Do the names Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Schiess, Katrina Swanson, and Nancy Wittig mean anything to you? If you are a priest in the Episcopal Church you may recognize them as groundbreakers. Forty years ago today, those eleven became the first women to be ordained as priests in the US Episcopal Church. Until then it was men only. Now, the Presiding Bishop is a woman!
A lot has been written about that day forty years ago in Philadelphia. What some folks miss is that the service and the ordinations were not illegal. Nothing in church law specifically forbid such ordinations. It just wasn't done. It meant that some people had to stand up and question the status quo and say "Hey! Why not?" The Philadelphia Eleven, as those women came to be known, made a difference. It is my opinion though that there were more than eleven though on that day.
Look at the picture. Those are men laying hands on the newly ordained. That is a bishop who is presiding. There were hundreds of men, women, and children filling the church that day. Together they ALL made a difference. They wanted to move forward and to be inclusive. Thankfully it was just those that day too. The 1976 General Convention of the Church meeting in Minneapolis on September 15–23, 1976 made the necessary changes in Canon Law to insure that women would have equal access to the ordination process. The next January, Jacqueline A. Means became the first female deacon canonically ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.
Change comes when people realize that it is necessary. Forty years ago, 11 women wanted to be priests and thankfully they were not alone. Today, we still need to make changes. Women are still underrepresented. There are still those who would ban them and those who also would ban gay and lesbian clergy. We will always need more to stand up and be recognized for doing the right thing and for supporting justice and equality for all.