Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon, who died Christmas Day, was “seen as a warm, empathetic mentor, particularly to female lay leaders and clergy in the Episcopal Church, which has wrestled in recent decades with rifts over gender roles, sexuality and biblical literacy,” the Washington Post reports today.
Throughout her clerical career, Bishop Dixon was largely seen as an unassuming Southerner whose early familiarity with racial discrimination in her native Mississippi fueled deep faith-based activism. She entered the priesthood, her family explained, to build on her dedication to education and social justice issues, which became a focus of her attention while attending St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington.
Bishop Dixon wasn’t someone who set out to knock down gender barriers, her family and colleagues said, and she didn’t have the long list of accomplishments of other church leaders. She became an accidental pioneer whose rise in the church hierarchy was unexpected, even by herself.
She had been a priest for only 10 years when she was elected suffragan bishop, the second-highest rank among bishops, in Washington in 1992. She once told a meeting of Episcopal women that she “stepped out of the kitchen into a new and different world,” when she became a priest in 1982.
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And Maureen Fielder writes in The National Catholic Reporter:
We talked about the fact that women can’t even be deacons in the Catholic church (yet), but she pointed out that no struggles for gender equality are easy. Catholic women, she believed, would eventually be accepted into all levels of the priesthood.
Jane understood well her own pioneer role, saying at a press conference on the day of her consecration in 1992, “I am a symbol of the inclusiveness of God.”
Those were the days when women could become bishops in the Episcopal Church, but were not yet universally accepted. Jane had to deal with a couple recalcitrant parishes that refused to welcome her, situations which she handled with grace, courage and conviction.
She was known as a struggler for justice, peace and the inclusion of everyone in her church. She was a champion of the rights of LGBT people.
Weldon Gaddy writes on the Interfaith Alliance website:
A few years ago, in my sermon for All Saints Day, I talked about Jane as one of my heroes—not just in faith, but in all of life. When I could finally speak after hearing of her death, I told Judy that I did not know anybody else as good as, and certainly not better than, Jane. “She simply was the best person I know; it was a honor for us to be her friend,” I said. “There was no one else like her,” Judy said. Jane would have protested vigorously and been uncomfortable, but it would have been one of the few times in her life that Jane Holmes Dixon had been wrong.
Here is video of Dixon speaking just a few weeks ago at the 2012 Interfaith Alliance Walter Cronkite Awards: