Yesterday, July 29, was the 46th anniversary of the ordination of the “Philadelphia Eleven,” the first women ordained priests in the Episcopal Church at Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. Their names and bravery stand before us still: Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth, Allison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Swanson, and Nancy Wittig. Yesterday was also the 43rd anniversary of the official recognition of the ordinations of two of these pioneering women through “acts of completion” at long last in the Diocese of New Jersey. As it has just been over three years since my own ordination, I always stand awe-struck at this time of year and raise up prayers of thanks to be able to stand on the shoulders of so many brave women who persevered in this priestly calling.
Ironically, as our daily office readings today remind us, the story of the bravery of women in leadership and faithfulness in communities of faith in scripture resound throughout the Bible. In our reading from the Hebrew scriptures, we hear the story of Deborah, judge and prophet, leading Israel against her people’s enemies, and also of the clever Jael physically overcoming the leader of the enemy army. In the intertwined story of these two women, we see leaders who were inventive and resolute in their sense of duty to their people. Our gospel reading for this day depicts the women who remained at the foot of the cross, including Mary Magdalene, the “apostle to the apostles,” standing with Jesus even after most of the other disciples had fled for the hills in a hope to avoid their leader’s fate. In both cases, we see exemplary displays of bold witness where normally their capabilities and agency would have been dismissed by many of the men observing their actions.
This day may we too, especially, stand firm in witness to the love of Christ in the world. May we be emboldened ourselves, all of us, to live into our callings as witnesses and ministers of Jesus, as steadfast disciples even in the face of injustice and the attempts to silence the testimony of women in communities of faith throughout the ages.
whose Spirit yet moves over the waters of creation
and over the waters of our hearts,
we draw near to you and worship you with joy.
Blessed Jesus, thank you for raising up among us
strong women who remain faithful to your call
and who persevere even today in serving you
with abounding love, bravery, and faith.
Help us always to listen for your voice, O God,
to find you not just in pages and verses
but in the face of every stranger
and in the cry of every seeker.
Guide us to witness to your beauty and wisdom,
surpassing all our meager understanding,
O Creator, Sanctifier, and Life-giver.
Bless us as we seek to serve You and each other today, O Holy One,
God of All Compassion,
and grant your blessing over these beloveds.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.