Celebrating 40 Years Of Episcopal Women Priests

By Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans
The Philadelphia Inquirer.

On a recent Saturday at North Philadelphia, Pa.’s, landmark Episcopal Church of the Advocate, worshipper gathered in a jubilant, crowded service to mark the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests.

It is not too fanciful to imagine that the dead were gently jostling the living.

Some of the chief actors in that act of ecclesiastical defiance against a tradition-loving church are gone, though many of those still alive participated in the day of talk, fellowship, and worship celebrating the ordination of 11 women.

On that steamy day 40 years ago, the late Rev. Paul Washington, legendary civil rights advocate and rector of Advocate, was greeted with tumultuous applause when he introduced the service by famously saying:

“Now is the time! What is a mother to do when the doctor says, ‘Your baby will be born on Aug. 10,’ when on July 29 she has reached the last stages of labor and the water sac has ruptured?”

Departed also is the Rev. Robert DeWitt, then the retired Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, whose work on behalf of racial reconciliation (including the subject of reparations) had alienated some of his flock.

In showing up at the church that morning, DeWitt defied Bishop Lyman Ogilvy’s wish that he (and two other retired bishops) not take part in a service not sanctioned by the denomination.

Three of the women clergy (one was in her 70s at the time of her ordination) are also gone.

But those who participated or attended the recent service, recall the drama of the day vividly, a Philadelphia story with memorable characters and white collars instead of white gloves.

“It was highly controversial,” recalls Barbara Harris, one of the women ordained that day. “The church was packed, it was a sweltering day, and there was the threat of violence against the ordinands.”

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