I am old enough to remember when there were few women in ministry. In fact, in the Episcopal Church of my youth there were none. No bishops, no priests. Not one.
When I was in seminary, one of my teachers was Emily Hewitt, one of the first women “irregularly” ordained into the Episcopal Church, a very inspiring presence. I recall thinking, “This brilliant women is teaching me about ministry, and people are telling her that she can’t do it herself.”
As a young man I migrated to the United Church of Christ, which had done better on this issue, but still I had few women colleagues early in my ministry. I remember with great affection and respect two pioneering women ministers in the UCC: Gladys York from Maine and Catherine Chifelle, from Massachusetts, who later became a congregant of mine in Pittsfield. They served small congregations where they were faithful and well-loved.
My second call was to be the associate minister at Hammond Street Church in Bangor, Maine, where Ansley Coe Throckmorton was the senior minister. I don’t know whether it was true or not, but we were told that Ansley was the first woman senior minister of a “tall steeple” church in the UCC. I was proud of serving with her, and got to see close up some of the challenges she faced from folks who didn’t want to recognize the authenticity of her ministry.
This year is the 40th anniversary of my ordination. I would mention all the wonderful women who have been my ordained colleagues through the years, but I might forget somebody. I also supervised several women seminarians in field education, much to my benefit. I give thanks for them all.
Then several years ago my own daughter came home for Thanksgiving and announced that she was going to seminary to discern a call to ordained ministry. She is now ordained and inspires me all the time.
The church is an intrinsically conservative institution. That is not all bad. We don’t move too fast most of the time, and that is both the beauty and the bane of the church.
But it took, it has taken, way too long for the church to recognize the God-given gifts of the women among us. And there are still wide swathes of the church where women’s gifts are undervalued, unappreciated and unrecognized.
Thank God that is changing. I pray it will change more and more.
Today the Church of England took an important step. The truth is that it has come very late in this particular game. And it is not the last step that needs to be taken. Not by a long shot.
But perhaps today we should all just celebrate and be glad at what took place.