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Friday, February 10, 2012

Celebrating Women's Ministries

The closing Eucharist for the GOE (General Ordination Exams) was a special event designed by one of our chaplains, the Rev'd Dr. Katharine C. Black. Katharine is Priest in Charge of The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston, MA, a former seminary classmate and someone I am pleased and honored to call my dear friend - proof positive that we're both still crazy after all these years.

Since the year 2012 marks the 35th Anniversary of the "regularization" of the ordination of women, Katharine proposed that we designate a special day on the liturgical calendar in Celebration of Women's Ministries.

She further suggested that we have it on the anniversary of the consecration of the Right Rev'd Barbara Clementine Harris, the first woman to be ordained bishop in The Episcopal Church.

Katherine proposed several wonderful hymns and wrote a collect prayer. I am delighted that she has given me permission to publish her sermon and the collect.

I am doing so in hopes that Katherine's "modest proposal" of a date on our liturgical calendar to celebrate Women's Ministries begins to spark some conversation which in turn will generate a movement to make this a reality.

In the meantime, enjoy the sermon. It's really quite wonderful.

Gracious, energizing God, you fill your faithful people with gifts of leadership, hospitality, and kindness; we thank you for women in all ages, who have heard your voice, received your gifts, and responded as themselves to your call (in particular for the ordination of the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris February 11, 1989:) fill us, too, with the fire and grace of their witness; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and inspires us, now and always. AMEN.
In the name of God who created us from love, saves us through love, and loves us now and always. AMEN.

GOE Set I: Liturgy. Design a Votive Eucharist for a Common of Women’s Ministries, naming date, texts, color, music, and other details of the liturgy, making it useful for a Variety of Women and Their Ministries. Include the homilette you’d preach. Limited Resources: BCP, EOW, BOS, NOAB, authorized hymnals.

A year ago, I realized it would be both nearly Barbara’s (Harris') 23rd anniversary and my 12th and final year here, so I asked for this occasion to consider with all y’all the necessity of the 11th of February being a Day on the Calendar to celebrate Women’s Ministries, in particular.

I was a Deacon when Bishop Harris was elected and ordained. I’d asked my seminary professor what the election would be like, and he said, “Boring. Episcopal elections are boring; you’ll need two books to last the whole time.”

the Rev'd Dr. Katharine C. Black
The voting went back and forth, until the 7th ballot. The rector for whom I worked was the lieutenant for the long-time diocesan faithful male priest, and the rector’d asked me to sit with AND vote with him. With as much ingenue sweetness as I could muster (even then,) I said I’d sit with EDS friends, with my historian friend, behind Sue Hiatt, architect of women’s ordination, and Carter Heyward the most frequent public face of those 11 women.

When Bp. Johnson said, “We have an election,” Sue and Carter looked at each other in wonder, sweetly, and then most people stood up, whooped and hollered. I turned to my friend, “Did you think this was boring? I thought it was pretty exciting.” “No, Katharine; this was not boring.”

Because Feb. 11th secured the knitted row after the ordained women’s row, it’s the date that makes most sense for celebrating Women’s Ministries. What color do you think should be used for this votive?

I think blue for Our Lady and all other women, but it’s Epiphany, so maybe green, so is this blue or green? Yes. (Note: It was teal)

What should the proper preface be? Of the Holy Spirit— “Who (by water and the Holy Spirit has) made us a new people in IX,” or Pentecost, (“lighting upon the disciples, to teach them and to lead them into all truth,”) or a Saint (1) “for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all your saints,” or Apostles—although that may be cheeky, (“after his resurrection) sent forth apostles (to preach,”) or Baptism, (“you have) received us as your sons and daughters, (made us citizens of your kingdom,”) or the seasonal, Epiphany, (“you have caused) a new light (to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son,”) today—that—but in your doing such a liturgy, on 11 Feb, naming “in particular Bishop Harris, and... ” you might choose a more apt preface.

The hard part for me, was, of course, the scripture.

The Canadian BCP has such a votive, but its choices didn’t much suit me, and I’m not a Bible Baptist, so I sent out a plea to my bible churchy friends: to Mary Sulerud, Mary Callaway, Tony Lewis, John Hooker, Kathryn Piccard, Francine Cardman(Church History at Weston-Jesuit,), Sandi Rufo Civitareale, and other wise women and men. Several thought I was casting about for what to say, but really only texts.

Some suggested Bible women I didn’t know, to my shame: Rizpah, Vashti, and Jochabod. I’ve thought for years, that if Jews and, then Christians, had prayed instead of “in the name of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” or even “Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, and Hagar,” but “in the name of Deborah, Jael, Rahab, and Judith,” a different sort of notice would have been given which might have simplified life for women for these eons.

Laurel Ulrich in Good Wives observes that it was such women’s behavior of “feminine strength and assertiveness” that was “proximately problematic for everyone in a woman’s sphere, running against the grain.” Naming such women aloud would have made them part of all our grain, to become whole grain— and we know whole grain’s better for us than just white....

People offered a range of texts. From Hebrew Scripture, the wives of the patriarchs, or wives and spares, and Hannah and Miriam, but I chose Deborah because she sat listening, was a fair judge until rudely attacked, and then found someone to destroy the enemy; patient, effective judging, and a decisive successful winning result— a fine model. The Epistle took choosing, because for almost every woman named, there’s a scholar to say a serious, “But...”

Ephesians, though, asks everyone to grow to adulthood and real maturity. That would help faithful living and mission in any/all worlds.

The Gospel choices were hardest.

The 11original Philadelphia women chose Mary Magdalene, but to me her story sounds like an irregular wife, less a woman of independence who met Jesus and continued as she was, in her best self; she’s almost more a companion—which isn’t a bad thing, but to me doesn’t add much to the Sara/Rachel/Rebecca models, oddly. Mary& Martha are fraught because of the “better” part in one text, and I can’t remember what Bp. Harris used.

This woman, the woman of Syrophonecia, comes in faith to Jesus, and he refuses to help her because she isn’t one of “his.” She refutes him, with her “Even the dogs deserve the crumbs under the table.” Whatever Jesus thought of himself after his baptism, healings, and other wondrous things he’d done, I doubt he expected a foreign woman to argue with him.

He heard her need, but more he heard that he had to expand his thinking and doing, beyond “his” sheep, and look around to help out in the whole world. Jesus, Son of God, Savior of the world, learned, changed his mind, grew, expanded and updated his vision, because a strong woman taught him more about his own nature than he’d known about himself—so she’s my choice.

Were you to do such a commemorative service, these are the elements you’d juggle.

What lists would you include in your “And in particular...” I’d start with Phillipa from In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, even though she’s fictional, Sr. Luke from The Nun’s Story, Willa Cather, Rose Macaulay, Dorothy L. Sayers, and P. D. James. They’ve taught me about vocation from the time I found their books.

Florence Li Tim-Oi
I know I’d make a day with Florence Li Tim-Oi, (even though she now has her own day,) with Sue Hiatt, Carter Heyward, and maybe Anne Robbins, the first woman to celebrate for GBEC.

I might have a music day including Kathleen Thomerson, Lesbia Scott, Cecil Frances Alexander, and Ruth Boshkoff. Maybe I’d have an NT day, with Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary&Martha, Anna, Phoebe, Dorcas, and all, or a church history group of—who’d you pick—Monnica, Macrina, Clare, Hildegard, Joan of Arc, Hilda of Whitby, Margaret of Scotland? Maybe Joan of Arc should be in a Women of Politics day, with Queen Elizabeths I and II, Victoria, Mary Dyer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, Jane Addams, and who was the first woman Senator, President of a major university or general/admiral?

Maybe I’d include the men who’ve been of support and help, Bp Ladehoff, and our bishops here, a flock of musicians and MC’s who haven’t batted an eye to play an octave higher for women’s chant, or to teach us patiently what we’d not been taught earlier because we’d never need such, to be thurifers, move in liturgical patterns as though when they taught us, it was as ordinary, as it now seems to some.

Holy Women, Holy Men does a fine job in coloring in many days on the calendar with people who’ve served in a variety of ways. The models for women have been expanded from the earlier common ones of young, beautiful, tortured, and suffering an early death, or celibate, plaster and emaciated.

Still there needs to be a Common of Women in Ministry date, and it should be on February 11th. Who’d be on your list? What lists would you develop? Women of Principle? Teachers? Unnamed women who just served?

Your best English teacher, and your kindergarten teacher who taught you to read, to love reading for life, your first woman math or science teacher, who taught women could do science as well or better—that gender didn’t matter for science. Or women artists? Mary Cassatt and who else?

Women poets— Emily Dickinson— “The supper of the heart is when the guest has gone,” a memorable thought on Eucharist, and Pattiann Rogers’ poem, “I have a need to adore,”—I fear leaving out individuals and categories.

Who’re yours? Who taught you to follow Christ as YOU are, not in someone else’s shoes or model? Who allowed you to follow Christ? Who helped you argue with, talk to Jesus to help him understand the world as it has become, so that he —with your work —your whole-hearted heart and mind’s work, play, and life—could further the coming of the reign of God?

Do develop your own observances for 11 Feb. remembering: “Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make this earthly pilgrimage with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to do kindness.”

It’s to our best selves we’re called. We give thanks for those who’ve prepared and are preparing a path for us, and for our own modest path-making, until Jesus welcomes us, each and all, into Paradise forever: Good News.

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