Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Philadelphia Ordinations and What Followed

  As Told by One of the Women Ordained to the Priesthood

that Day, July 29, 1974,

the Feast of Saints Mary and Martha 

The Rev. Alla Renée Bozarth  

At the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, 
Feast of Saints Mary and Martha, Eleven Episcopal Women Deacons  
Were Ordained the First Women in the Episcopal Priesthood.

                      The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 1974, reprinted with permission.

The beautiful and historical Church of the Advocate in Inner City Philadelphia,
a predominantly black parish, opened its doors to take us in and shelter us from
the storm of opposition.

Full of embracing Grace and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the prayer-infused stones themselves were borne into their present form by inspired vision and consummate skill. This French Gothic structure on West Diamond Street is a wondrous blend of a black and white, living color congregation and history, with the gray of traditional European Gothic architecture proving to be a stunning backdrop for vibrant, color-rich contemporary African art.

The Advocate was a solid edifice and launch pad for us, and the rector Paul Washington and the people of the congregation were Spirit-filled hosts. Living up to their name, the clergy and congregation were true to their more than hundred years of community outreach, social justice and sensitivity to liturgical and spiritual integrity. Strong advocates of civil rights and now women's rights, they continue today in a resurrection spirit of renewal to be Easter People.

Christ and St. Joan
There were bomb threats and later there were death threats and physical and verbal attacks on us. Security was heavy. We did not expect the crowd, about a third of it consisting of national press people. During a part of the service when we were lined up at the altar rail facing our three courageous ordaining bishops, there was a loud metallic sound. Martin Luther King's mother, Alberta King, had been shot to death a month earlier while sitting at the organ during a church service. Knowing that sometimes a person can be shot and not feel it, I looked down to see if there was a red stain on my white alb, then looked right and left (I am the smallest one in the picture from The Philadelphia Inquirer, fourth from left). We were all still standing and the only red on our chests was on the liturgical stoles that were draped across our white albs. No one breathed for a few seconds, then the service continued. Afterward, we were told that an NBC television camera had fallen over onto the stone floor of the transept.

These pictures were taken by Anne Zeismer, a friend from the Diocese of Minnesota. In the turmoil of the event she did not notice that her camera battery was low. The effect here expresses how we felt. The church was positively charged with the Holy Spirit~ We are entering the chancel from the side door to the transept, Katrina Swanson leading in this image, with her priest presenter/husband George Swanson behind her to her left, and to his right is my priest presenter/husband Phil, and my lay presenter, his mother Betty Campbell on his right. The Rev. Phyllis Edwards is in the left foreground. She was a deacon who chose not to be ordained to the priesthood that day because she knew she would lose her job in her home diocese and her elderly mother depended on her as her sole support. In the next picture, Katrina is embracing someone and on her way to embracing Phyllis, in solidarity, and in recognition of her sacrifice. [George told me this on May 11, 2012.]

Jeannette Piccard (center) enters the chancel flanked by her tall son and her priest presenter behind her.

Jeannette Piccard had wanted to be a priest since she was eleven years old. At 79, she was the eldest and first to be ordained a priest. I was the youngest at 27. Jeannette had already made history by being the first woman to fly a hot air balloon into the stratosphere in 1934.

In the historical records as the first woman in space, piloting the balloon invented and engineered by her husband the Swiss space scientist Jean Piccard, decades later she was invited to lecture the new class of astronauts at NASA each year. Of July 29, 1974, Jeannette said, "That day I flew higher."
Pilot Jeannette and Inventor Jean Piccard, 1934
Jeannette Piccard, priest, at Holy Communion, 1974
 The Traditional Red Doors of the church in winter~

Opened wide in high summer . . .
This picture was taken after the service, showing my priest presenter husband The Rev. Phil Bozarth-Campbell and friends Dorothy Huyck on his right, top row, and her daughter Heather to my right. Dr. Heather Huyck later would write her dissertation in American Studies for the University of Minnesota: To Celebrate a Whole Priesthood: The History of  Women's Ordination  in the Episcopal Church. She is currently a professor at The College of William and Mary.

I do not know who the woman on my left is, but in the hurry of the moment, I saw her and pulled her into the image to complete it with her beautiful countenance and her coordinating colors. We were all swept forward and away in the white water movement immediately after the picture was taken.  . . .

Heather later organized a local group in the Diocese of Minnesota to work toward general acceptance of women in the priesthood and episcopate, which would begin to be realized by a resolution of affirmation at General Convention in 1976. For the next 30 years there would continue to be pockets of opposition in dioceses which refused to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate, or to acknowledge and license priests and bishops who were women to function within their borders.

In the mid-70s, a medieval style interdict was placed on me in both the Diocese of Eau Claire and the Diocese of Milwaukee when I accepted invitations from Roman Catholic clergy and religious. I'd been asked to preach on liberation theology to begin an Advent series on that theme at the Newman Center on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. The priest officiant graciously indicated that I was to stand beside him during the liturgy. It was so natural a thing for two Christian priests to concelebrate the Holy Eucharist that we simply did so spontaneously. That it would be a scandal for our respective hierarchies was furthest from our minds.

During the liturgy, the Episcopal chaplain of the campus Canterbury Club sat in the front pew with members of his congregation, who all received communion from me at the Roman Catholic Newman Center service because the Episcopal bishop had forbidden them to allow me to speak, celebrate or physically "set foot on church property."

We were unaware of the fact that a National Catholic Reporter photographer was present and taking pictures of the event. Four large photographs of the Roman Catholic priest side by side with the Episcopal priest holding up or blessing the consecrated bread and wine together at the altar appeared on the front page of the newspaper. This is one of them:

A few days later my bishop, Philip McNairy, called me in and asked me to tell him the name of the Roman Catholic archbishop in whose jurisdiction the service had taken place so he could write him a letter of apology. I told him the man's name was Cletus O'Donnell. Apparently having forgotten this, Bishop McNairy wrote and sent the apology to Bill Cousins, the archbishop of Milwaukee.

It worked out fine because two weeks later I spoke in Milwaukee at the Archdiocesan Sisters' Council Open Forum, and I felt covered since my bishop had apologized for me to their bishop in advance. This did not protect me, however, from a John Birch Society plant who stood up in the back of the room after my presentation. She stared at me as if laying a curse while paraphrasing John Milton, saying,  "The devil uses clever words and we have heard the devil here tonight." I whispered to the Sister on my right that it probably was time to leave. I may have used somewhat more colorful language. . . .

The discomfort came out in other unexpected and odd ways. A couple had come to ask me to provide the usual series of weekly pre-marital counseling sessions for a month and then officiate privately at their wedding. They invited me and my husband to join them at a family celebration at a restaurant that evening after the ceremony. When the bride's parents arrived, she introduced me to them by name and then introduced Phil and rather quietly added, perhaps embarrassed that I might hear, "He officiated at our wedding." Such a lie was the more ludicrous given the fact that Phil was not even present. Doubtless she was placating the prejudice of one or both of her parents . . . at the expense of integrity, the truth and the officiant. 

Such experiences were not uncommon over the next ten years and more. Perhaps more typical was the experience of being graciously invited somewhere for an event and then having the invitation succinctly withdrawn once local authorities had become aware of the plans in time to kill them. Occasionally that was so close to the scheduled event that I would arrive only to find someone standing in front of a closed door and with great embarrassment proceed to tell me what had happened. I never took these things personally since those involved had never met me, after all. I simply rolled with the punches as the saying goes. Still, it was hard on the nerves.

Harder still was the barrage of pointed disapproval and rejection from people who did know me, some of them relatives, some of them once close friends. My beloved aunt, who in retrospect deeply regrets having done this (though I'm certain it was an unconscious reflex), made it a point after my ordination to the diaconate, not even waiting for the controversial event, to introduce Phil (who was not yet ordained) and me to her friends as The Rev. Phil and Mrs. Bozarth-Campbell. That is the ultimate negation of a married professional woman~ not only denying her the name she was given at birth and the professional title she had earned, but transferring the latter to her non-professional husband. It was comparable to introducing a physician and her medical student husband as Dr. Tom and Mrs. Jones.

Though I loved the television series The West Wing, I cringed every time the character of the president's wife, a medical doctor, was referred to as "Mrs. Bartlett." She was a practicing physician and yet, though her husband had his own doctor of philosophy degree and thus was her academic equal, her professional life was negated to make the president seem above her. After the series ended the actor playing her part expressed her regret, too, that she had allowed it. After all, they were otherwise shown as progressive democrats!

To people sensitive to the importance of language, such blatant  language tampering is a significant betrayal. This sort of thing demonstrates how language both expresses and reinforces sexist stereotypes. By extreme extension, it would imply that if a man were in a room with a queen, the queen should be called by her first name and the man, no matter his profession, should be bowed to and called King. If the male ego were really so flimsy, it would have no help at all in growing stronger by this behavior. Yet, some women of previous generations were apparently so in the habit of manipulating men with obeisance and flattery that they became fearful of behavior that deviated from the practice.

In another instance, a family member had actually determined not to speak to me for three years. I found this out later, when she was speaking to me again after General Convention recognized our priestly ordinations. The impact of the snub was wasted on me since I had been so busy in those years that I hadn't noticed her silence.

Others were more blatant in their expressions of indignation. Mentally unstable strangers wrote anonymous hate mail and made anonymous hate calls, some obscene, some with death threats. Had I realized before the Philadelphia Ordinations what our lives would be like from then on, that we would not only be priests as we knew ourselves called to be, but change agents with responsibilities to history, I might not have found the necessary courage. The Holy Spirit and the not-knowing what was ahead gave me the courage, the joy and enthusiasm to say Yes, and to go on saying Yes every day of my life since then. These things weren't easy to take, but they  did not keep us from our responsibilities as priests.

Jeannette and Alla after a first anniversary celebration 
at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Minneapolis.

After General Convention's affirmation of women in the priesthood in the summer of 1976, the Philadelphia Eleven and Washington Four, we of the fait accompli that prompted the affirmation, were individually affirmed as priests in their dioceses. Bishop McNairy concelebrated the Holy Eucharist with Jeannette and me on January 7, 1977 in the Cathedral Church of St.Mark in Minneapolis.

For some reason he also decided that we should sign the Oath of Conformity, a document ordinands sign before they are ordained, which states that they will conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

We had already signed it twice, of course, for our ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood. When I pointed out to Bishop McNairy that only bishops sign it for the third time, he handed me the pen. I signed with my left hand fingers crossed behind my back, thinking it improper to be taking a redundant oath not at all appropriate for the occasion.

So many of our supporters had worked long and hard and with such dedication for the moment of recognition. It went far beyond two individuals and had the impact of being a recognition of the full participation in church and society of women bringing their gifts, their skills and their passionate devotion to the work which God calls each of us to do. Gifted, Spirit-filled women were in the congregation, and we in turn, were privileged not only to thank but also to celebrate them.

Twenty-five years later we Philadelphia Eleven (except for Jeannette Piccard who
had died in 1981 and Betty Bone Schiess, our eldest now, who wisely left to avoid
the intense heat of a July day in Philadelphia ) and several of the Washington Four,
who had undertaken a second wave of priestly ordinations in 1975, celebrated our
25th anniversary, again at the Church of the Advocate.

July 29, 1999, nine of the Philadelphia Eleven at the 25th anniversary of the Philadelphia Ordinations. From Left: Lee McGee of the Washington Four, Sue Hiatt, Katrina Welles Swanson, Marie Moorefield Fleischer, Merrill Bittner, Carter Heyward, Alison Cheek, Nancy Hatch Wittig, Emily Hewitt and Alla Bozarth )Bozarth-Campbell). Betty (Powell) Rosenberg of the Washington Four was in the congregation. Suzanne Radley Hiatt died in 2002 and Katrina Welles Swanson died in 2005.

On the day of our ordinations the bright red felt cloth that had covered the front of the altar spelled out in rainbow color block letters one of the best passages of St. Paul from his Epistle to the Galatians (3:28): There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ. We did not process down the center aisle to our places in the choir for security reasons, and because there was no clear passage through the crowd. The Senior Warden (chief lay person) of the parish, Barbara Harris, had flown back from a business trip to California so that she could carry the cross at the head of the procession from the north transept entrance up front.

When her plane had stopped in Minneapolis, it picked up my husband Phil. Barbara had stepped off the plane to make a call to Paul Washington, rector of the Church of the Advocate, to make sure that the service was still going to take place the next day. The bomb threats had caused hesitation about carrying out the plans in the vulnerable venue of the church, but Paul said, "Yes, the service will take place tomorrow." Security guards and the Philadelphia police would be on hand from early morning onward. They found a stink bomb in the back of the church and removed it, but no other bomb was found.

By the time Barbara got back on the plane, Phil had boarded and was sitting in an aisle seat wearing his clerical collar. Always interested in people with that wonderful gregarious extrovert trait of most parish clergy, he smiled broadly and warmly when Barbara saw him and smiled. An intelligent looking man with an open face and a warm smile and wearing a clerical collar made Barbara think that he was on his way to the same place and for the same reason as she. She paused before continuing on to her seat and asked  him where he was going. He said, "I'm going to Philadelphia to help my wife be ordained one of the first women priests in the Episcopal Church." Barbara said, "That's where and why I'm going, too! See you tomorrow!" And right there, the first in-person bond was made between those two flying pilgrims going onward to the Church of the Advocate with a common purpose.

I didn't know this wonderful story until last summer when I called Barbara to ask her permission to include her 25th anniversary sermon on my website. We had a lovely long visit on the telephone and among other stories, she told me about that airplane meeting with my Beloved Phil. We ordinands had to arrive a few days before the ordinations, for there was much preparation, both in prayer together and in struggling through some of the key issues involved, included the trepidation among us about repercussions. We had no idea that what we were about to do by responding to God's call to the priesthood would be much more, for without most or all of us fully realizing it or understanding what it would mean for the rest of our lives, we were also being called to become change agents. Over the next ten, twenty, thirty, now nearly forty years, we would discover the degree of opposition, misogyny and sometimes violence that would be expressed by others, leading to verbal abuse, rejection, and in at least one instance, physical assault. During the years ahead of us, a male priest, after receiving Holy Communion from Carter Heyward, would dig his nails into her hand so deeply that she required stitches. Had we known that such violence and ugliness lay ahead of us, we couldn't have borne it. Without doubting the sustaining Presence of God, I, at least, couldn't feel in myself the sheer physical stamina and emotional grit that our lives and our priestly ministries would require.

Betty Campbell, Phil's mom and my mother-in-love, had made the car trip with me from Minneapolis to Philadelphia. Betty thanked me for giving her the opportunity to grow up into the fullness of her womanhood. She said it was the first time that she had ever done anything controversial, something which might arouse disapproval, and she knew she would have to stand up for her decision. She was ready and proud to do so, and felt strong in her stand. Indeed, over the years she defended me like a mother lion, always with dignity, clarity and firmness. We met Phil (and it it turns out, Barbara, too, had we but known it!) at the airport at 1am. That afternoon, Barbara Harris led the way for us, carrying the cross high and making a passage for us, like Miriam moving with her brother Moses across the Red Sea safely on solid ground, leading the People of God into greater freedom and greater responsibility, too.

Fifteen years after the Philadelphia Ordinations, Barbara Harris, articulate and relentless spokeswoman for the liberation of all people, had been ordained a deacon and priest, and followed us all the way up to the front of history when she became the first female bishop in an apostolic tradition in modern times.

On February 11, 1989, Barbara Clementine Harris, brilliant activist and scholarly writer of the column, "A Luta Continua" (The Struggle Continues) for The Witness Magazine, followed us into history by becoming the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church. We were in that liturgical procession also, and as principal, she followed us as we had once followed her. We were overwhelmed with thanksgiving as we witnessed her Consecration and Ordination as the suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

The congregation joined Barbara in singing That Great Getting Up Morning,
one of the spirituals which had strengthened her beloved great-grandmother
in the years of her childhood in slavery.

I could not stop weeping tears of joy from start to end of the service.

The Rev. Li Tim-Oi was also present. Two women, Joyce Bennett and Jane Hwang, were ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao in 1971, but the truly first female priest in [Anglo-]Catholic tradition in modern times was the Rev. Li Tim-Oi, who was a deacon in China in 1944, when the Japanese invasion of China made it impossible for the Anglican priests to get to their people to serve them because they were prohibited border crossings between Hong Kong and Macau, where Chinese refugees were pouring. She and her bishop had long been discussing her deep call to the priesthood. Her bishop ordained her a priest so that the Chinese Anglicans would not be denied the sacraments. She was the only priest not blocked by border crossfire for the duration of the war. Indeed, she rode her bicycle right on through it. In the war zones, she organized clinics and schools and provided pastoral care and the sacraments. She was much loved for her kindness, strength, courage and generosity of spirit.

After the war, her priestly ordination became known to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other bishops. Her priesthood was denounced and her beloved bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ronald Hall, was censured and vilified, but he held fast until his death that he had ordained her a priest under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that her vocation to the priesthood was deep and true.

Oppressed people of wisdom understand that they must help one another to overcome oppression, at all times. Out of compassion for the terrible abuse inflicted on her bishop and friend, to make it stop, she rescinded her license to officiate as a priest, though, with pain in her heart at being unable to celebrate the Eucharist, she continued to love and serve her people as a deacon, until the Cultural Revolution imprisoned her and all but buried her alive in degradation. In her concentration camp experience she stayed sane and alive by going to a secret mountain within her where God whispered to her, “Are you not a wise woman? You are a priest! You will survive this and serve those whom I love.”

At the age of 76 she was granted a visa to visit her sister in Canada. Persuaded to stay, the Anglican Church of Canada reinstated her full powers to function as a priest in 1984 on the 40th anniversary of her priestly ordination. In 1989 she traveled from Toronto to Boston to join the joyous throng of thousands at Bishop Harris's consecration.

The Rev. Li Tim-Oi at the Consecration of  Bishop Barbara Harris
The new bishop wore elegant silk vestments made by women of Ghana. A black Gospel choir sang the spirituals that had sustained her great-grandmother through her life as a slave in Maryland. A Chinese choir sang lullaby hymns in Chinese to honor Li Tim-Oi. I stood on a chair so I could see her, the first female priest, a once persecuted Chinese woman, and Barbara Harris, the first female bishop, an African-American woman and descendent of slaves, as they embraced one another in Christ at the liturgical Peace. There was an opening then in the dimensions between Heaven and Earth, and in that moment of sweet redemption, tongues of fire on their heads, they showed the world how God, with human and other mortal help, can make the impossible possible for the greater good, and how injustice can dissolve into justice and personal suffering, even intense and long, can be turned into joy.
That moment had the Spirit-charge of Pentecost~ the two women embracing to wish each other the Peace of Christ: the African-American descendant of slaves and the former Chinese concentration camp prisoner. Not only because of making history by bringing more freedom into the Church and thereby encouraging all women and oppressed people everywhere to devote themselves to peace with justice for all, but because of who they were as human beings and the particular histories which they represented, for me that day was more glorious than our own ordination day, its true fulfillment in full open light and with thousands present, people of many faiths praying together at the Great Thanksgiving liturgy of Holy Communion among these few people who had directly or indirectly endured a history of oppression and survived to lift up their voices as one with unmitigated joy. 

During her years in Boston as Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, Barbara Harris along with Bishop Robert DeWitt, who had resigned from his position as Diocesan Bishop of Pennsylvania in order to organize and participate in the Philadelphia Ordination, Bishop Edward Welles, Katrina Swanson's father and ordaining bishop and the retired Bishop of West Missouri, and Bishop Dan Corrigan, retired Bishop of Colorado and lifelong human rights activist, and the Philadelphia Eleven ourselves remained spiritually bonded and rooted in our shared day, July 29th 1974 at the the Church of the Advocate.

The church itself is a beautiful French Gothic gray stone structure with the usual bright red painted wood door, completed in 1897, the year my paternal grandmother, my personal childhood hero, was born in Henry, Illinois. From the beginning, the church had been integrated and always made a stand for Civil Rights and all matters of liberty and justice. It was anchored in the heart of the poorest section of African American inner city Philadelphia in 1974, and its priest, Paul Washington, and congregants opened its doors to us white women when no one else would.Our gratitude is boundless to the gracious and welcoming congregation of the Church of the Advocate and their rector at the time, Paul Washington. Their hospitality would continue over decades as we returned to celebrate our tenth, fifteenth and twenty-fifth anniversaries. The twentieth celebration took place at the Philadelphia Cathedral of the Savior while the Church of the Advocate was closed down for repairs. In a real sense the Church of the Advocate is our own shelter and home, and we can never thank it, meaning its people, enough.

Before the service began we were organizing ourselves for the procession in the vesting area. We had expected the congregation to be small because until two weeks before the service it had been kept in strict secrecy. The news, however, had been leaked to the press. We couldn't see but we could hear what happened next in the church proper. We heard a roaring noise but did not know what it was. Paul Washington had gone out to greet those present and when he came back to cue us with a huge grin on his face and and we all looked puzzled and concerned, he said that he had told the congregation (including dissenters who would speak for 15 minutes in a place kept for them in the service) that if a doctor tells a woman she is going to have a baby in October and the baby is ready to be born and its mother is having contractions in July, it is the baby and the mother who are right and not the doctor. Then he announced the opening hymn: "Please join me in singing the hymn, Come Labor On." He said, "What you heard was the sound of 2,000 people laughing!"

The preceding account is from a 2006 interview, "A Conversation with Alla," 
which will be posted in its entirety on Alla's website pending funding to complete it.
The painting by Anne Shams below, Paradise Lies at the Feet of the Mothers,
provided the title of the poem that follows. See "Jerusalem a Quarter Century Ago:
A Celebration of Diversity" from the archives  for more of Anne's art and philosophy.

             Paradise Lies at the Feet of the Mothers ~ A Celebratory Poem

In honor of Anglican priest, the Reverend Li Tim-Oi and Episcopal bishop, 
the Right Reverend Barbara Clementine Harris on the day of her ordination 
and consecration to the episcopate, February 11, 1989.

Today, let us say, in Boston, Heaven and Earth were joined.
It is, in truth, forever Today, and beyond that, a Forever Day,
when an act of perfection is allowed in space-time,
an act which expands through the universe and all times
to gather the suffering-through-which-it-was-made into its healing arms.

In a moment of Sweet Redemption, two women embraced—
Asia and Africa met and embraced in America.

East and West were partnered in the arms of full-grown daughters
of noble ancestors, as they accepted the mantle of the mothers.
The mothers— whose holy patience finally mandated their divine impatience
to act at this ripened hour—

The first Anglican woman priest in modern times, ordained
when no man could get through the crossfire
between her Chinese people and invading Japanese soldiers,
and she alone for the years of the war, riding her bicycle
fast between bullets, served the people, then in compassionate sacrifice
gave back her right, though a priest forever, to act as priestly minister.
Years later she would be a tortured prisoner of the Cultural Revolution.

But decades beyond her survival of that, finally,
forty years after her priestly ordination day,
her life and her ministry were recognized and received in their unity.

Restored to oneness between being and doing,
her long Wilderness Journey ending
in the North American Promised Land, she would attend as a priest
the public Celebration of the Consecration of the First Woman Bishop
in the Anglican Tradition, a brilliant liberation visionary
who had crossed into history to help make the world possible,
an African American descendant of slaves.
And during the liturgical Peace for all to share, the women embrace.
What shines and hums in the space between them
is the new young world being born.

               Alla Renée Bozarth
Diamonds in a Stony Field c. 2011 

                                       Alla greets the new bishop at her reception.                

On the silver anniversary of the Philadelphia Ordinations, the Right Reverend Barbara Harris stepped up into the pulpit of the Church of the Advocate, removed her dignified red and gold mitred bishop's hat and began to preach. She preached with the passion and integrity of prophets of old. Rather than wait to tell you these things on another anniversary next summer, I have waited too long already ~ thwarted by technical and financial difficulties ~ but finally found a way around the obstacles to give the world the words of Bishop Harris that re-charging day a quarter century after we eleven new priests and our three ordaining bishops made a healthy crack in the stained glass ceiling.

In these pictures below you will see stirrings and bustlings before the liturgy begins, me standing in the doorway of the narthex enjoying all the people milling about and settling in, with Katrina Swanson's hand and vestment visible on my left, and in the last picture, my dear sister-priest the Rev. LouAnn Pickering, rector of St. Gabriel's Parish in Portland, crossing the threshold with me into the main part of the church during the opening hymn.
Here, on the verge of our national Thanksgiving holiday followed by
the liturgical season of Advent in anticipation of the Feast of the Incarnation
of Christ, here is where this story belongs. And here are the firebrand words
we heard and made part of our lives:

Sermon Delivered by the Rt. Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris
at the Church of the Advocate—
July 29, 1999
on the occasion of the
25th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women 
to the Priesthood

Let there be peace among us
and let us not be instruments of our own oppression.
In the name of God, Creator, Liberator and Sustainer.
We gather this evening to mark a significant milestone in the life of the church. A quarter of a century is an important turning point for nearly any development and the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church is of no small consequence.
For some it is a time of joy and celebration. For others it calls up words from our closing hymn—“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way . . .” For still others there are lingering doubts that celebration is appropriate, given the climate we are experiencing in the church today. Whatever draws us to this place tonight, whatever it is we are feeling individually, it is well that we corporately mark that historic sweltering hot Monday morning 25 years ago on this date and that we mark it with dignity and solemnity.
For those of you who were not around 25 years ago and for those who may have forgotten, July 29, 1974, was a momentous day. It not only spawned a new era, it revealed something profound concerning the nature of those in the church for whom an unchanged tradition— or selected portions thereof— is paramount. And that particular phenomenon continues to unfold in ever more definitive form.
Last month, the Bishop of Maine, Chilton Knudsen and I had the opportunity to participate in a class at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge jointly conducted by Carter Heyward and Sue Hiatt. The title of their course was ‘Philadelphia 25 years later—Was it worth it?” Most would see that, despite some of what we have endured and experienced, indeed it has been worth it. But twenty-five years later and some 3,000 ordained women in the U.S. alone and approximately 6,300 total in nearly 26 provinces of the Anglican Communion, I believe there are some additional questions that need to be raised.
Now I want to try to speak a little truth here tonight. And I am going to be brief and, as often accused, I am going to be blunt. I do, however, have to choose my words very carefully in that I not only tend to be quoted, I frequently tend to get misquoted. I don’t mind the former, in context— it’s the latter that ticks me off.
To begin with, last year’s decennial gathering of apostolic eagles— which included its share of turkeys— the Lambeth Conference, brought a defining melding of these two questions.
Despite the development of a critical mass of ordained women, including eleven bishops, at Lambeth we were left wondering what had happened to the dream of a kinder, gentler church. The conference resolution concerning ordination of women and its odious amendment— authored by two women bishops in concert with some conservative male bishops— totally ignored any positive impact the church has experienced through ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate over the past 25 years. It was a stunning denigration of the more than 6000 women in Orders from Utah to Uganda, to say nothing of those who have yet to respond to God’s call. Rather, having tasted blood with the much amended resolution on human sexuality, the princes of the church moved in for the kill on the people they really hold in low esteem— WOMEN.
Given the fact that the church has had gay priests and bishops since at least the 13th century, it is disingenuous, at best, and downright dishonest at the worst, to pretend that we are faced with some new phenomenon of homosexual clergy. When church policy seemed to be “don’t ask, don’t tell” it was kind of okay, but almost any single male clergy were often suspected of being gay. Even with the advent of openly gay clergy, there has been no call to suspend male ordinations generally. While I do not, by any means, minimize the rampant hostility toward our gay brothers, I strongly suspect that the advent of open lesbians into the ranks of the ordained has triggered renewed and redoubled efforts to turn back the clock on women’s ordination. As in other male dominated fields, from law enforcement to medicine, almost any unmarried woman is regarded as a lesbian— or else promiscuous. That is an important part of what we have learned.
Meanwhile, the few U.S. bishops who openly oppose women’s ordination, and their sycophants, now claim vindication, proclaiming themselves to be “in the mainstream of Anglicanism.” And make no mistake, they will try to use Lambeth’s non-binding action as a club against us at next year’s General Convention of the church, as some already are doing when they talk about “defiance” and “rejection” of Lambeth’s resolutions. In reality they are swimming against the gospel tide of inclusivity, headed for the backwater eddies of patriarchal delusion. And that, too, is a part of what we have learned.
But a nagging question remains that points us to some of why opposition continues. Where are the real men— not the ones who don’t eat quiche— the men straight and gay who claim to support us; the men who purport to embrace the concept that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female?”
Well, let us recount what has happened, for the lessons are long, hard and bitter. But our sister Maya Angelou reminds us that “history with all of its unending pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
Early on, at Port St. Lucy, we got the “conscience clause” that said bishops who did not in conscience believe in ordination of women were not bound to ordain them. Then in 1988 we got an “episcopal visitor” resolution - that, incidentally quietly expired in 1994. That same year, however, we got silence at the Indianapolis General Convention. In 1997, after 23 long years, the ordination canons become mandatory. This was followed one year later by the deafening silence of OUR male bishops at Lambeth. And so, while women, in numbers, still predominate the church and virtually remain its most potent human resource, men still outvote us, whether they are vocal or silent. And that, too, is a part of what we have learned.
Fifteen years ago, as we marked the 10th anniversary of the Philadelphia and Washington ordinations, Bishop Tony Ramos, the preacher that day, reminded us: “...wholeness is far from our reach. The journey goes on, the struggle continues and we need to remain faithful to our call. . . .” His words continue to ring true today.
Yes, Sue and Carter, it has been worth the effort, it has been worth the pain, it has been worth the joy and worth the halting steps forward toward wholeness and healing. And yes we have learned a lot. But, indeed, A luta continua - the struggle continues. That too, is what we have learned.
So where does all this leave us on this 25th anniversary?
It should leave us mindful of the words of the apostle Paul to the young church at Rome, heard in our second scripture reading: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. . . . If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It should also leave us committed to press forward with a renewed determination to work toward eradicating the sexism, racism and homophobia which continue to permeate and pervade the church and in turn spawn some of the hate crimes we witness. And that includes demanding more in the way of concrete action on the part of the men who say they support us.
The strategy of the other side is unfolding with a clarity and a relentless kind of fury. Their march is on with priests being transferred to dioceses abroad, placing them under the oversight of bishops in Africa and Asia, then having them return to plant new churches not in communion with their dioceses and providing an opening for overseas bishops to come, uninvited, to this country and to invade the jurisdictions of bishops here. May I also note, parenthetically, that the unrelenting requests for financial assistance continue to pour in from some of the same diocesan bishops abroad who condemn us. The march is on, disseminating mis-information and, in some instances, outright lies; soliciting ecclesiastic admonitions to the US church from other primates of other provinces; targeting so-called “revisionist bishops” and liberal dioceses, witch-hunting gay and lesbian clergy and seeking to discredit those who dare to fight for an inclusive church.
Thanks be to God for our pioneer women, for the bishops who ordained and supported them, for this parish which welcomed them and the church gathered that 1974 day, for the clergy and laity who embraced their priesthood and subsequently paid the price and for all who have followed in their courageous footsteps.
And so my sisters and brothers tonight Passover is remembered. But so also is Paschaltide. For we are an Easter people in a Good Friday world. So also is the truth expressed in that great South African hymn, “Siyahamba,” translated— We are marching in the light of God. Remember also the fact that “we’ve come this far by faith” and we trust our God for the next steps of the journey.
When we close our worship this night, we can sing with new appreciation, new understanding and new fervor, the words of James Weldon Johnson’s powerful poetic prayer:
“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet come to the place for which our parents sighed?
“We have come over a way that with tears has been watered; We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last, Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”
Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own oppression.

The Rt. Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris
+ Consecrated to the Episcopate February 11, 1989 +

Alla's Middle of the Night Note to a Friend about Misogyny

Response to a letter from poet and teacher, Pesha Gertler
It's going to take a long, long time for misogyny to get out of people's brains. It's the most toxic global evil there is. It expresses  fear and hatred of Life, Nature, the Body, the Mother, the Soul. Variously, women have internalized the poison you speak of and hate themselves. Variously, men continue to confirm their hate through patronizing hypocrisy, disrespect or overt abuse. The evil varies by culture, experience and individual degrees, but it’s endemic to our species. Egg envy manifests as death-dealing in all its forms, especially psychic, but it’s brutally physical as well. It’s the reactive psychological inversion expressed in war, rape, selfish domination (rising from reactive male self-hatred), controlling cruelty (rising from unconscious mimicry, fear of powerlessness, and narcissistic rage against maternal authority), slavery and torture. It’s global, and we Westerners in our middle class glass houses are not immune from it. To cure it, one by one we need to commit ourselves to the process, out of love for self and one another as worthy beings, by virtue of our existence alone— the universe and the Creator invited everyone who’s here to be here. We can learn and practice, generation by generation, until we’ve rewired our gray and white matter to integrate a new core attitude of self-awareness and mutual respect. We can't be the whole solution, but we can be part of it. That's what's asked of us by our foremothers, sisters and daughters, and by Great Mother God. . . .

                            We follow the Future into a World of Hope for Harmony

At the beginning of the service, these beautiful children danced down the aisle following the drummer and other musicians. They are the most beautiful and meaningful part of the liturgy. In the color picture above near the beginning, in which you see nine of the Philadelphia Eleven and Lee McGee of the Washington Four with her guide dog on the far left, we are one by one reading the stanzas of the poem, "Passover Remembered," which The Witness Magazine had commissioned me to write for the tenth ordinations' anniversary issue of the publication.  

                       Tenth Anniversary of the Ordinations.                       
       Following Communion, Prayers with Laying-on-of-hands
for Special Intentions. 

    Passover Remembered

Pack nothing.
Bring only
your determination
to serve and
your willingness
to be free.

Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing, be ready
to move at a moment’s notice.

Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind—
fear, silence, submission.

Only surrender to the need
of the time—to love
justice and walk humbly
with your God.

Do not take time
to explain to the neighbors.
Tell only a few trusted
friends and family members.

Then begin quickly,
before you have time
to sink back into
the old slavery.

Set out in the dark.
I will send fire
to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire
and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely home to that place
you have not yet seen.

The stories you tell
one another around your fires
in the dark will make you
strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you,
and some who follow you,
and at times you will weary
and turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and
blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing
for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness
to make a way and to learn my ways
more deeply.

Those who fight you will teach you.
Those who fear you will strengthen you.
Those who follow you may forget you.

Only be faithful.
This alone matters.

Some of you will die in the desert,
for the way is longer than anyone imagined.
Some of you will give birth.

Some will join other tribes
along the way, and some
will simply stop and create
new families in a welcoming oasis.

Some of you will be so changed
by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends
will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.
Some of you will not change at all.

Some will be abandoned
by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those
who have known you since birth
and feel abandoned by you.

Some will find new friendship
in unlikely faces, and old friends
as faithful and true
as the pillar of God’s flame.

Wear protection.
Your flesh will be torn
as you make a path
with your bodies
through sharp tangles.
Wear protection.

Others who follow may deride
or forget the fools who first bled
where thorns once were, carrying them
away in their own flesh.

Such urgency as you now bear
may embarrass your children
who will know little of these times.

Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow
confused and lose your way.

Continue to call each other
by the names I’ve given you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.

Touch each other
and keep telling the stories
of old bondage and of how
I delivered you.

Tell you children lest they forget
and fall into danger—remind them
even they were not born in freedom
but under a bondage they no longer
remember, which is still with them,
if unseen.

Or they were born
in the open desert
where no signposts are.

Make maps as you go,
remembering the way back
from before you were born.

So long ago you fell
into slavery, slipped
into it unawares,
out of hunger and need.

You left your famished country
for freedom and food in a new land,
but you fell unconscious and passive,
and slavery overtook you as you fell
asleep in the ease of your life.

You no longer told stories
of home to remember
who you were.

Do not let your children sleep
through the journey’s hardship.
Keep them awake and walking
on their own feet so that you both
remain strong and on course.

So you will be only
the first of many waves
of deliverance on these
desert seas.

It is the first of many
beginnings—your Paschaltide.
Remain true to this mystery.

Pass on the whole story.
I spared you all
by calling you forth
from your chains.

Do not go back.

I am with you now
and I am waiting for you.

       Alla Renée Bozarth

Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey, revised edition 1988;  
Water Women (audiotape) Wisdom House 1990;
Stars in Your Bones: Emerging Signposts on Our Spiritual Journeys 
(Bozarth, Barkley and Hawthorne); Accidental Wisdom and  
This is My Body ~ Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart

 Bakerwoman God

Bakerwoman God, I am your living bread.
Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine
and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.
Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red flood.
Self-giving chalice, swallow me.

My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.
I fall up, in a red pool in a gold world
where your warm sunskin hand is there 
to catch and hold me.
Bakerwoman God, remake me.

Alla Renée Bozarth
Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey
Moving to the Edge of the World
This is My Body~ Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart

Before Jesus~
Maria Sacerdota~ Mary, Protopriest
of the New Covenant

Before Jesus was his mother.
Before supper in the upper room,
breakfast in the barn.

Before the Passover Feast,
a feeding trough.
And here, the altar of Earth,
fair linens of hay and seed.

Before his cry, her cry.
Before his sweat of blood, her bleeding and tears. 
Before his offering, hers.

Before the breaking of bread and death,
the breaking of her body in birth.

Before the offering of the cup,
the offering of her breast.
Before his blood, her blood.

And by her body and blood alone,
his body and blood 
and whole human being.

The wise ones knelt to hear 
the woman's word
in wonder.

Holding up her sacred child,
her spark of God in the form of a babe,
Mary said: Receive and let your hearts
be filled with love, for
This is my body, This is my blood.

Alla Renée Bozarth
Accidental Wisdom 
This is My Body~Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart  



The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori

In June of 2006, the triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church gathered in Columbus, Ohio, elected Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Diocese of Nevada to become the next Presiding Bishop of the National Episcopal Church. She officially took office on All Saints Day, November 1, and her investiture at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. took place on November 4, followed by her official seating there the next day.

Katharine is another brilliant, talented woman like so many whose lights from God are at last being given to the world for increased illumination and joy. Her bachelor's degree was in marine biology, her master's degree and Ph.D. were in oceanography. She was a professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis and also served as marine science officer for the United States navy.

Parishioners at the Church of the Good Samaritan where Katharine served as member and lay leader had begun to tell her repeatedly that they were experiencing her spiritual and intellectual gifts in such a way as strongly indicated a vocation to the priesthood. After much prayer and reflection, Katharine earned her Master of Divinity degree and was ordained a deacon and then a priest in 1994.

In 1999 she was called to be Bishop of the Diocese of Nevada. Like her daughter who is a Captain and pilot in the United States Air Force, Katharine was an expert pilot who flew her own airplane across the expanses of her new diocese to make her episcopal visitations. A bi-linguist, Katharine gave her acceptance speech to the General Convention after she was elected Presiding Bishop in both English and Spanish. Her husband, Dick Schori, is a retired professor of mathematics and an avid mountain climber and wrestler. I wrote the blessing poem below for all of them. It appeared in the December 2007 issue of Episcopal Life with stunning pictures of Katharine's investiture at our National Cathedral.

A Blessing Poem for Katharine Jefferts Schori,
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

You married Adventure.
Born an Advent woman, you
swim into the deep regions of the sea
to meet more ancient creatures and learn
from them deeper mysteries of the Holy One,
respond with your human gifts to help our species
help those whom we’ve harmed, call us to harm no more.
You greet the Divine alive in the bathosphere,
swim with Christ and dolphins, jellyfish, sunfish,
clams and lobsters, teach us their wonders
when you return. Ever in balance, you climb
high mountains with your mate, follow the glacial flow,
observe the currents and patterns of grace
in every living form. Stretching for the stars you reach
toward stratosphere heights, fly with your daughter
into a God’s-Eye-view of distance and time.

Spirit-led, you study
the currents and winds
of Beyond, celebrate
the holy Within.

Your husband gleans the infinite
through numbers, proportions of wonderment,
the small worlds invisible to thought yet sensed,
demanding exploration, the strange attractors
and fractals comprising all matter— how spirit secretly
marries matter in the human mind, capable of the astonishing,
creating what it imagines, the play of opposites that works,
somehow, beyond all reckoning— he, the man of thought and theory,
knows his own strength, climbs by inner knowledge into the realms
of darkness and light, becomes an Olympic-style wrestler,
while you beside him now say Yes to the strange new angels
who wish to wrestle with you, name you worthy of the dance.
Rest. Work. Play. Explore. All ways of knowing take part
in the wonder of where you are now.
What you need is yours, the One coming to meet you,
refresh you, uphold and inspire you, the Advent God.
Adventure marries you. 

           Alla Renée Bozarth                                                                     
     Diamonds in a Stony Field 
Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved

      The Annunciation

The artist had broken canon law forbidding
   anything holy to extend beyond the borders.

When the angel’s
wing stretched

Past the borders
of the picture,
beyond the icon’s

Frame, into the world
freely, and
the woman listening

Smiled, she smiled
openly, shamelessly,

And women seeing
her smile
smile back

And suddenly discover
they are incapable
of submitting

Any longer
to soul-killing

And feel something
within them

Wanting to laugh
out loud
in the dead-still church,

Wanting to dance,
lift their skirts
and see what

Is being born
from within them
in that moment,

What holy wonder
is coming forth
from inside

Their tired old

Then it will be
the second coming
of Creation

And Christ will live again
in every woman’s

   Alla Renée Bozarth
  Accidental Wisdom
      iUniverse 2003.

In Memory of  Miriam the Prophet
Near the end of the silver anniversary service after Holy Communion, 
the choir of the Church of the Advocate sang uplifting songs 
and I broke into a spontaneous dance of Thanksgiving and Praise.
Dancing toward the Promised Land

I, Miriam, took my tambourine
and finger cymbals with me
out of the land of slavery
with its daily insults and petty
exemptions, and so remain always
ready to dance on the long, long journey,
dance at every victory, beginning with
surviving the Passover, then the strange
occurrence when the Red Sea dried beneath
our feet as we ran, safely passing over the narrow
strip onto the Sinai Peninsula, all the way out
from the land of longing toward the storied memory of Home.

I danced to the song that spilled out of me,
loud up to Heaven, rejoicing on hopeful feet,
rejoicing with arms flying through warm air like wings,
and water followed me all the way through
the great desert, to keep the people alive and faithful.

God knows it may take a long time to return.
It’s been five hundred years, after all.
A long time gone, but our stories keep it alive
in our hearts. I wonder if I’ll live to see it from
the mountains across River Jordan. I wonder
if I’ll be an old woman, and dance down
the side of Mt. Nebo with arms wide open,
heart fluttering strong, leading the way
with cymbals and songs into the Promised Land.

  Alla Renée Bozarth
My Blessed Misfortunes, copyright 2011.
Also shown on the "Jerusalem" post and page.

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