Episcopal historians dedicate latest journal issue to Philadelphia 11 and women’s ordination

Historical Society of the Episcopal Church
Posted Jun 3, 2024

Carter Heyward leads the latest issue of Anglican and Episcopal History (AEH) with a wide-ranging 9-part reflection on her 50 years as an ordained priest. As one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church–a group known as the Philadelphia Eleven–Heyward’s essay is a fitting opener for the June 2024 issue of AEH commemorating the 50th anniversary of women’s ordinations.

In her essay, Heyward recalls the spirit of God’s holy wisdom in 1974, writing that “Sophia was relentless” before calling for radical mutuality and dismantling oppression in line with Jewish theologian Martin Buber (1878-1965) and renowned poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992). Heyward, a retired professor of theology at Episcopal Divinity School, offers a clarion call for greater visibility of progressive Christianity and is especially critical of what she terms the “7 Deadly Sins of White Christian Nationalism.”

Turning to the metaphor of the “stained glass ceiling,” Paula D. Nesbitt then evaluates historic challenges for women clergy in her study titled “Feminization of the Priesthood at Fifty–and the Journey Ahead.”

Nesbitt contends that “the Philadelphia ordinations and feminization processes may have saved the Episcopal Church from more significant membership declines.” Nesbitt is a visiting professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

Other studies related to the role of ordained women include:

“Graymoor Revisited” by Valerie Bailey in which readers learn about the April 1970 Graymoor Conference as an understudied “anchor event” for women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. Bailey, a chaplain at Williams College and priest in the diocese of Western Mass., contextualizes Graymoor as an event at the end of two significant 20th century movements: the Liturgical Movement and the Deaconess Movement.

“The Phyllis Edwards Event: A Momentary Event, or an Event of Moment?” draws on archival parish, diocesan, and House of Bishop records to unearth the debate regarding Bishop James Pike’s recognition of deaconess Phyllis Edwards (1917-2009) as an ordained deacon on September 13, 1965. The debate revolved around whether deaconesses were lay or ordained servants of the church. The study’s author, John Rawlinson, is a retired priest in the Diocese of California and volunteer archivist at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Tukibako Charles Mwakasege offers an international Anglican Communion perspective from East Africa in “Gender Equality in the Postcolonial Diocese of Central Tanganyika.” Her investigation considers three questions in a diocese that first ordained women in 2001. These are: (1) What is the contribution of the Anglican Church toward gender equality in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika? (2) How does the post-colonial diocese implement gender equality in leadership? & (3) How does gender equality impact people of the diocese?

Mwakasege is an assistant lecturer of history at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania.

Heather Huyck, a public historian who participated in the 1974 Philadelphia ordinations, then turns attention to “the Washington Four,” a reference to the “irregular” ordination of 4 women that occurred in September 1975 at the Episcopal Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in the Diocese of Washington, DC.

Huyck writes that “The ordinations of the Washington Four in 1975 were crucial in the long and complex history of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church.” She points to ways their ordinations demonstrated that women’s ordination was likely to remain no matter what canonical changes occurred during the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1976. Her study is titled, “‘No Longer Unique’: The Significance of the Washington 1975 Ordinations.”

The remaining articles include a published oral history and reflective historiographic analysis.

AEH editor-in-chief Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook interviews Fran Toy (b. 1934) regarding her experiences and reflections since becoming the first Asian American woman in the Episcopal priesthood in 1985.

Then Carla Roland Guzmán concludes the collection of studies with a historiographic examination of the journal itself. Guzmán’s “Women on the Pages of Anglican and Episcopal History: A Growing Cast” offers a detailed examination of women’s representation in AEH since 1932.

Guzmán notes strengths of women’s representation and praises the noteworthy contributions of historians such as Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Joan R. Gundersen, Joanna B. Gillespie, Mary Sudman Donovan, Sylvia Sweeney, and current AEH editor Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook. She also illuminates potential areas for further research. Guzmán is assistant professor of church history at The General Theological Seminary in New York City.

This special issue of AEH commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Eleven Ordinations is produced by the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC). To learn more, visit the HSEC website [https://hsec.us/]. HSEC will also be represented at the 81st General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Louisville, Ky. this June.

Print or digital copies are available for $10 (which includes shipping) by contacting the Director of Operations at mpayne@hsec.us.