EDS supports greater access to new documentary on The Philadelphia Eleven

Episcopal Divinity School
Posted Mar 27, 2024

Screening of The Philadelphia Eleven on March 2, 2024 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, NY.

This spring marks the release of The Philadelphia Eleven, a new feature-length documentary by Margo Gurnsey and Nikki Bramley that tells the story of the first eleven women ordained as priests to the Episcopal Church in 1974. According to the film’s website, The Philadelphia Eleven introduces viewers to the “women who succeed in building a movement that transforms an age-old institution, and challenges the very essence of patriarchy within Christendom,” highlighting this groundbreaking story in the history of the Episcopal Church. Before the film makes its way to the broader public this summer, it is being shared through self-organized community screenings throughout the country. EDS is thrilled to take part in the efforts to share the important story of the women of the Philadelphia Eleven more broadly.

At the forefront of these is EDS’s sponsorship  of screening licenses for five EDS alums. Valued at $500 each, the licenses allow recipients to host screenings within their local communities. All EDS alums are eligible to apply. “The opportunity for alums to share the story of The Philadelphia Eleven is an exciting way to share the legacy of EDS and to promote and celebrate social justice and progressive change in our own communities,” shared the Rev. Lydia Bucklin ’15, who has been supporting EDS’ recent alum initiatives.

On March 2, 2024, EDS co-sponsored a screening of the film with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, NYC. “St. Mary’s was very excited to co-host this film screening with EDS given our sponsorship of two of the eleven women,” shared St. Mary’s Rector the Rev. Dr. Mary Foulke. “Parishioners who have been around since the ’70’s, women clergy from the Diocese of NY, current seminarians, and newer members of St. Mary’s were all part of the mix in the following discussion with filmmaker Margo Guernsey that explored the role of laypeople and especially of women of color in the ordination of women to the priesthood. We also reflected on the intense resistance before and after the ordinations, and the choice of some to work outside the institutional church for their own health and well being.”

On March 8, EDS Interim President the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas was a featured event panelist for the first-ever online screening of the film, alongside moderator Katie Sherrod, filmmaker Margo Guernsey, the Rt. Rev Nedi Rivera and the Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward.

In her Director’s Statement on the films’ website, Margo Guernsey writes, “The story of the first Episcopal women priests has been under the radar for decades. Perhaps this is because they disregarded certain institutional edicts, or maybe because their story is inconvenient. After all, they challenged the very core of patriarchal culture. These pioneers have taught me new ways to think about whose history is recorded and remembered, and who does the work of remembering. And they provide a vision for what a just and inclusive community looks like in practice.”

As Guernsey stated, “if we are serious about loving every human being as they are, then we must find new ways forward that disrupt the hierarchies we have inherited, and replace them with the same kind of radical inclusivity demonstrated by these priests.”

EDS’ efforts to share the new The Philadelphia Eleven documentary is part of the organization’s broader work to uplift the history of the journey towards women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. On December 9, 2023, EDS hosted a public conversation with the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward, and Bishop Mary Glasspool at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This event marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Heyward and four other women deacons presenting themselves for ordination to the priesthood in an act of liturgical protest, which paved the way for the Philadelphia Eleven. The full livestream of that conversation can be found here.

For EDS alums interested in hosting screenings, please click here to apply. For more information about The Philadelphia Eleven please visit the film’s website here.