bring the ordination of women about. All of us who are the beneficiaries of the priestly, diaconal, and episcopal ministries of women should strive to remember that they come to us with a cost. I will always be grateful to the pioneering women and the legislative leaders who brought this change about.

Gary Hall was the tenth dean of Washington National Cathedral and is chair of the board of trustees of Episcopal Divinity School.

I grew up in an Episcopal Church that ordained women. I have never known anything else, and for that I am deeply grateful. Including women in all aspects of our church hierarchy is vitally important, and there is certainly more work to do in this vein. Still, I hope that the Episcopal Church will look beyond our own structure and hierarchy in the next 40 years, and take seriously the call to make this world safer for all women everywhere.

God’s reconciling work in the world involves bringing people in from the margins, and so often it is women living in those margins. Women are exploited and brutalized, victims of gender-based violence, sex trafficking and abuse. Women must fight to be heard and respected in navigating our everyday lives, our workplaces, our families, and yes, our churches. I continue to be surprised by how many people are threatened by or distrustful of women: women in positions of power, women who speak out and say what they are really thinking, women who dare to take an outspoken interest in the right to control what happens to their own bodies, or who ask only to be compensated as much as a man would be for the same work, women who don’t behave either gently or callously enough, depending on the audience. These feelings of threat and distrust are symptoms of the outsider status of women, a status we are reminded of through stories that come up again and again throughout Jesus’s ministry.

We are called to invite outsiders in, always. I hope our church will take the risks required to prioritize looking outward. I hope we will commit to working with, supporting, and advocating on behalf of our sisters in this world.

Kathleen Moore is a first-year MDiv student at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, a postulant in the Diocese of Vermont, and the communications manager at Canticle Communications.

Baskerville Burrows JenniferThere is an iconic image of Barbara C. Harris as an acolyte at the ordination of the Philadelphia 11, 25 years before she would be consecrated the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion. It shows such promise for women’s ordained leadership in the Episcopal Church. But that promise, particularly for women of color, has yet to be fully realized. 

The hope of the women’s ordination movement was that women would serve in positions of ordained leadership wherever they might be called to lead, whether in congregations or dioceses. Yet 40 years after General Convention voted to open the priesthood and episcopate to women, women of color are not well-represented as leaders of congregations. Today, more people of color attend predominately white congregations than historically racial or ethnic ones, and more Episcopalians are found in larger congregations than smaller ones, yet you’ll be hard pressed to find a female priest of color leading a predominately white parish of any size. In the Diocese of Chicago, where I serve, the numbers are unusually high. Out of our 126 faith communities, two black women lead predominately white congregations.

When I was ordained in 1997, there were some 30 black female priests serving as rector, vicar or priest-in-charge out of nearly 8,000 Episcopal congregations. Almost 20 years later, the Office of Black Ministries confirms that the number of black women leading congregations has continued to hover around the 30-40 mark. Historically, it has been easier for black men to be elected bishop of a diocese than to be elected rector of a white congregation. I suspect that for women of color, the odds are not much better.  

This unfulfilled promise is not only a loss for the entire church, but it also sustains a false narrative that only “people who look like us” can minister to and with us. Can we all can truly see the image of God and the leadership gifts in the other when the other looks and presents very differently from us? For the sake of our church and the gospel, the answer must increasingly be “yes.”

I have two hopes: they are 47” and 36” tall, respectively, weighing in at 47 and 31 pounds. Of course I’m speaking about my children, Katherine and Halsted. As I watch them grow and develop into remarkable and amazing people, I am filled with hope for the future. As they share their imaginative ideas for their own future professions, gender is absent. No one has told them yet that there is something they cannot do because of who they are.

The movement to ensure gender was not a barrier to ordination in the Episcopal Church was part of a much larger effort to bring about gender equality in all aspects of society. It is a testament to how many successes there have been -- in the truest sense of feminism that desires the flourishing of all people -- that our children believe that the world will allow them to live into the fullness of who God is calling them to be.

The movement for equality, like our children, is still growing, still striving for the fullness God desires. Gender equality has not been fully achieved in our beloved church. There is a wage gap and many senior leadership positions have yet to be filled by women. And there is hope. Our male colleagues and those in positions of power and privilege are increasingly listening to our painful stories and seeking to be a part of the solution.  

If we continue to nurture the equality movement it has the possibility to grow to its full stature. If we become complacent, then we risk losing ground. Together, we are responsible for both the future and for each other's children. We all have a collective responsibility to fully realize the hope that was enacted 40 years ago.

Molly James is dean of formation in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

I had the experience of coming into the Episcopal Church with priestly (Elders) ordination in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church which had been ordaining women since 1894. Having been nurtured in African Methodism I grew up expecting women’s ordination to be normative across Christianity. I was quite surprised to find it was not. As a relatively young girl I watched the news of the Philadelphia ordinations (and later the consecration of Bishop Barbara Harris) with great excitement even though I was not yet a member of the Episcopal Church.

Having now come into the Episcopal Church it is my hope that movement for women’s equality manifests in true equality of representation and inclusion for all women of every ethnicity, income strata and orientation at every level of the Church. I would like to see the priorities of the church shaped by and reflect the values and priorities of women. In particular, I long to hear the masculinist liturgical hegemony of the church broken, to hear truly inclusive – not just neutral – language in worship, to see and hear in every aspect of worship and every facet of adornment that women are fully half the people of God. Further, I would like to see the women's equality movement result in equality of representation and participation of all under-represented communities in our church.

Wil Gafney is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School.

McKellar AndreaThe highest priority that I see for The Episcopal Church in the work for women’s equality is to provide a place where women’s dreams of equality can be fully realized. I am a child of Title IX. Growing up in the 80s, I had opportunities to learn ballet and gymnastics and yet was also able to play on several sports teams. At home, I was encouraged to work in the garage with my dad and in the kitchen with my mom. At school, I was the only girl on the middle school math team and given equal opportunities in male dominated college classes that I took. I had strong female role models and felt I could do anything with little or no thought to my gender.

But when I entered the “real world,” I soon realized that the expectations of women had not caught up to that ideal. When I began to work for the church, I was not paid equally with another lay male employee because “he had a family to support,” and I was given only three weeks maternity leave after the birth of my second child. I now work with women clergy who wonder if a church will accept a female rector or are offered positions as assistant rectors in charge of children’s ministries.

In The Episcopal Church, we profess the same ideals of Title IX. We teach our children that they can grow up to do anything. I hope we will continue and improve on the great work that we are doing to create an environment where lay and clergy women can live into that ideal -- equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal benefits.

Andrea McKellar is a lay deputy from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

I have often told this story to congregations when preaching. There was a man in a bookstore interested in a religious book. He turns the cover over and sees the author is a woman priest. He frowns instantly. The picture of a feminine smiling face stares at him head on. He is instantly uncomfortable. He says to his companion, "I could never be ministered to by a female priest. The whole time in the pew I would have sexual fantasies." His companion absorbed his words. And then said to him after a minute of contemplation, "Well, I guess you know now what your wife has been doing the last three decades on Sunday mornings."

When I tell that very true story, the congregation's laugh is nervous and then they are quiet. Their assumptions about women and sexuality aren't very funny. It is too close to the truth. I had men question me when I was about to become a priest. It was in the ordination process when I was asked how I could be a priest when I was separated from my husband. They were not questioning my fitness for the intricacies and nuances of a very rewarding but difficult job. But they had already put into judgement my moral conscience, that my personal married life had bearing on pastoral care, meeting the needs of a congregation, Bible Study, providing services for the poor, forgotten and hungry. I was a woman and therefore my existence was one of judgment by men.

I am vividly aware of the intersecting of narratives during this the 40th anniversary year of the ordination of women into the Episcopal Church. Some eight years later, I was ordained. Bishop Rusak, my ordaining bishop, said no one would hire me but he was vastly incorrect. Charles Bennison of St. Marks, Upland offered me a position. And yet, in 2016, women who are pregnant are still questioned about their efficacy of being mothers and being priests when what we know about priesthood, the morality of it, is to be mothers to all, to love, to give, to pray, to worship, to honor. The quiet truth is women remind men of sexuality which conflicts head on with the comfortable myth of priests' asexuality.

In 1988, I was the first ordained woman to speak at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England. As I stood there to begin my remarks, facing me was a sea of male faces staring at me. To them, a black woman born in Chicago was an anomaly, something they could not imagine to be present and coexistent in their world. At the same time I was giving my Lambeth speech, in Atlanta, Georgia, Sierra Wilkinson was a toddler doing things all two years old do. She had no understanding of women and priesthood and liberation and justice. But 28 years later, in 2016, that toddler would be a priest in Savannah, Georgia, one who led a congregation while pregnant. She was the beneficiary of history. Women in faith and in courage who in 1977 became priests and crossed a barrier, and in one sense took the long walk home.

I remember when my children were confirmed in Chicago in 1969. The Episcopal nuns told me my son and my daughter would never remember a time when they did not take communion. At the time, that was comforting. My children would always know the bread of Christ. 

The same can be said for the women who walk the aisles and stand in the pulpits and visit the hospitals and marry and baptize and sit in vestry meetings and house the homeless and feed the poor. They too will always know the bread of Christ. Forty years have come and gone. We didn't disappear into dust, as many men wanted. We did multiply, as many dreamed. We are not perfect, as we lead congregations. But we are equal. 

When men are oppressed, it has been said, it is a grand tragedy. When women are oppressed, it is a tradition.

Tradition broken for all the right reasons. Hallelujah. 

What aspect of the women's ordination movement do you most want Episcopalians today to remember and honor?

The "movement" was not so much a movement as it was the Gospel's call to be about those tasks that un-bind people and to set them free. As a child of the church growing up within the church, the Gospel's message was clear and heard by many. The message was also a puzzlement as we found out that the institution preached one thing and lived out quite another.

Memory is a strange phenomena. We humans tend to forget or ignore some very important parts of our story. As a young person, I discovered that women in ministry as deaconesses served many of those places, hardship places, unable to have the ministry of a priest. They married, baptized, buried and gave out the Sacrament to those in difficult-to-reach places such as Appalachia. They taught in schools and cared for the ill. They also served overseas in China and Japan. As I met some of these foremothers, I was impressed by their faith and devotion.

I also learned that many Episcopalians really did not know about this ministry. I also began to hear that this ministry was not valued, as it was women who did this work. When Bishop Pike ordained a woman a deacon, Phyllis Edwards, he was attacked and brought up on charges of heresy. Women were thought of as being something less than the value of men by the Church. This was not what I heard from the gospels and it made me angry at being thought less of than my brothers. I had also heard of the Chinese woman ordained as a priest by Anglican bishop during WWII.

The ordination of women to the priesthood was not only the next logical step, it seemed to be needed in many instances. The Church has been irrevocably changed for the better by women in the priesthood and in the episcopate. The creative energies of women, lay and ordained, have reached across many chasms to raise the visibility of the poor around the world. Driven by God's Holy Spirit into the dark places wherever they exist, women have revitalized the Church and brought the world's needs into the open to be attended to. The ordination of women in the Episcopal Church calls all of us to take seriously our baptisms as Christ's people in the world and to make a difference.