Member of Philadelphia Eleven to speak at online event about upcoming documentary

By ENS staff
Posted May 8, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Nancy Wittig, one of the 11 women known as the Philadelphia Eleven for their barrier-breaking ordinations in 1974, will be one of the featured guests at a May 9 webinar promoting an upcoming documentary about The Episcopal Church’s first female priests.

The webinar, hosted by the Episcopal Parish Network at 3 p.m. Eastern, also will feature Margo Guernsey, director of “The Philadelphia Eleven,” and the Rev. Bowie Snodgrass, rector of Christ Church in Short Hills, New Jersey, which is one of the documentary’s funding partners. The free event is billed as “the first public conversation about the film and the subjects at its heart.”

In 1974, no canon specifically forbade women from becoming priests in The Episcopal Church, but diocesan standing committees and bishops to that point had almost uniformly rejected women’s requests for ordination to the priesthood. Only one of the Philadelphia Eleven had received the backing of her standing committee, and their bishops refused to ordain them.

Instead, three retired bishops agreed to ordain the 11 women on July 29, 1974, even though doing so without the approval of diocesan leadership could be seen as violating canonical law and church tradition. Church leaders debated the validity of the women’s ordinations for two years, until General Convention approved a new section of the church’s ordination canons in September 1976 saying its provisions “shall be equally applicable to men and women.”

Guernsey and co-producer Nikki Bramley interviewed the six of the Philadelphia Eleven who are still living, as well as the Rev. Betty Bone Schiess before she died in 2017 and the Rev. Alison Cheek, who died in 2019.

The filmmakers, who released a video trailer in March, continue to fundraise to complete the move in time for its planned release in 2024, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the church milestone.