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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:

Susan Russell

I grew up in the Episcopal Church when girls couldn’t be acolytes — much less end up being priests. I remember the arguments about the ordination of women in the 70’s — but at that point I was in college and my church attendance was (to put it generously) “sporadic.” So the ordination of women wasn’t something that I spent a lot of time thinking about — even though my Aunt Gretchen was a member of one of the churches that tried (unsuccessfully) to leave the Diocese of Los Angeles over the issue.

By the mid-80’s, I was a young mom and came back to the church on a regular basis — and, although I knew we had women who were priests, I hadn’t actually seen one, since they hadn’t made it up over the Conejo Grade into Ventura County yet.

And — to tell the truth — I had kind of a condescending attitude about the whole thing. I thought it was great women were being ordained — in theory. But for me, personally — if it came down to it and I needed a priest — I wanted what I was used to. I wanted a “real one.” I wanted a “Father.”

Fast forward to 1988. Women’s retreat weekend. Spiritual director is a woman priest. I listen to her preach and realize it’s the first time I’ve ever been sorry a preacher said “amen” and sat down. I watch her celebrate and the Eucharist made sense to me in a way it never had before. And by 1993, I was in seminary. And by 1996, I was a deacon on my way to priesthood… and the rest (as they say) is history.

I choose to tell this part of my story as we observe the 40th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Ordinations because my story couldn’t have happened if theirs hadn’t. What happened in Philadelphia in 1974 didn’t impact me at the time. And what happened in Minneapolis in 1976 when those ordinations were “regularized” by General Convention didn’t change my mind about women in ordained ministry or open my heart to my own vocation.

What did all that for me was the incarnational experience of a woman who was a priest. And my experience of her ministry couldn’t have happened without the women who stepped out in faith and courage in 1974. And without the General Convention that helped the Episcopal Church catch up with the Holy Spirit in 1976.

So here’s to the 40th Anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests in the Episcopal Church — and to all the hearts and minds and lives that have been touched, changed and transformed because of their faith, their courage and their commitment. And here’s to the Holy Spirit who continues to call us beyond our comfort zone into God’s future… whether we’re ready for it or not!

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