Thirty years of Women's Ordination
The Rev. Joy A. Daley, St. Thomas the Apostle: The journey into a calling sometimes takes many twists and turns. I grew up Roman Catholic and my early grounding in the faith gave me a love for the sacraments and a desire to serve God in his Church. After completing a Bachelors degree in Psychology I took a year to participate in a volunteer program for Catholic laywomen. I moved from MA to Baltimore and served in parish ministry, visiting the sick, working with the youth and starting a program for the elderly in which they used their needlework skills to make dolls for daycares in the inner city. I loved the work of parish ministry. At the end of the year I returned to MA and sought similar work as a layperson in the Catholic Church. Many doors were closed to me. I then thought that perhaps I could serve God in the secular world so I went on to pursue an MA in Counseling and to a degree felt that I was fulfilling my role to serve God in my work as a therapist. During this period I married, and began raising two children. Slowly, I drifted away from the church as I experienced how women were shut out of many roles in the church.
After moving to Texas in the late 1980’s I realized that I wanted a church home for my children, a place where they could be nurtured in their faith. I also had a hunger for the sacramental life that had been my grounding. I knew the Episcopal Church was a sacramental one so I got out the yellow pages to see if there was one nearby, and there was, St Anne Episcopal Church. I have often joked that the Holy Spirit moves through the yellow pages! I called the rector to make an appointment. He welcomed my questions and invited me to come worship. When I walked into that worship space felt a sense of the holy and as we participated in the service I knew I had come home. On my first Maundy Thursday after having my feet washed, that sense of being called to ministry in the church re-emerged. I tried to discount it as emotional but it would not go away. After several months, I went to talk with my rector about a possible call to ordained ministry, but the very first person I shared a sense of call to the priesthood with was my lifelong friend who happens to be a Roman Catholic nun. She encouraged me to answer this call. It was a long road with many twists and turns. I am grateful to the Rev. Gerry Sevick who shepherded me through that process and to the Rev. George Luck and the Rev. Doug Travis who were served on the Commission on Ministry. They affirmed a call to the priesthood when for me it would have been less complicated for my life to become a deacon. Their affirmation gave me the courage to respond to a call that both scared me but also helped me to truly live into who God called me to become. Bishop Stanton allowed me to begin my studies at Brite Divinity school so that my family’s life would not be so disrupted. I am grateful for his willingness to listen to the COM’s recommendations.
As I was going through the ordination process I had the opportunity to hear and read the stories of women in the diocese who had gone before me at a time when there was much resistance. They were willing to answer their call in the face of many roadblocks. Those women paved the way for women like myself by not giving up, by following their hearts and the guidance of the Holy Spirit At the first General Convention I attended in 2003 I met Gwen Buehrens, the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of Dallas at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration back in 1985 There were bomb threats on that day but she and all those assembled went forward to answer God’s call. As we stood in the exhibition hall at convention chatting, the Rev. Buehrens told me that she really wasn’t the type of person to want to go out on a limb and be controversial and yet God called her to be ordained at a time when the church here did not seem quite ready. She was another example of a sister in Christ who was willing to step out so that God could work through her and the road was opened for women coming after to live into the ministry into which they had been called. I am so grateful to be on this journey of ordained ministry. I never know what circumstances await me around the next turn in the road, but I know that the Holy Spirit is there guiding and providing all that is needed for the journey ahead and for that I am forever grateful.
Deacon Diana Luck, St. Matthew’s Cathedral: I knew when I was 16 years old that I was being called, but back then they didn’t have ordained women. I thought I would be missioner or a nun but neither of those worked out. In the meantime, I married and had a family, still wondering where God was calling me.
During the General Convention in 1976 they voted on whether women would be ordained. Back then they had to count by hand – it was a long wait. I was blessed to be in the room when they announced that women would be able to get ordained. It was a powerful moment. Such a wonderful thing for women, it was tremendous. But, I knew I was not called to be a priest and I had never heard of a deacon.
In the early 80’s, after moving to Texas, I met a woman who was a transitional deacon. Somehow, meeting her help me to know that I was called to be a deacon, even though I did not know what that meant. It took two years for me to get the nerve to tell my husband, ‘I feel called to be a deacon.’
Susan Price and I were the first two women deacons ordained by Bishop Stanton. I have never ever doubted that I was called to be a deacon. The thing about the diaconate is that it is a wide-open ministry. We are called to help so many in need, and we have so many ways of ministering. We are closely connected to the laity and the bishop. It’s a beautiful ministry. It adds to the fullness of the church to have laity, bishops, priests and deacons. We have different roles and we serve the same Lord in different ways.
The Rev. Leslie Stewart, Church of the Annunciation: I was a prodigal. God called me early in life. I was so certain of my call I turned down an appointment to the Air Force Academy to enlist and pay my way through Bible College, greatly upsetting my family. I ended up in Special Operations and loved it. For me, “the distant country” became many distant countries. My husband and I spent most of the 1990s in the Middle East and any other terrorist “hot spot” in the world. My ego was hooked after I was awarded Airman of the Year for the 1st Special Operations Wing my first year in the service, and I decided I would have a military career instead. I forgot about God’s call to me, though I can look back now and see how much time I spent listening to distraught airmen and see the beginnings of pastoral care. And I remember how passionate I was about caring for and training my people as I rose through the ranks – the beginnings of discipleship.
I began the slow walk back to the Father in 2000. By this time I had received a commission and had completed Physiology Officer Flight Training. I was an Aerospace Physiologist at the Euro-Nato Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard Air Force Base. I trained pilots and aircrews in the physiology of flight, putting them in a centrifuge, altitude chamber, ejection seat trainer, parachute landing trainer or Barany chair to make my points. Mainly I was the pilot community’s story keeper and storyteller. I gave briefings on aircraft crashes and mishaps so they wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. I participated in aircraft mishap investigations as the member most aware of why humans make errors. Although I loved my job, I came to my senses while giving career counseling to one of my airmen. She told me she wanted to do exactly what I had done and become an officer and Aerospace Physiologist. She said, “You must be so happy now. You’ve accomplished all your goals and you’re doing everything you wanted to do.” I realized I wasn’t happy and in fact, I felt empty inside. I went home that night and prayed for the first time in a long time. I asked God if there was anything else he wanted of my life.
God immediately came running down that road to me. I prayerfully began to transition out of my Air Force career. I transferred to a Reserve F-16 unit in Fort Worth as their Human Factors expert. That gave me time to focus on my young family and figure out what was next as I returned to church and to bible study and prayer. When I prayed asking about my call, the first thing I heard was, “I want you to use this book (scripture) to help heal people.” That could have meant any number of things. It was a question and mystery I would hold for a while. Responding to the call meant I had to get comfortable with mystery. Advent of 2004 was a particularly fruitful time in my prayer life. Then at a Christmas Eve service God opened my heart further and added to the mystery. The Gospel reading was from Luke 2. Verse 19 grabbed hold of me in a way that words fail. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I knew in that moment that God was telling me to pay attention to what he was about to reveal.
On a drill weekend my pilots brought in an honored guest, a special operator they had worked with on the ground to guide them to targets. He had recently been decorated by the Secretary of the Air Force and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his work in Afghanistan. He immediately recognized me when he came into the squadron. I had led some of his leadership training years before when we served together. He asked if we could meet later to talk. He was being celebrated as a hero by the whole world but to me he began to pour out his heart about his failing marriage and his estranged relationship with his son. In my head I heard the word, “absolution.” I asked him what he needed forgiveness for. I cannot share the rest of our conversation but it was a moment of healing for both of us. I gave him an assurance of God’s forgiveness. He gave me a critical piece of my puzzle. I learned later that week in my Aspirant group that there are three things that only priests can do on behalf of the church, one of which is offer absolution. I knew my call was to the sacred order of priests.
Mine was a long journey to ordination. I became a spiritual director first at a 6-week in-resident program at a Benedictine monastery. While there, I was notified of my acceptance to seminary. I needed the time in seminary to discover where and to whom I was being called to serve. I spent much of my time meditating on the Kingdom of God and on the sacraments. I came to see the Church itself as the prime sacrament and knew I was to serve in the Church as a parish priest. During an internship the final year of seminary I discovered I am shaped like a church planter, something I had no previous interest in and for which I had received no training. When I was challenged to go into a new area and try to build relationships and do ministry, I learned it required a skillset that came easily to me although it is difficult work. Maybe the many times I deployed to new places and set up operations was perfect preparation for my call. I’ve learned God doesn’t waste a thing, and I am never out of his hand.
The thing about prodigals is they have no fear in talking to the lost, the un-churched, de-churched, or the “nones.” We know the party isn’t out there. It’s in here – in the Church. Prodigals know what we all truly hunger for is the Father’s blessing. Something other forms of community can only vaguely attempt to fill and the value of which can only be fully appreciated after we realize how undeserving we really are to receive it. Oh, the JOY when we realize we are loved anyway! Once we’re in on that party, we want to keep inviting people.
Since ordination I’ve started ministry at The Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville in Community Engagement and New Member Integration. People ask me what I like best about being a priest and the truth is that I love all of it. I love leading people as they discern a way forward for the community. I love visioning and strategic planning. I find great joy in identifying, growing and equipping leaders for ministry. I love the pastoral conversations and the tasks associated with taking care of people in all stages of life. Worship and the sacraments, preaching and teaching, I realize I am still a story keeper and storyteller but in a much more meaningful and fuller way. Now with my stories I don’t just prevent death, I help God bring healing and restoration. That’s what happens when we can connect our story with God’s story. In Luke 9:2 I’ve found resolution to the mystery I held for so many years, “And Jesus sent them out to preach the kingdom and to heal the sick.” In this I have found the happiness and fulfillment I longed for and in it I have been found. I am home.
Archdeacon Rosemary Trei, St. Luke's in Dallas: Why I felt the call to ordained ministry…or more appropriately, who were the people and the experiences that God chose to be messengers for me. The path of my call to ordained ministry began, in God’s plan, with the beginning of my life. But I did not become aware of His plan until much, much later.
Oddly, as I reflect on my journey, conscious awareness probably began when I viewed my time serving as Senior Warden at St. Paul’s in Oak Cliff as a blessed opportunity. Not many can say that serving as Sr Warden is a time of blessing! But for me it was…because I became aware of the true blessing of being a member of the family of God in a church community. It was an amazing time of reaching out and connecting with my brothers and sisters at St. Paul’s, and around our diocese. God put many people in my life to encourage me to pursue a ministry of service…one “Barnabas” was our rector, Mother Dru Ferguson, who encouraged me to attend Anglican School where my thirst for theological studies quickly emerged; another “Barnabas” was a fellow student who encouraged me to “seek the diaconate…you have a spark for it”; still another “Barnabas” was our new interim rector, Father Bill Scheel. Shortly after he arrived at St Paul’s, he asked me why I was attending Anglican School…and haltingly, I put into words for the first time “perhaps to discern a call to the diaconate.” His prompt response: “That makes sense” caught me off guard, but opened my heart and mind to proceed consciously with discernment. My husband Charlie also was, and is, a “Barnabas” for me…encouraging me to live into my call to ordained ministry and supporting me in love even though my ministry has turned our plans for retirement upside down. I am truly blessed by his continued, unconditional support.
What do I like about being clergy? I like that being ordained has helped me to be better “tuned in” to the Holy Spirit. I would like to think that I would have grown into a more receptive relationship to the guidance of the Spirit even without ordination…but I don’t know. I am more intentional about seeking times of quiet and reflection…especially in my preparation for pastoral care visits, in preparing to serve at the altar, and in preparing lessons for Adult Christian Education classes and Bible Study, and words and reflections for homilies. The joy of experiencing the guidance of the Holy Spirit...the words gifted, the nudges to be silent, the proddings to act…all bring me great joy. I am blessed by the openness with which people will share their concerns with me, the trust they have that I will listen and not judge, and that I will help them focus on God’s faithful and healing presence with them. I love using my gifts as a teacher to prepare and present opportunities for others to grow in their love and knowledge of God’s Holy Word. I am also blessed by my position as shepherd of the community of deacons. How wonderful it is to get to know each of our deacons, and to encourage them in their amazing and varied service for our Lord. I look forward to serving with our bishops as they visit other churches, allowing me to connect with people in parishes all around our diocese. Through my Jubilee Ministry work I have enjoyed helping many parishes establish and continue ministry to those in need. It is a joy to be on committees and to worship at special celebrations with clergy and lay ministers throughout our diocese. As archdeacon and also as Jubliee Officer for our diocese, I have worked with many faithful servants from around the country in our church and learned so much from their examples of servant leadership. In short…connecting with others throughout the church enriches my life. Simply put: I am blessed by the sense that I am where God wants me to be!
Deacon Pam Dunbar, St. Matthew’s Cathedral: I felt called to be a deacon before I even knew about the order of deacons. For years I knew was called to something and also knew it wasn’t the priesthood or lay leadership. I wanted to serve both the church and the world, to be involved in some kind of bridge ministry between the two. Then I met Deacon Dorothy Michaelsen in 1977, and began to learn about this new thing that seemed so familiar and fit the ‘call shape’ I had been carrying in my heart. I finally felt at home in ministry! Deacons are ministers of the door, and I love the view of the world and the church that standing on the threshold brings. One of the reasons I felt drawn to the diaconate was because of its emphasis on leading others into service, and not simply doing it all oneself; reminding people that the Prayers of the People each Sunday are really their marching orders. I will celebrate 30 years as a deacon next October, and the challenge of bringing the needs of the world to the attention of the Church as well as encouraging the Church to meet those needs in the name of Jesus Christ is still as fresh and energizing as it was in 1985.