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Forty years ago, a pioneer was ordained.

Forty years ago, a pioneer was ordained.

On January 10, 1977, Bishop Paul Moore ordained the Rev. Ellen Barrett to the priesthood, the first time an openly gay person was ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.

Integrity posted this birthday greeting last Tuesday:

Forty years ago today the foundations of The Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Communion for that matter) shook a bit as two things took place: Another woman was ordained. She was ordained by the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., Bishop of New York. That woman was openly lesbian. She was among the first 50 women ordained in The Episcopal Church, but she was the FIRST lesbian to be ordained priest in the Anglican Communion.

Some reading this will have no clue about whom I write. Others will know and remember very well who that woman is. Her name is Ellen Barrett. Today is the 40th anniversary of her ordination. Congratulations first to Ellen and then to The Episcopal Church on such a milestone. Ellen now lives in England and continues her ministry as Sister Helena.

This posting was intended to be a surprise for Ellen and I hope everyone who had a clue also kept their mouths shut! So: Surprise Ellen! Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of your ordination. You have achieved a milestone many never reach.

I invite those reading (who are old enough!) to look back 40 years. Ordained women were a novelty in The Episcopal Church. (Some groups had other descriptive terms that will not be repeated here. Suffice to say they came from groups and organizations that could not fathom women in any leadership positions, much less as clergy.) Lesbian and gay priests (LGBTQ wasn’t on anyone’s radar back then) were a novelty as well and anathema to some. The discussions about the place of lesbians and gays in The Episcopal Church in both lay and ordained leadership were pretty much still in the embryonic stage. So yes, foundations shook a bit 40 years ago.

The Reverend Doctor Ellen Barrett is one of the pioneers of our faith. She is one of our icons in the struggle for equality. She is one of our elder statespersons who led the way so that those who followed would have an easier path to take. Sadly, many today really do not know who broke down barriers to LGBTQ people’s inclusion in the church and society. Many simply take for granted the things they enjoy as openly LGBTQ. History apparently is not a popular subject, especially church history.

She is now a fully vowed member of the Companions of St. Luke, Order of St. Benedict, and was for several years priest associate at Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pennsylvania. As Rector, I shared  this thankgiving for her ministry in an e-mailing to the parish community:

Her ordination was a sign of God’s transforming and reconciling love through Jesus Christ.

The very normalcy of her ministry among us today was testimony to the often costly and lonely path she was called to forty years ago.

People stood up at her ordination and called it a “travesty.” People thought that it would bring disaster and travail to the church.

Ironically, this rabble-rousing ground-breaker would teach us about the Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and amendment of life. As a Sister in the Companions of St. Luke, Order of St. Benedict, she would teach us to listen for God and to have the faith and courage to follow where Christ leads. She would show us how to connect the immediacy of the Gospel with the urgent need of the world. Judging from her time with us, her ordination forty years ago has brought blessing upon blessing not just to this parish but to the whole church.

Her fortieth ordination anniversary was celebrated at the St. Peter and St. Paul Anglican Church, Olney, UK, with Bishop Alan Wilson, Diocese of Buckingham, presiding and preaching.

Sr Helena Barrett and Bp Alan Wilson


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Eric Sinkula

Wonderful article!

Bruce Garner

She was very pleased with the surprise from Integrity and sent us an email accordingly.

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