The Episcopal News Service reported two losses in the Episcopal Church in the first few days of September:
The Rev. Alison Cheek, one of the first female priests in The Episcopal Church and the first to publicly celebrate the Eucharist, died on Sept. 1 at her home in Brevard, North Carolina, according to friends. She was 92.
Cheek was one of the Philadelphia Eleven, the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. She and 10 other women were ordained at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, two years before the ordination of women was officially authorized by General Convention. The highly controversial ordinations were later affirmed as valid.
“I sort of risked everything to do it,” she recalled on the 40th anniversary of her ordination. “I would do it again.”
A native of Australia and a Methodist for many years, the Reverend Cheek graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary with her M.Div. in 1969 and was the first woman ordained to the diaconate in the south, according to the ENS story (linked here). She was included in the 1976 Women of the Year issue published by Time magazine (her photo is top left in the cover above).
“When the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia ordination came, I thought, ‘Well, if they toss me out, at least I’ll go witnessing to what I believe about the Gospel and about women’s appropriateness for being priests, and being true to what I believed,’” she said in 2014.
Amid the heated controversy that followed the Philadelphia Eleven ordinations, Cheek was invited to celebrate the Eucharist – something no woman had ever done in any Episcopal church – at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church in Washington. But, according to the Chicago Tribune, after she preached, the local priest read a letter from the bishop saying that she was prohibited from celebrating the Eucharist because the status of her ordination was still in question.
“It was a very dramatic service,” she told the Tribune. “You could have heard a pin drop.”
Having been blocked at that service, Cheek returned later that year, and on Nov. 10, 1974, she made history yet again, becoming the first female Episcopal priest to publicly celebrate the Eucharist in “a service that ranged from solemn prayer to joyous hugs and bursts of spontaneous applause,” as The Washington Post described it.
Also on September 1:
Richard Parkins, a former Episcopal Migration Ministries director who became a leading advocate for Episcopal outreach to Sudan and South Sudan as head of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, has died. He was 83.
Parkins’ work with the Episcopal Church goes back decades. From ENS:
“The number of lives that have been enriched because of the life and ministry of Richard Parkins is too great to be counted,” the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, said in a statement to Episcopal News Service. “As director of Episcopal Migration Ministries for many years, and more recently with the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Richard made a remarkable difference and leaves behind a rich legacy. He will be greatly missed.”
Parkins’ work serving refugees dates back decades, beginning with his time at the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. He became director of that agency in 1980, and other experience included various work with nonprofit resettlement agencies, such as Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops…
Image of Richard Parkins from the Episcopal Church website.