The Gift of the Eleven
I cannot imagine ministry without the leadership of women. I have been raised up by women who are priests, I have served alongside women who celebrated Eucharist and I have been blessed (literally) by women fulfilling their ministry as bishops in the church. I am married to a woman who is a gifted pastor and preacher. A church led only by men in robes would feel, to me, empty, distorted, and incomplete.
I simply cannot imagine ministry without the leadership of women.
Ah, but it has not always been thus. I came to the church more than 15 years after those first eleven women were ordained in Philadelphia, but many of you can remember a time when it was nearly impossible (for some) to imagine women breaking bread at the altar. Many of you can remember the tremendous uphill battle it was, when so many women knew in their hearts that the divine imagination was as perplexed as they were that priesthood was for men only.
So many of you know that the relative newness of women’s ordination means that women continue to face challenges that men usually don’t. The misogyny of our world, and even our church, remains a real factor, and I give thanks for the courage, insight, and leadership of my sisters in ministry.
When I first encountered the Episcopal Church, I stayed because of the reality of women’s ordination. It simply made sense to me (I came from the Roman Catholic Church) and so I made my home here, and ultimately found my vocation as well. So I, too, can thank the Philadelphia Eleven for bringing into existence a church where I could lead with integrity.
On Tuesday, January 30th, Trinity will host the film The Philadelphia Eleven, which honors this 50th anniversary year with a landmark documentary. We’ll welcome one of those first women priests, Nancy Wittig, as well as Bishop Anne B. Jolly and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, retired president of the General Convention House of Deputies.
The Philadelphia Eleven changed the church forever. Thanks be to God!
The Very Rev. Bernard J. Owens