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:
Ann Van Dervoort
After living in two states where I was told, and not necessarily politely, that I was not wanted or needed in “that” diocese, even with a seminary degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School, a dear friend introduced me to Bishop Fred Borsch at a meeting in Chicago. “Ann is having trouble in Texas,” she told him. “Well, come on out to California,” he answered. “Maybe we can help you.” Little did he know that I would take him at his word!
I had close friends in Redlands, but the Los Angeles complex is huge! Where will I go? The same friend who introduced me to Bishop Borsch, told me she knew about All Saints in Pasadena and thought I would like it there. So, after some real soul-searching, I drove from Texas to California. The first Sunday I attended All Saints there was a fabulous Black gospel choir singing. — WOW! I’ll never forget it.
After some inquiring during coffee hour, I was told to find Gary Bradley and maybe he could help me work my way through this always mysterious process. “I can’t promise you anything,” Gary told me, “but first you need to get to know all of the staff and participate in as many organizations as you can. Be careful, however, because you could sink — we have so many offerings!” That was an understatement! I still have a drawer full of tee shirts to remind me of all of the wonderful social justice organizations there were (and still are) at All Saints. “And,” Gary added, “George said you must stay with us for two years.” A commuter marriage for two years! My heart sank.
But I persevered. I worked hard at All Saints, and listened to such great preaching. It was there that I learned that you had to preach about difficult issues in order to make a difference in the world, and I have always taken this to heart, when appropriate. And like George Regas, and many others I am sure, I have experienced backlash. N0 death threats, but looks that could kill! The words of appreciation, however, have far outnumber those looks!
After spending a year at All Saints, George told me to “Go home and be with your husband. I will support you for ordination.” !!!! I spent a year at home, discerning this serious step, then returned to the Diocese of Los Angeles, where I served another year with Elizabeth Habecker at St. Clare’s in Rancho Cucamonga. It was there that I met Susan Russell, whom I told later in her journey: “You need to be at All Saints.”
In 1994, I attended the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas and was ordained a Deacon by Bishop Chet Talton at All Saints with Carrie Patterson Grindon in June of 1995. Six months later I was ordained a priest at All Saints with nine others who were female and male, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, gay and straight, and young and “older”! “THIS IS WHAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD LOOKS LIKE,” said the then new rector of All Saints, Ed Bacon. It was a joyful day!
I worked at a small church in Texas for two years, being the first woman to ever celebrate there. In 1998 my husband and I moved to Tennessee, where I served for 14 years at a very special church — St. Paul’s in Franklin with Bob Cowperthwaite. After Bob hired me, he subsequently hired two other women clergy! I retired in 2012, but am currently back at St. Paul’s working part-time, which is like being “back home again.”
I cannot say enough about the ordained women in the Diocese of Los Angeles who helped me so much during my time in California. These women stayed together and supported one another. I followed in their footsteps by taking a leadership role, keeping our women clergy together in the Diocese of Tennessee in the good times and the bad.
All Saints — a “peace church” — will always hold a very special place in my heart. What other place would take a “walk-in” off the street on a Sunday morning and tell her they would help her on her journey to ordination. There is just no place like it that I have come across! Its creative liturgy, its beautiful music, its ongoing outreach, and its unchanging zeal for social justice, in all walks of life, filled me with the courage to go forth and do the same.