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Monday, July 16, 2012

EWC: Last Things

A farewell gift from The Caucus - now hanging on my wall
Note: With the ending of General Convention, my term as National Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus is coming to an end. This is my reflection on my 10 year term (two more than expected) which appeared in the latest edition of Ruach, the publication of the EWC. To read the entire issue, please visit our webpage. You can also order merchandise and become a member of The Caucus and receive a print version of Ruach.

The Caucus board has been part of my life for the last 10 years – 8 in a position of leadership – during which we’ve seen the election and consecration of the first woman to be Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Primate of the Anglican Communion. At the same time, we have the second woman in the history of our church serving as President of the House of Deputies.

Latest issue of Ruach can be found here
In the past ten years, we’ve also seen the election of fifteen women to the episcopacy in the Anglican Communion (Canada (3), Australia (2), and Cuba), nine of whom were elected bishops suffragan in The Episcopal Church (SVA, MA, Olympia, TX, CT, El Camino Real, DC, and two in LA).

In 2007, Jane Alexander, Edmonton (Canada) became Bishop after the resignation of Victoria Matthews. It was the first time a woman diocesan bishop has followed another woman in the Anglican Church. Meanwhile, the Church of England continues to try and find ways to inhibit the appointment and consecration of women to the episcopacy.

With the October 16, 2010, ordination of Margaret Lee, in the Peoria-based Diocese of Quincy, Illinois, women have been ordained as priests in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States. 

Finally! It has only taken 38 years since the “Philadelphia Eleven” were “irregularly” ordained. As Elizabeth Janeway once said, “We haven't come a long way, we've come a short way.  If we hadn't come a short way, no one would be calling us baby.”

We have experienced an incredible amount of growth and change in terms of women in ordained leadership, and yet we have not seen a woman elected as diocesan bishop in The Episcopal Church since Marianne Edgar Budde was elected in 2011. Prior to that election, Mary Gray-Reeves was elected in El Camino Real in 2007 and Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in Nevada in 2001. 

The last time a woman of ethnic minority status was elected to the episcopacy was Bavi Edna “Nedi” Rivera in 2005, who joined Barbara Harris (1989), Carol Joy Gallagher (2002), and Gayle Harris (2003) in the House of Bishops. Mary Glasspool (2010) is the first lesbian in that House. 

No woman of color has ever been elected a bishop diocesan.

When you consider that seven women in the episcopacy have retired in the past decade, three of whom were bishops diocesan, you begin to realize that any advances we’ve made have not kept up with the losses we’ve experienced.

Why is that? Why aren’t more women being elected to the episcopacy?

Lambeth Bishops 1998
Tired of being the token woman on the slate, or feeling set up – unintentionally or not – against another woman or person of color or an LGBT person to split the vote so the white, straight guy is elected, many women have told us that, even though they may feel called to the episcopacy, the election process seems counter-productive to their understanding of what it means to be Church, much less the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Other women have told us that they prefer parish ministry, finding it satisfying in unexpected and joyful ways to lead a community of faith into the mission of the church, deepening the spirituality of those they serve through prayer and study and liturgy, and being part of the formation of a new generation of Christians.

Still other women – lay and ordained – are finding new ways to do mission and ministry both inside and outside of the institutional church where they are not weighed down by anxiety about a perception of scarcity and the institutional impulse to protect and preserve itself while it consumes energy in worried, confused conversations about structure and governance.

Rather than a return to the genesis of the church and the imperatives of the Gospel, “mission” is being spoken of as the new “silver bullet” to kill the demons of decline in growth, flaccid evangelism and growing financial insecurity. This led one of my colleagues to muse: When we see new people walk in our red church door, do we see a dollar sign or the sign of the cross?

New ways of being in community are emerging. The igniting spark may be an issue of social justice or Gospel imperative or just world-weariness and spiritual hunger and thirst.

It may be the desire to be nourished for ministry by gathering in someone’s home, sharing a community meal and the stories of our lives followed by Eucharist. No church politics. No building to heat and maintain. No “Killer B’s”: Budgets, Boilers and Bishops.

Or, it may be the longing for a new form of monasticism – living in the world and using technology to stay in communication and pray in ‘real time’ as a way to be in a faith community over miles of distance.

Lambeth Bishops 2008
The War on Women has opened the eyes of many women and men who now see that progress is not secure and can be reversed, even on seemingly settled, non-controversial issues such as birth control. The growing disparity between rich and poor and the diminishing middle class has sparked the Occupy Movement.

We may have a Black man in the White House but racism has never been more virulent or repugnant. Marriage Equality is making slow and steady gains even as LGBT adolescents continue to be bullied to death. Immigration reform seems locked in the twin stranglehold of bureaucracy and xenophobia while the children of immigrants persist in their dream of becoming productive, contributing citizens in the only country they know as their home.

New models of leadership are emerging which are more circular in nature, with shared authority and shared tasks and clarity about the commonality of purpose and goals. We’ll be hearing from House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson about this at the Triennial Caucus Breakfast in Indianapolis.

The members of The Caucus Board reflect all of these realities. Some of us are anxious about our financial forecast while others of us have never been more clear and excited about the mission and ministry of the church, or their own contribution to the work of the Gospel outside the institutional church structures.

Our membership base is declining even as our FaceBook has over 780 members and our Webpage has seen increasing amounts of activity. We’ve “gone green” and now publish Ruach online and not in print. Our electronic newsletter, “The Monthly Caucus” keeps our membership base informed.

No one seems to have the time, energy or money for conferences or workshops, but the Triennial Caucus breakfast continues to be on everyone’s “must do” list during General Convention.

We struggle not to be discouraged when people stroll over to our Convention Booth and say to us, “The Episcopal Women’s Caucus? What’s that?”

A new way of being leaders in community is emerging for us and the jury is still out about our embrace of its effectiveness. The new model makes wonderful sense in theological and philosophical terms but the pragmatics can be a bit daunting.

It’s so much easier to fall back on what you know – even if that’s not working as well any longer – than to risk something new and bold and untested.

This is my last column as National Convener of The Episcopal Women’s Caucus.

This is 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church will be my last.

I’m having a hard time saying goodbye. Perhaps that’s because I’m really not leaving. I’m in this struggle for the long haul. Always have been. Always will be. There remains so much work to be done. We may have won many battles in the institutional church but the struggle for full equality continues.

We are all finding our way to be effective agents of change while honoring and celebrating the progress of the past. I’m no different.

Marge Christie, one of the grandmothers of the Caucus, tells us that, “The Episcopal Women’s Caucus was formed on October 30, 1971 – a year after the first women were seated as deputies to General Convention – during a meeting of professional lay women and deacons. Notified that the House of Bishops had created yet another study committee on the ordination of women, without having taken action on its previous studies, the women informed the Presiding Bishop of their refusal to cooperate further and constituted themselves the EWC.”

Defiance is in our DNA. Refusal to accept the status quo is in our DNA. Feminism – that outrageous idea that women are human, too – is in our DNA. Activism is in our DNA. Feistiness is in our DNA.

We have everything we need to continue the movement as first expressed in 1971: "The Episcopal Women’s Caucus is a national group - lay women, clergy, seminarians and professional church workers - formed to actualize the full participation of women at all levels of ministry and decision making in the Church."

New questions are also emerging: How will we adapt ourselves to the changing definition and varied incarnations of what it means to be church? 

How can we be fuel to the fire that sparks the continued movement toward full equality?

How can we be leaven in the loaf of bread that seeks to feed and nourish all of God’s people? 

How can we create new wine skins to carry the cup of blessing to God’s people that will both satisfy and embolden our thirst for justice and peace?

I hope to continue to add my voice to that conversation.

More importantly, I hope to hear yours.


Ann Smith said...

Dear Elizabeth,

You are like a wonderful bowl of cherries. You are soft on compassion and love, and hard on injustice. You are beautiful and provide healthy wisdom and guidance for EWC and the greater church. Than you for your leadership and for keeping on, keeping on. Namaste!!! Ann

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Ann. That is high praise and means a great deal to my heart and soul.

Matthew said...

Didn't Victoria Matthews also end up as a bishop in new Zealand recently? That would be another nation. One thing I have learned about promoting diversity in my secular job is that you must always have substantial diversity among the finalists for a position. Resumes only tell you so much. When I stared in the organization there was no racial diversity (very little gender as well) of 15 people (and all white liberals too). Now of those 15 we have three african american women, two more gays, and a republican. And a Latino. It started by ensuring that among the 3-5 finalists for any position there would be gender parity and at least 1/3 racial diversity. You may still end up hiring a white man but the odds are much lower and if you keep doing that over and over again with diverse finalists, then something else is at work. I got resistance to this (not going with the most qualified and best credentials and other meritocratic BS as if a 3.8 at Stanford is materially different from a 3.6 at northwestern and of course reverse discrimination but I will save that soap box for another time. In some states it is illegal now because affirmative action may now be illegal. I wish more of our bishop searches would feature more diverse choices.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

+Victoria was elected to the episcopacy in 1994. I was just doing the last decade.

We've been offering diverse slates for a long time now. It worked in LA - we got two women - but has failed miserably elsewhere. We'll keep trying.

Lauren said...

Elizabeth, I know you're only going back 10 years, but Pamela Chinnis was the first female President of the House of Deputies, wasn't she? George Werner followed her; Bonnie Anderson followed George; and now we have Gay Jennings. Mayhaps I'm misreading your first paragraph?
Lauren Stanley

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I wrote this before Gay Jennings was elected. That may explain the confusion.

Jim said...

I think we need more women in episcopal orders precisely because the church is in transition. If only men make the calls as we set ourselves on new paths, we will find ourselves looking a lot like we look. Not a good picture.

We are about one national election from bans not only on abortion, but birth control! We need strong, vocal women in the conversation now.

I do not know where your path will lead you now, I am fairly sure it won't be a quiet retirement. We need your voice and leadership even as new voices and new leaders follow the trail you have blazed.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I couldn't agree more about the need for more women in the episcopacy. I wish I had a copy of what +Cathy Roskham said to the HOB. It was STELLAR.

Someone said to me that you can always tell the pioneers b/c they're the ones with the arrows in their back.

I feel more like I've been plowing the ocean for the past 27 years