House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Giving Thanks for the Philadelphia Eleven and the Washington Four

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.