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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lord, what a time!

It was 1974. July 29th. The Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany.

It was a time, Lord, it was a time!

It was the time when women were beginning to rouse ourselves from the cultural anesthetic of the status quo for women.

The Episcopal Church was beginning to propose changes to the canons of the church to allow for divorce. Those canons would change in 1976.

It was the time of the easy availability of the birth control pill.

Roe v. Wade had been passed in 1973, making abortion safe and legal for women.

The 1979 BCP, for the first time, would reflect this status of reproductive choice in the change to the words describing marriage to include: " . . . and when it is God's will, for the procreation of children. . . ."

In 1974, The Episcopal Church was also well launched into the revision of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.  All sorts of books of "experimental" liturgies made their way into the pews - which included the radical revision of the italicized male pronoun, signaling a permissive rubric to - wait for it - change the pronoun to female when appropriate and necessary.

In 1974, Patti Hurst was abducted. Her kidnappers demand $70 of food be given to every needy Californian.

That same year, and for the first time, girls were officially allowed to play Little League softball.

'Born Innocent', staring Linda Blair from 'The Exorcist', also released in 1974,  was televised. The film depicted the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of a teenage girl, and included graphic content never before seen on American television at that time.

In 1974, Ellen Burstyn won the Academy Award for the film, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," a film depicting the travels of a widow and her preteen son across the country in search of a better life.

The famous skeleton "Lucy" was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. It was estimated that Lucy lived between 3.9 to 3 million years ago.

In 1974, President Nixon - the only man twice elected as Vice President and President - was about to become (in August) the first president to resign while in office.

When understood in this cultural context the Ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven seems almost tame. One is apt to shrug one's shoulders and ask, "Are you kidding me? The only question is, why didn't it happen sooner?"

I was a very young wife and mother, caring for my second child, just 14 months old, who had been born to "save my marriage."  I was just beginning to awaken to the fullness of my identity, and beginning to understand the delicate interconnections of love, intimacy, trust and sexuality.

As a faithful, practicing Roman Catholic at the time, I had not yet begun to consider the possibility of my own vocation. My energies were otherwise consumed with the heretofore unthinkable possibility of divorce and the "love that dares not speak its name". 

I suppose, in retrospect, I shouldn't be surprised that when the NY Times news of the ordinations in Philadelphia reached me, it made me angry. Very angry.

How could these women do that?

Living with that question helped me to face other questions I had been running from all my life. 

Once I began to consider the possibilities, I began the life-long journey of living into the questions of my life.  I'm still discovering the answers.

Where were you on July 29, 1974?

Today, I give thanks and praise for the courage and witness of those eleven women and all those men and women who put their faith into bold, prophetic action who embody the best of both Mary and Martha. 


Magdalene6127 said...

ELizabeth, I wonder... can you point me to a post on this blog in which you have shared "the whole story"?

It sounds an awful lot like mine. Except it took me a lot longer.



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You can find it on the lower right "Keeping the Faith", or by clicking:

june maffin said...

"Living with that question helped me to face other questions I had been running from all my life."

Profound, Elizabeth, and so true! Facing our questions, I believe, is an integral part of the spiritual journey. They move us toward the answer to the ultimate question "Who am I?" And while the answer to that particular question keeps changing over the years as we change and evolve, living with the questions deep within us, really does help us "to face other questions." If the book has a Volume 2, I would love to use this quote in it, with your permission. Will write you off-line to chat about this possibility.

JCF said...

That same summer, age 12, I took an auto mechanics class: the only female ("girl") in the class. My fellow students harangued me w/ "Speed Racer!" (cuz that cartoon had a mechanically-inclined girl) Every Frickin' Day.

I had been (infant-)baptized an Episcopalian, and I like to think I was a feminist from birth.

I was OVERJOYED by the Philadelphia 11!

Elaine C. said...

For me it was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I lived in a conservative family with a very traditional father. I was frightened by these courageous women. Terrified by what consequences I might suffer if I imitated them. Also, not admitting to consciousness any sense of call to priesthood. My life focussed on fitting in, appearing to be like everyone else. I didn't dare know or be myself. But over the years after that, in reading the poetry, memoirs and books of those 11 -- I began to hear clues and glimpses of what it might be to have voice, self and call ...

harvey said...

I repeat what I said to Margaret: I was there in 1974. Fewer and fewer of those who were, including the ordinands, are still with us on this side of the river. It is a joy to read what you and Elizabeth Kaeton say on this day. Thanks for picking up the torch and running with it.

Muthah+ said...

Yep, I had to think about this too at my place.

claire bangasser said...

I lived in the US at the time, had a toddler and a newborn. I had been caught by the Watergate scandal for two years. I remember Nixon resigning, but I have no memory of these women being ordained. So I have to find out now.
Thank you for this post.

Suzer said...

I was 4 years old at the time, so have no conscious memory of it. And in a way, that is a wonderful thing, as I grew up in an Episcopal church that, so far as I knew, did not exclude women (or girls, as I would have thought about it then) from participation in any part of church life. It helped form my perception of a loving and caring God. And, of course, we had two wonderful and amazing rectors at our church that further shaped my understanding of and relationship with God, the second of which was purposeful in his inclusion of women in church leadership. (I was a bit too young with the first to know his stance, but he was always a wonderful and loving priest.)

I'm so grateful to those who stopped waiting for the world to catch up with Jesus, and went ahead and proclaimed the gospel with courage.

Mary Beth said...

I linked to this at my place, where I reflected on same. Hope that is okay.

whiteycat said...

I was still a Roman at that time. I remember how excited and happy I was to learn of this marvelous event taking place within miles of my home. It was this courageous event, more than any other, which led me to TEC. I remain a very PROUD Episcopalian!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks to everyone for sharing your wonderful memories here. I have been so richly fed by them all.

June - I would be deeply honored to be included in anything you write.

IT said...

When my wife the former RC started attending TEC, JCF asked me how she "took" women on the altar. It was a non-issue, on the one hand (in the sense it didn't "bother" her at all), and on the other, a great blessing. She has found having married (and divorced), women, and gay clergy greatly enriching because of the unique breadth each brings to ministry. How lucky TEC is to recgonize that.

Mary Lawthers said...

I heard Betty Bone-Shiese speak about the pain she went through in order to be part of the original 11. What a story! I was so impressed. Her talk convinced me of the importance of women priests. My younger sister was the first girl acolyte in my home parish we have come a long way! And I rejoice

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth - Thank you once again for your posts...

I was 12 in '74 and remember where I was when Nixon resigned (a lovely hotel in Wexford, Eire) but not when I heard about the 11.

Over here you may have followed our recent debates in General Synod which will, DV, lead to women in the episcopate.

Our debates were less antagonistic than they were 2 years ago, but in our system we still have a long way to go.

At the same time we had another skirmish on the Jeffrey John saga, which got the anti's all het up AGAIN... But as I have said for along time, the gay issue is much more contentious for us than the women one!

And the point of all this? Well, pray for the Church of England, we need it and not just on those two issues, but also pray for those who are currently excluded and those who fear that a change of polity will exclude them from the life of God's churchband long for the day when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. Psalm 133. 1-2

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - the point is that the "gay" issue has it's roots in the issue of women. When the CofE begins to make that connection, you'll start to see some change.

Meanwhile, I'll keep praying. It's so good to know that we have friends like you across the Pond.

PotomacXer said...

I was 2 weeks old when GC voted to allow women to be priests, so I grew up with the blessing of not knowing an Episcopal Church where that was not the case. That I can follow in their footsteps is something for which I am very grateful.