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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It was 25 years ago today

I was ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of St. Luke, 1986, at The Episcopal Church of St. Ann in Lowell, MA. I was part of that first 10 year wave of "regularly" ordained women in The Episcopal Church.

So many of the women I meet in the church have absolutely no idea what it was like to not have women in roles of ordained leadership in the church. To go through the ordination process with an extra measure of scrutiny and skepticism - just because of your gender.

I have this very clear memory of one woman on the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Maine, which was my first canonical residence. I had been given a necklace by Brooke Alexander, the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of Maine. It was a woman's symbol - you know - a circle with a cross on the bottom. It was small, silver and quite discrete.

She gave it to me to wear during my interviews because, she said, when others see it, it will look like a woman's symbol. But, when you look down at it, you'll remember that your role is to represent Christ to the world.

I want you to know that I was grilled - interrogated - by this woman for a full 10 minutes about that necklace. Hand to Jesus.

She wanted to know what it meant. I told her. She wanted to know what it meant to me. I told her. She wanted to know if it had some "hidden meaning". I said no. She was not convinced. She plummeted me with question after question until I finally started to look around the room at the four other people who were part of the "interview team", pleading with my eyes into their eyes for some relief.

Finally .... FINALLY.... someone called her off but by that time she had worked herself up into a lather, poor dear. I don't think I'll ever forget the look in her eyes. And, that wasn't about my sexuality. That was about my gender. She was Very Clear that women were "not suitable material" for ordination.

So, I look today at women who have been ordained in the last, say, 10 years, and I marvel at the fact that most of them grew up in a church where there has always been ordained women - in the diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy.

They have no idea and, it seems, no real desire to learn about history.  They can therefore make no connection between the discrepancy in either the vocational opportunities or compensation packages between themselves and their male colleagues.

They think it's just a tough economic time for everyone. And, it is, of course, but that doesn't explain the continued disparity in vocational calls and compensation between men and women. Except, of course, that institutional sexism is not much more subtle and, therefore, more difficult to discern.

One interesting statistic from the Ms. Foundation is that 36% of men negotiated the terms of their first position, while only 6% of women did. I think that says something that's pretty powerful about the expectations of our culture and us as individuals.

And, I think, it's a pretty serious called to ministry for the church, to help young women have the confidence and the ability to negotiate for the compensation they deserve.

Perhaps that's what I'll start doing in the next 25 years of my ordained career. What? You think I'm done, just because I hit a major milestone?

No. Way. I'm heading into NYC in just a few minutes, heading in to join the folks at Occupy Wall Street. I'm meeting up with some friends and later, my daughter.

There's still lots of work to be done. In some ways, it's just beginning.

I can't imagine a better time or place to be a Christian who is an Episcopalian. That I've had the privilege of 25 years of ordained service in the church is an additional blessing.

I am deeply, deeply grateful. So, off I go to make "Eucharist" - to offer a 'sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving' by presenting my 'self, my soul and body' to the souls and bodies on Wall Street.

It's going to be a great day.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Blessings and congratulations, dear Elizabeth. Have a great day! It was a tough row to hoe, but you and the other early women priests did it, and the younger women reap the harvest today. Still, I know all is not yet well and equal in our church, but we're getting there.

it's margaret said...

Amen. Alleluia!

God bless you in your continued ministry --we are certainly blessed by your presence and witness. Throw a kiss at Wall Street for me!!

IT said...

Congratulations on your anniversary! The momentum is forward though at time it feels like walking through treacle.

Muthah+ said...

Puppy! 8>D

It is interesting being in FTW and going through it all again. "What do we call you?" "Oh, you aren't a Sister?"

And more than anything is the grateful looks of mothers' of daughters who bring their children to the altar rail. That part of women's ministry is what I cherish.

Josephine said...

Ah Elizabeth. Not all younger clergy don't know history, or care about it. We do. And many of us have faced our own difficulties, yes even today.

I was ordained a priest just this August. But I grew up in a culture that said women priests were just not right, and didn't believe it was possible until I left that area and went to college somewhere progressive (OK, not really, just someplace that actually lived in the 1990s).

My own ordination process included questions that would have never been asked of a man. And I have deep love and respect for the women who went before me, many of them are my mentors and friends and have helped me get where I am.

I dearly hope someday it really WILL be simply assumed that women and men are equally suited for ministry, but we aren't there yet in many places and we young'uns are still fighting the good fight, though a different version of it!


Joanna Depue said...

Peace and blessing, Elizabeth -- on you and your continuing, diverse ministries. How lucky can a girl get -- two anniversaries in the same month! Thank you for your voice and witness.

Fran said...

What a beautiful post to read. Congratulations on all that you have done and thank you as well. You are a light in the world!

Turtle woman said...

I think the Episcopal church should publish all the salaries of all the priests in America, and have a complete breakdown by name of all the clergy by race, sex etc. That way, there could be an open analysis of just how badly women continue to be paid, and it would be glaring. Put it all out on the table.

In my industry, the higher up I went the less and less women there are. I'm one of less than 5% women and the only out lesbian in my position. That those men are sexist to the core, and rotten in the teeth is why I think so much of women's liberation just didn't push down the barriers yet.

So I say make salaries everywhere public info, and companies have to be serverly fined for having women paid less. We're talking maybe back wages for every woman paid less for the last 50 years. Now that would be a bail out of all bail outs. Me, I give 75 cents on the dollar to males whenever I can, and $1.25 on the dollar to all women workers I can. I make sure I tell the men that it's time for them to see what that feels like! Occupy Wall Street, well watch out for the male rapists, and for the men hogging the mics and excluding the women as usual. I'd say the male pay differential is more horrifying over the last 700 years than Bernie Madoff.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments. I had an incredible day occupying Wall Street. More on this later.

Jo+ I'm delighted to know that there are some younger women clergy who are at least aware of the struggle. That's not been my experience and I'm always delighted to have that changed.

Turtle Woman - What a novel idea. Transparency in the church. Why, you radical you ;~)

MadPriest said...

To go through the ordination process with an extra measure of scrutiny and skepticism - just because of your gender.

I think they were probably keeping an eye on you because you were opbviously a bolshie "troublemaker." Nothing to do with your gender :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, you've always been able to figure me out, Jonathan.

textjunkie said...

Congratulations on the 25th!! We just had an ordination a week or so ago of an older woman (she's already an awesome priest, but actually being ordained was both a 2nd career and a long slow haul), and the woman ordaining her had been a priest for nigh on 30 years or so--speaking as someone who was a teenager when you were ordained, it is *fascinating* to talk to the older women about what it was like, what they have faced, how they dealt with it. I am absolutely flabbergasted by it even though I know it is still going on today (my dad won't take communion from a woman, for example).

What's funny is at my church our rector was out most of the summer, and replacing her were a raft of other priests, both male and female. The first time it was a male priest serving, one of the little boys in the congregation turned to his mom and asked, "What's he doing up there? Can he DO that?" Honest to god, the rector heard that from the boy's mom when she was back. I had to cheer!! Yes, we have achieved role reversal. :)

whiteycat said...

Elizabeth, congratulations on this special occasion! Many blessings on your present and future ministry. You are indeed a blessing on those who read this blog.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

textjunkie - not completely but we are at least making strides.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks again to everyone who left such kind and wonderful remarks here. Please read the next post on how I spent my anniversary - with the folks at Occupy Wall Street.

JCF said...

I'm just now remembering the present my brother and I gave my parents on their 25th wedding anniversary: a silver (natch) champagne cooler.

I wish you something similarly celebratory. Mazel Tov! :-D

[wv, "catess": Catholicos-who-happens-to-be-female? ;-)]

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Thanks. I went to Occupy Wall Street. I couldn't have given myself a better present.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I for one, am very grateful that day happened 25 years ago!