On July 29, 2014, the Episcopal Church will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ordinations of the first women as priests. To observe that anniversary, we reached out to women who have served at ASC over the last forty years — as well as those who have been sponsored for ordination and gone on to serve elsewhere — to share their stories. Here is one of them:
Amy G. Cox
“In the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.”
I was seven years old when the Philadelphia Eleven were ordained. I don’t remember the moment, but I remember the years of discussion, debate, and difficulty that followed as I grew up:
- Would parishes in our Midwest diocese fail when they employed a priest who was a woman? (No.)
- Could women represent Jesus when they lacked the “right” gender/genitals? (Aren’t all Christians supposed to represent Jesus?)
- Could I be an acolyte? (mother: yes, rector: no)
- and on and on
Despite these growing pains, the Philadelphia Eleven and all who supported them blazed a trail that widened and deepened the Church and created room for the ordination of many women.
I am one of those women.
I could not, it turns out, have been ordained without them. Not only is this because prior to the Philadelphia Eleven, part of the Church was unable to see that God calls women to ordained ministry too. It is also because they modeled a way of being in the world that is more in touch with the movement of the Spirit than with the immediacy of human fears — fear of change, fear of those in power, fear of doing the wrong thing. When we are aligned with that Spirit, we are by definition continuing Jesus’ work of dismantling systems of oppression: in relationships, in government, in economics, and, yes, in the Church. The Philadelphia Eleven modeled what can happen when we step aside from human structures that have become brittle and allow the Spirit to flow through. When I was in discernment, I needed to see that the Episcopal Church was able to build fresh structures, to do new things when the old ways were obscuring God. The ordination of women did not happen easily, it happened with hard work and with resistance. But it happened.
On this 40th anniversary of the Philadelphia Eleven, I pray that the same willingness to lean toward the Spirit and away from our fears will continue blowing through me and through the whole Church. God only knows what might happen.