Saturday, June 18, 2011

Women priests

"How good does a female athlete have to be before we just call her an athlete?"

I've written here before about the tremendous influence my mother has had on me, specifically professionally. Taking a step back, here are the women who, in many ways, also helped me become who I am.

Photo credits here and below go to Rene Sanchez.

You are looking at a photo of women clergy, assembled last weekend to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the ordination of women to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Montreal.

None of these women have walked an easy path; their strength and professionalism are incredibly inspiring to me. I am proud to be the daughter of the eighth woman priest ordained in the Anglican Diocese of Montreal; I am proud to know some of the women priests who came before and after her.

I do not talk about what my parents do/did for a living very often. As a child and young adult, I rarely mentioned it, afraid I would be judged to be an evangelical nitwit. In my old age (ha), I now sometimes throw it out there, to see what reaction I will get. The best reaction I have ever had was that of a very intelligent and sensitive colleague of mine recently. She thoughtfully and delicately inquired next whether I still attended church, before continuing the conversation. In my heart, I thought, damn right, that's the question I've been waiting to be asked! The answer is, not really.

When pressed, I usually say that I have seen the best and the worst in people through my time in the Church. My experiences have been varied, and very valuable: I come from a small family, and in times of great crisis (my father's death), I have felt supported. Years later, Anglicans still go out of their way to share lovely memories of him with me. For an only child, those experiences were priceless. I have also learned about management, leadership, community, compassion, humanism, power struggles, pettiness, harassment, discrimination, human rights (see also -- violations of), scholarship, philosophy, intellectual rigour, volunteer management, building maintenance, fundraising, archives, choral singing, public speaking, and professional development (oh, don't worry, I'm sure I forgot about a dozen other things in there).

Here's your history minute: The Rev. Canon James (at left, in pale pink) was the 12th woman to become a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, and the first in the Diocese of Montreal, when she was ordained in 1978 (at that time, "in her early 50s and already the holder of two doctorates," observed a recent article in the Montreal Anglican, in the kind of throw-away reference in these stories that just blows my mind). Others followed in 1980, 1982, and 1985, and then the fifth to be ordained was the amazing Dr. Patricia Kirkpatrick (at far left, in black). In May of 1989, my mother (at left, in blue) was ordained with her friend and colleague, Aloha Smith; both were remarkable also in that they were the wives of Anglican priests already in the Diocese.

My mother was the first woman priest in every parish in which she served.

I have known women who served in parishes where congregants would not take communion from them (every week, for years). I have known women who were verbally and physically harassed, and have either spoken out about it, or not, and who have either been believed and supported, or not. I have known women whose parishioners - or fellow clergy - made snide remarks about their hair, their earrings, their fondness for the colour purple, their loud voices, their heavy foot, their children/spouse or lack of children/spouse, or their age (to name but a few things!) I have also known parishioners and fellow clergy who have gone out of their way to include women priests, working alongside them, quietly or loudly confirming their right to be where they are. I have known women who, through all this, blazed a trail of faith, equality, compassion and dignity that is simply exemplary for the Church, and for the human race.

Their remarkable stories are the ones that librarians and archivists should be collecting, and honouring, through oral history projects, archival fonds, and private collections. I was thrilled to hear that a small archival display was put together for last week's event, featuring photographs, gifts, communion sets, and other information donated by the women and available through the Diocesan archives (at right).

To paraphrase one of the women themselves, whatever I say here, it could not possibly be enough.

Of course, I can't close this post without some book tie-ins (see - you thought I was totally off-topic today, didn't you? Have faith, readers!)
  • The theological writings of Elaine Pagels or Rosemary Radford Ruether
  • Bread not Stone by E. Schussler Fiorenza
  • Readings in Her Story, edited by B. J. MacHaffie
  • Feminist theology with a Canadian accent (no, I did not make that title up!)
And, for a lighter touch:
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming's mysteries about a woman Episcopal priest in the U.S.
  • Beneath the Cassock by Joy Carroll—the British priest on whom The Vicar of Dibley was based

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully done. Your respect permeates every sentence.