Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The Philadelphia Eleven: A Herstory of Women and Ants
It seems like only yesterday.
It was, in fact, July 29, 1974.
Which makes today the 34th Anniversary of the “Philadelphia Eleven” – the eleven brave women who were, the church would come to say, “irregularly ordained” by four courageous bishops.
The so-called irregularity resulted from the fact that although there was no specific canon that specifically prohibited ordaining women to the priesthood, the canons required a recommendation from the standing committee. The eleven women who were ordained that historic morning in July did not have such recommendation.
On August 15, 1974, the House of Bishops, called to an emergency meeting, denounced the ordinations and declared them invalid. Charges were filed against the bishops who ordained the women and attempts were made to prevent the women from serving their priestly ministries.
In September 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate.
Anything sound even vaguely familiar here? In the midst of the Lambeth Conference, I am feeling like it is "deja vu all over again."
It reminds me of a story by a woman who was one of a long line of people who struggled in the second half of the eighteen hundreds in South Africa that women and blacks might eventually be treated as children of God. You have probably never heard her name but she is part of the long line that led to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. This is a story of God as told by Olive Schreiner of South Africa.
A woman on a journey asks, "Why do I go to this far land where no one else has gone before? I am alone, utterly alone. My efforts seem so futile. Who am I to change anything, to make any kind of difference?"
A wise old one, who stood close by, bid her to be silent and to listen to what she heard. She listened intently and finally said, "I hear the sound of feet, of a thousand times ten thousand feet that beat their way." The wise one said "They are the feet of those who shall follow you. Lead on. Go into the new land. Go directly to the water's edge. Where you stand now the ground will be beaten flat by thousands upon thousands feet."
She said, "How will I cross the stream?"
The wise one said, "Have you seen the locust how they cross the stream? First one comes down to the water's edge and it is swept away, an then another comes and another. At last with their bodies piled up, one on the other, a bridge is built that the rest pass over."
She said, "But, of those that came first, some are swept away and are heard of no more; their bodies do not even build a bridge."
“Yes,” the wise one responded, "Yes, and are swept away and are heard of no more. And, what of that?"
"And, what of that?" she echoed in amazement.
"They make a path to the water's edge." the wise one answered.
"And, over the bridge which shall be built of our bodies who will pass?", she asked.
The response of the wise one was: "The entire human race!"
And, the woman grasped her staff and turned down the path toward the water.
This is a story of God.
Let us sing the praises of our brave "ant-ies" on whose backs we all stand, forming a bridge as the pathway to the liberation promised in Christ Jesus.
Philadelphia 11 are:
Alla Bozarth (Campell)
Emily C Hewitt
I. Carter Heyward
Suzanne R. Hiatt (deceased 2002)
Jeanette Piccard (deceased 1981)
Betty Bone Schiess
Katrina Welles Swanson (deceased 2006)
Nancy Hatch Witting
Robert L DeWitt
Edward R Welles
Assisting: Antonio Ramos