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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

History repeats itself. . .


. . . Herstory doesn't have to.

I am absolutely, deliriously, joyfully up to my armpits in feminist memorabilia.

We're getting ready to celebrate a few anniversaries of a few of the milestone in the movement to ordain women in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

The year of our Lord, 2009, marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, the 30th Anniversary of the founding of the Commission on Women in the Diocese of Newark, the 35th anniversary of the ordination of the so-called 'Philadelphia Eleven', and the 20th anniversary of the consecration of Barbara Clementine Harris as the first woman and (first African-American woman) as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts, and in the Anglican Communion.

WHEW! Were sure were busy 30-35 years ago!

As I type this, I have in my hands the first issue of 'Ruach', the newsletter of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, dated May, 1974.

The first editor was none other than Fran Trott, with whom I spent a delightful two hours of my Wednesday, wadding through her files of newspaper clippings, old editions of Ruach, sermons, booklets, and stacks and stacks and stacks (did I mention STACKS) of books?

The pictures are amazing. I can't wait to get them scanned in so you can see them. Everyone looks so SKINNY - but I'll bet they would all tell you that, then, they felt FAT (It's a feminist issue).

And, everyone looks so very young and tender. Oh, my, how they look young and tender! All doe-eyes and fresh faces and sweet smiles. Makes the heart sing.

Later on, I'll be compiling a list of 120 feminists who shaped the course of Herstory. The idea is to make name tags with their names on the front and a description of their accomplishments on the back.

We're going to use them as a consciousness raising / community building exercise at an event honoring Bishop Barbara's 20th Anniversary and the 35th Anniversary of the Women's Commission we're having here in the diocese in June (that would be the 13th at St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange).

I'll be posting that list just to get some feedback from you about who's who on that list and who else should be there. More on this later.

I just wanted to begin to share some of the stories I've found hidden among the news clippings and written on the back of some old photos.

Let's start with this one:

ROOF BLOWS OFF CONVENTION HALL

On October 4, 1973, delegates of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Convention Hall, Louisville, Kentucky and refused to recognize the call of women to priesthood, mostly by way of a voting system quirk (Note to self: Find out the story behind that little detail).

Almost six months to the day later, on April 3, 1974, a tornado blew the roof off the building. Perhaps a sign of some entering fresh air? A wind of change?

This reminds me of the terrible wind, thunder, lightening and rainstorm we had during General Convention in Minneapolis in 2006, just before we heard about Resolution B033. One might well conclude that the Holy Spirit doesn't respond well to injustice.

Then, there's this, which made me laugh out loud:

ALL-FEMALE (ALMOST) MORNING PRAYER SERVICE IN NJ

At St. Andrew's, Lincoln Park, NJ, Theological Education Sunday this year saw seminarian Abby Painter (now Hamilton) slated for the sermon, and lay reader Frances Trott scheduled for the opening prayers and lessons. Since the Rev. William Rawson never gets to see the Sunday School in session, he decided to leave after the absolution and announcements to visit the children. And he did, leaving Fran and Abby at the altar with - it just 'happened' that day - two female acolytes. The women finished the service. Result? Lots of surprised parishioners. The shock of only one sex at the altar: OR - some actions are worth a thousand pamphlets and resolutions.

Okay, here's why I laughed. At the April Vestry meeting at my 'comfortable little suburban church', we were debriefing Holy Week and Easter and one woman (yes) noted that at one of the Holy Week Services there were . . .(gasp) . . . all women at the altar. Never mind that the two men we had scheduled simply didn't show up and we picked the only other people who are trained to do the job.

It's 2009. And we're concerned about this because . . . .? Were / Are we ever concerned when all men are at the altar? Never mind. I know the answer to that.

Okay, one more and then I'll stop (because I've got PLENTY more. Trust me.)

This is a poem written by Peggy Bosmyer in 1973 in her senior year at Virginia Theological Seminary. She had just returned from the 64th General Convention in Louisville and wrote:

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

I come to you hurt, discouraged
questioning, bewildered

I ask only to serve our Father
as a vessel, a vehicle of his
reconciling love and his
commanding call to responsibility.

I have asked only to accept this
responsibility that you yourselves
have taught me I must do.

You have told me of a God who
has no limits - yet now you
must limit Him.

You have revealed to me a God
who fathers us and loves us
fully -

A God who reveals Himself in
our relationships with others -

Yet now I hear from you that
this Revelation can only
come through men.

You have taught me to worship
a God who suffered Himself
to come to us through the
vehicle of woman.

Yet now you tell me that woman can
not be a vehicle of God's grace.
You have taught me well, thus,
I must reject what you seek
to teach me now.

But if you tell me that it is
only that you are frightened
at these changes
Then I come to you with hand
outstretched and open heart.

I too am afraid of what
Our Lord calls us to now.
I too am lost and bewildered
when over and over again
I am called to leave old
wineskins behind and in
faith take hold of new ones.

But because you have taught
me well
I know to fail to do so means
death.

And so in fear and confidence
I stand where He stands
I walk where He says we
must walk.

And I long that you who
showed Him to me might
one day walk there too.


The letter from VTS, dated March, 1974, granting permission to reprint the poem/letter notes that Ms. Bosmyer had been ordained to the Diaconate and was working in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I don't know if she had been in the ordination track for priesthood. I suspect she was. I didn't find her in the clerical directory, but Bosmyer may have been her name before she married, and/or she may have already retired.

If anyone knows, please contact me. I'd love to hear the rest of her story.

Anyone who walks with Jesus 'in fear and confidence' is someone I'd like to have as a companion on the journey.

Enjoy these?

Stay tuned for more.

10 comments:

whiteycat4104 said...

Great stuff! Let's have more ... and let us know of any celebrations in NJ.

Mary Sue said...

I have to relate this story.

When I was 24 years old*, I was on the search committee at my teeny tiny Episcopal parish in California. We were sorting through the resumes and such, trying to narrow our top six down to two reccommends to forward to the Vestry. I was the youngest person in the room by 25 years.

We had it down to three, who happened to be two women and a man. One of the gentlemen on the search committee very seriously turned to the rest of us and said, "I don't know, considering all our previous pastors, would this parish really accept a man as a pastor?"

They all looked at me oddly as I literally fell out of my chair laughing.**


*I'll be thirty this year. During my time here on Earth, the Episcopal Church has always called women to Holy Orders. That's so cool!
**During my time in a penticharisbaptist church, I did the expected speaking in tongues thing, but usually when the Spirit falls upon me, the Spirit makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Curtis said...

Voting system quirk = vote by orders?

John said...

Lovin' it! Roll it on out sister!

Elaine C. said...

The voting issue is the counting of votes by delegation, split votes equal a "no" -- by individual votes, the measure passed, it was the split opinions resulting in "no" overall that brought the negative outcome.

thejanet said...

I want MORE MORE MORE!! (and can I have permission to share them with some of my NOW friends (with attribution of course)?)

Uh, that's two separate comments, if you say No, can't share, send NOW to here, I still want MORE MORE MORE stories. As someone who has worked for equal rights for women since the late '60s-early '70s, and who is discouraged the last few years at how the fight won doesn't ever seem to STAY won, well, these stories are of great encouragement to me (and why I want to share them, I'm not the only one discouraged).

((You don't have to approve this for posting if you don't want to, it is mainly to you, anyway.))

Janet

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Elizabeth, has it ever occurred to you that, at this point, YOU are part of Episcopal herstory yourself?

Elaine C. said...

For more on the history of women and ordination in the Episcopal Church see the dissertation _To Celebrate A Whole Priesthood: The History Of Women's Ordination in the Episcopal Church_ by Heather Ann Huyck, completed at U of Minnesota, 1981 -- explains the voting issues, and the range of women's organizations pushing for change

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry to be so late in returning here. Just a few things on my plate.

The date for the Newark celebration is Saturday, June 13 from 11-1 at Saint Andrew's/Holy Communion church in South Orange. Bishop Barbara Harris is our guest preacher.

Loved your story, Mary Sue. It reminds me of an early poem which became a song about the Holy Spirit being "he". At the end, the Holy Spirit bubbles into laughter about "he". . ."he, he, he, he, he."

Ah, Curtis, you may be right.

John, just posted another herstory today. 5/29/09

Thank you for that explanation, Elaine.

thejanet - Absolutely - spread the word. You'll see why in today's post.

Kirke - why, I'm way too young to be part of herstory ;~)

Thank, Elaine. Great resource.

JCF said...

I, too, would love to know what happened to Deacon Peggy Bosmyer.

TBTG for all Her holy women!