Category Archives: Reflections

Reflections about faith, theology, bible, national church issues and women’s issues.

THEOLOGY

BEING A WOMAN OF GOD

{This was presented to the Daughters of the King Chapter at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Delmar, New York on October 7, 2019.}

A little girl reported at home what she had learned at Sunday School concerning the creation of Adam and Eve: “The teacher told us how God made the first man and the first woman. He made the man first. But the man was very lonely with nobody to talk to him. So, God put the man to sleep. And while the man was asleep, God took out his brains, and made a woman of them.” Always start with a joke, I was taught.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I was born in Petersburg, Virginia way long time ago and after high school I attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. I married while still in school and when I graduated, we moved to Atlanta where, because I had majored in Philosophy for lack of anything better, I just got a “pay-the-bills” job. We then moved to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi where I was over-qualified for everything so I continued working just to make ends meet. Our next move was to Jackson, Mississippi where my newest job was secretary of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral. It didn’t take long for me to let the organist know how much I loved to sing and soon he offered to pay my babysitter if I would come and sing in the choir.

StAndrews-Jackson_December_2018_31_St._Andrews_Episcopal_Cathedral
St. Andrew’s Cathedral

I was ecstatic and spent the next 3 years getting reacquainted with my beloved Episcopal Church. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I had grown up going to church every Sunday, but college and a non-Episcopalian husband had interrupted my faithful attendance record. After a quick move back to Atlanta, our marriage ended amicably and Scott, my son, and I moved back to Petersburg where I tried to pick up at the same church with the same kids I had known all my life. But suddenly I was like a stranger. Not only was I “County Girl” who attended county schools, now I was divorced. They rebuffed all my efforts to renew old friendships so I just stopped going but, God had gotten into my soul and had other plans for me; therefore, I needed to find a place to worship.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

So, we went to the new church across the river which had been a mission from my home church so I knew some of the founders of St. Michael’s. On a hot Sunday in June, Scott and I found our new church home. I was greeted with open arms by the choir members from my old church and the next week I was a member of the choir. It didn’t take long for the Rector to get me involved in the youth program and within a few months I was the leader of the youth group which was very active in the Diocesan Youth Program and before I knew it, I was hooked. I loved the retreats with their lively music, casual but moving communion services, and the welcoming community of teenagers and their sponsors, all led by a quietly dynamic and loving Director of Youth Programs for the Diocese. It was only 4 years later that I felt called by God to go to seminary so I could teach young people about God. I hadn’t learned anything in all my years in church and I felt totally inadequate to the job I felt God pulling me to do for him.

Today I stand before you an ordained priest of 33 years, a graduate of one of the top seminaries in the church, a pretty good preacher if I do say so myself, and a Bible scholar. I went through years of jumping through hoops, preparing for a vocation that both terrified and excited me, and living out my dream that started when I was just 5 years old, sitting in the pew with my grandmother and wishing I was a boy so I could carry the cross and grow up to be a man so I could do what the minister was doing and wear one of those beautiful and colorful scarves. Let me ask you a question – how many of you have ever thought of yourself as a Child of God?  During all those years growing up and living as an Episcopalian and then growing into a dedicated priest in God’s church, I never thought of myself as a Child of God. Somehow, I never quite heard that basic description of all of us – a Child of God. Somewhere deep inside I must have known that we were all children of God, created and endowed with the nature of God. But I never remember hearing the term Child of God.

Now, I’m all grown up and I have realized that I’ve never heard the phrase nor have I ever thought of myself as a Woman of God. Now listen to the definition I found of a Woman of God – a Woman of God is first and foremost a daughter of God and is also a woman who seeks to know the Word of God, to commune with God in prayer, to obey God’s command to love each other, and to present herself in the world as a work in progress, a masterpiece of God’s, saved by His grace through faith, and becoming more like Jesus as she seeks to know Him and obey Him and tell the world about Him. That’s quite a list so let’s look at them more closely.

Now when I look back on my journey through the church, I realize that I am indeed a daughter of God – I’m his Child and since I’m female, that makes me his daughter. I like that. But more importantly, I am struck by how my life has all been about making me into a Woman of God. Once I was introduced to God’s word in Scripture in youth group retreats, I became voracious. I couldn’t get enough of God’s word as we delved into life and how the Bible speaks to us of how we are to live as Christians. When I got to seminary, I was almost overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know and so how much there was to learn. While some students who were encouraged to attend an Old Testament tutorial were insulted, I couldn’t wait to jump into that. I knew my limitations and I knew how scripturally-illiterate I was so I took every opportunity I could to learn how to learn all over again in such a way that I could make sense out of God’s word. It seemed hopeless, but finally I got the hang of it and at the end of the semester, I found myself with a B in Old Testament. I was ecstatic – I felt like I knew the basic foundation of our Christian faith and was more than ready to jump into the New Testament. I was just beginning to know the Word of God.

I grew up in the 50’s in a traditional church where people who prayed out loud, except if they had a prayer book in front of them, were considered to be suspicious. People who said “Jesus” in normal conversation were also suspect and people who talked about how much they prayed and what they prayed about were like someone from outer space. We said the grace at meals, mostly dinner, but I never remember saying prayers before bed, I never remember my parents ever praying and certainly ever talking about it. So, I had no idea what a prayer life was. I thought we prayed with our prayer book and that was all that was necessary. It wasn’t until Spiritual Theology class that I heard about such things as spiritual meditation, spending time with God, and actually telling God what you’ve done, what you’re thinking, what you need, and how you feel. I had never done any of those things and had no idea how to go about it. I had severed my ACL in high school so couldn’t even kneel – how could an Episcopalian pray without kneeling for heaven’s sake! So, I was out of my element, to say the least. But, as before, I persevered and listened and learned and slowly began to develop some idea of what a prayer life is. Very, very slowly I learned that I wasn’t going to sound like an idiot if I prayed out loud to God, even if I could ever get up the nerve to pray out loud in front of others. I have to tell you, that as hard as I’ve worked on this, and as old as I am, I still cringe a little inside when I’m asked to pray out loud. I can do grace because my father always said the same one and I learned it so well, I can still spout it off at the drop of a hat. Bless this food to our use and us to your faithful service. Amen. But to make up one on the fly – it was a long time before I could even attempt it. All of this is to say that this part of being a Woman of God doesn’t come naturally to all of us, especially Episcopalians. Unless you’re taught at home at an early age, praying is something we develop as we grow up. We go from “Please bless Mommy and Daddy…” to “Now I lay me down to sleep…” to “God, I don’t know how to do this, but…” to my favorite prayer, “Help!” and everything in between. Finally, we find our way to more comfortable and intimate ways of communing with God and then we know a little bit more about being a Woman of God.

Loving each other was always problematic for me because, like most kids, love meant stuff we only heard about, were scared of, and didn’t even want to think about, much less do. I didn’t even know what love meant. I never thought about loving my family – they were just there and I knew I didn’t want to ever be without them around me. There was love in all that but I couldn’t articulate it. As I grew up and became aware of boys and then grew up some more and actually decided I loved someone enough to marry him, I began to get an inkling about what love was but it was certainly not something I wanted to think about with friends, or classmates, or anybody else I knew, much less with neighbors, or the homeless, or my enemies. Love was just for men and women to live together for the rest of their lives and I didn’t have a clue how to love all those other people, some of whom I didn’t even like or worse. I must say I didn’t think about it much but when you’re studying the New Testament, you can’t help but think about love. Well, when I finally got it was when we learned that there are 7 Greek words for love as it is translated in our Bible. There is eros – man/woman love; there is philia – deep friendship love – some call it family love; to name a few, and then there is agapé. Agapé is the love that is mostly talked about in the New Testament and it means “doing love” or, as some call it “Christian love.” Agapé means giving without counting the cost, caring without judging, and loving unconditionally. Agapé is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, it’s what we are called to do in everyday life – give, care, and love. And, more importantly, it’s what people see when they look at a Woman of God.

If you have ever given your last dollar to the homeless man outside of Wal-Mart, you have practiced agapé. If you have ever visited an inmate in prison and listened to his story with a caring heart instead of a judgmental mind, you have practiced agapé. If you have ever stood beside a friend who has done wrong, speaking reassurance that “you may have done a bad thing but that doesn’t make you a bad person,” then you have practiced agapé. Every time you bring food for the food pantry or school supplies, every time you participate in the St. Francis dinners, every time you knit a lap robe for the sick, every time you visit the sick or dying in the hospital, you are practicing agapé. As members of the Daughters of the King, you practice agapé as you live out your commitment to serve Christ and the community. You are practicing “doing love” – loving one another through doing something to help them and to show your Christian love for them. That’s one more thing that identifies us as Women of God.

One of the articles on my website is called “God’s Still Working On Me.” That phrase comes from a song we used to sing in youth group of the same name. It goes like this:

God's Still Working on Me

He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The Sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He’s still working on me.

There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,
Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part.
But I’ll be perfect just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master’s loving hands. And it goes on…

This is what it means to present ourselves as a work in progress – we are living in a world knowing that we aren’t perfect – that God is indeed still working on us. Yes, we are a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in his image but notice that does not mean that we are exact copies – if we were, we’d all be God and that would be a mess for sure. What it does mean is that we are made of good stuff – God’s stuff – stuff he used to make the most precious creature in his world. So, we aren’t fluff or just any old lint or sand he picked up off the primordial earth. We are his holy dust – his purest and most loved particles of his created earth and so we too are all a Child of God and as adult females, we are all Women of God.

And when we present ourselves in the world, knowing God’s word, knowing our God personally, knowing that our God sent his only Son to save us all from ourselves and the evil in the world, and that we are saved for all eternity, we are offering ourselves to the world as Women of God. And the more we remind ourselves and each other of this holy designation, the more we show everybody around us that we are becoming more like Jesus as we seek to know Him and obey Him. With every offered hand, with every offered prayer, with every offered gift, we become more like Jesus, we speak his Word, and with everything we learn about God and Jesus and what they have called us to be, we become more and more what God made us to be – Women of God. Amen.

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Priesthood – Who Can Wear It?

This question has been hotly debated throughout history. From the early days of the church when some women in the Church at Corinth were criticized by Paul for disrupting worship to the 21st century when many women now function as deacons, priests, and bishops. There is now widespread acceptance of women as clergy at every level in many denominations, but the debate still rages on and, no doubt, will continue until the second coming, when Christ will return and settle the issue.

The Priesthood is a mantle, worn by those whom God has called to serve him through his church. Even though the word “Priest” is a title, which confers on a person a position of authority, Priesthood is NOT a title conveyed by humans and it is NOT a position of authority granted by human hands. The Priesthood is God’s gift to those who answer the call to minister to God’s people through the sacraments of the church. As such, it is given by God through the Holy Spirit. In the history of the Church, there has never been a moment when God said, “Only men can be touched by my Spirit to do my bidding.” Actually, there has never been a moment when God said, “Here’s how you make a priest….” What there has been is God’s calling on the hearts of people in every walk of life to be God’s priest by serving and by offering Christ’s sacrifice, healing, blessing, and anointing.

In our human wisdom, the church has developed a process of examination and discernment to ensure that the church is only served by qualified people. As cumbersome and painful as this process can be, it seems to be necessary as the ministry to God’s people has become more and more demanding and, every day, the knowledge needed to instruct God’s people increases. So, the church has imposed its human methods of setting apart those it deems worthy of the position and title. Unfortunately, human examination and discernment often weed out those who have been genuinely called by God as the standards imposed by this process are many times not guided by God’s desires but by the needs and beliefs of the humans behind the process. Historically, the conclusion of the human process has been:
•    Men
•    Faithful
•    Devoted
•    Well-educated in God’s word and Church history
•    Approved by human standards of decency and morality

There are countless reasons for those conclusions, especially the first one and it is not the intent of this article to rehearse them all. The point here is that this mantle of Priesthood has been given to men and women of God’s church since the earliest days of God’s creation. There were men and women anointed as judges in the government and Jesus accepted women in any roles that were allowed by the society in which they lived as well as those that were not.  He gave his blessing on women to serve him as they followed him in his earthly ministry and even gave them the greatest ministry he could at the time – that of evangelist. He sent women to tell the Apostles the good news of his resurrection from the dead. Jesus placed no restrictions on who could be a follower and a disciple.

The church of today has many restrictions on women in the church. These are human restrictions, regardless of how the church manipulates Scripture to put discriminatory words in the mouths of Jesus and Paul and others who wrote of the ministry of the church. The restrictions which persist into the modern church were set and condoned and continued by the humans who took upon themselves the ministry of administering the church’s policies throughout history. A trip through Church history makes one thing clear – the policies and practices of the Church have changed, are changing, and will always continue to change as long as humans are involved. The only thing that has not changed is that Jesus is the head of the Church, the author of our salvation, and the ultimate authority of our faith. The mantle of Priesthood comes under the authority of Jesus and, while he left his Church in the hands of his Apostles, his intention was that it grow and develop under his authority and according to his standards.

This is why we don’t throw people out of the church when they sin; we teach forgiveness and we practice it. This is why we don’t make people take a test to receive God’s love; we teach unconditional love and we practice it. Jesus practiced inclusiveness in his community of disciples; women were included and welcome and given the most vital assignments. They were included and empowered by Jesus to the very limits of what the society allowed and even beyond. To Jesus, there was “no male and female,” only followers.

The Priesthood of the Church is modeled after the Priesthood of Jesus, not after his gender. The Priesthood is all about Christ, not about a male person. It is about the sacrifice of his human body, not his male body. It is about his offering of himself, his spirit as well as his body, on Calvary and none of this has anything to do with the fact that he was a male. Gender had nothing to do with the Priesthood of Christ; therefore, it seems obvious that Jesus would not exclude anyone from the Priesthood of the Church based on gender. Our human process should be concerned with morality and goodness and faithfulness and knowledge of God’s Word and all of the other qualities of Christ that people need in a Priest of the Church. Certainly there are some women who should not be ordained because they don’t possess these qualities just as there are men who should not be ordained for the same reasons. There is no evidence that Jesus ever intended that gender be one of the reasons that the mantle of Priesthood be denied.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  Fill out the form below to receive her newsletter and important emails and don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.


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A Strong Woman

“Memére”

Every so often I experience what I call “a perspective shift.”  That is a moment when I discover that all my struggles for equality and acceptance in my role as a priest pale in comparison with what some women have endured at the hands of cultural traditions.  Women in Mid-Eastern countries, for instance, have suffered physical brutality as well as emotional and psychological damage in a society that still practices inhuman discrimination against women.  My “sufferings” take on a whole new perspective.

Then, every so often, I experience a shift in the opposite direction.  I find women who have lived in the male-oriented society of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s in this country, have stayed “in their place” as “the little woman” – the ideal every young girl aspired to from adolescence until that moment when they achieved what they had learned was the ultimate in womanhood – the wedding ring.

These women lived in a world where two working parents was unheard of, where single-parent families were rare as widowed women tended to find another protective and supporting mate quickly, and where the “woman of the house” was just that – she stayed home and “kept house” for her breadwinner and her children.  I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and my mother was not one of those women and neither was her mother – they both worked outside the home but my mom worked with my Dad so he didn’t have to hire another employee and she was almost always home when we came from from school.

Here’s what I’m getting at – there are many women who suffered discriminating practices by overbearing husbands and a traditionally male society, but they either didn’t notice or elegantly and proudly rose above it.  A month or so ago, I went to Sanford, Maine where I attended a memorial service for just such a remarkable woman.  Her name was Bea Fluet and she was my brother-in-law’s mother.  She was many things during her long life.  She was a Christian – a good Catholic but that was not what everyone remembered about her – in fact, the funeral was not in a church, there was no Catholic priest present – her church affiliation was not even mentioned because what was important was not what church she attended but whom she chose to follow and serve and emulate – she was the most pure example of a Christian I know – she loved everyone just the way Jesus loved her.

She was also a mother – actually, an adoptive mother – a long-time widow – a grandmother – great-grandmother.  The family gathered in from all over – Northern Virginia, Delmar NY, Massachusetts – friends of hers, friends of Joe, family – all of us came to pay tribute to this woman who was raised in one of the poorest families in town – who worked her whole life until arthritis took over – who was widowed early and still raised one of the finest men I’ve ever known.  During those years, she lived with Joe, helping to raise his children and in later years, she lived with both him and my sister, his new wife, helping to raise their children.

As I sat and listened to all of them – from her 66-year-old son to her 7-year-old great-grandson – all they spoke of was how she loved – how she loved her husband – an unlikely love for an abusive alcoholic – she loved her son with the fierce, unselfish, giving – almost blind love of an adoptive parent – how she loved their friends – how she loved all of them – his children – their children – and when her son got married, she loved his new family – all of us, even his new wife’s sister (that’s me) who couldn’t seem to get her name right.  (She was French and the French word for grandmother is Memere – which everyone called her.  I came from a place where grandmothers were called Nana, Sweet Pea, and Meemaw, so I heard Memere as Mimi and for the first few years that’s what I called her – until she told me if I didn’t get her name right, she wouldn’t answer me.)  When her son went searching for and found his birth family – she loved them too – she even dubbed Joe’s new half-brother “Son #2.”  She loved them all and on this day – they all talked about just how much.

In all of their stories, they never spoke of how sweet she was or how she coddled or spoiled them.  They told of her “tough love” – how she got them to do what she wanted by telling them that “The Man” said so.  She told them as potty-training toddlers, “The Man said I can’t buy diapers anymore.”  She told them the same thing whenever they questioned why they had to do what she said – “because The Man said so.”

They told us how she constantly threatened them when they misbehaved – with her good-natured “I’ll give you back to the Indians” and how they knew she wasn’t serious – that she would never do that – but that she was serious about their behavior.  They told us about how she extended her love to their friends with chocolate cake at the kitchen table after school and with her burnt cookies and other culinary specialties which spoke so loudly of how much she loved them even if they weren’t the best treats in town because there was always enough for all of them – and always leftovers.

One of her great-grandsons told us through his tears about how she would tell him when he got too smart-alecky that his little brother was the Boss and then “the Boss” told us through his tears that she called him “the Boss” to make him feel better.

The love of this wonderful woman was the love that even the hardships she bore as a woman in those days couldn’t destroy.  Memere was – in her own words, “an old broad” – “a Frenchman” (and always said, up til the very end – “you can’t kill a Frenchman”).  She was a “tell-it-like-is” with no holds barred person – and if you had asked her, I’m sure she would have said that she wasn’t much of a success.  But her granddaughter, Jenny said that if we had been burying the Pope, there couldn’t have been a more powerful tribute paid.  Because she loved and loved and loved – everybody and anybody – with no favorites – everybody got what they deserved – love!  She was always there – always caring – always giving – always loving and, as far as I could tell, she cared about the opinions of only two men – God’s Son and her son.

For all her sufferings at the hands of an abusive man and in a world of “stay in your place” thinking, I think if I had asked her how she felt about being treated so poorly, she would have looked at me as if I had three heads and said something like, “I don’t pay any attention to all that – the Boss will take care of them!”  What a strong woman!

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Susan Bowman, is an ordained Episcopal Priest, a Grandmother, and a Professional Writer.  She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1986 and has a story to tell that will speak to all women who are functioning in a traditionally male role.  She has written a memoir about her experiences of discrimination within the church’s ordination process and in the parishes she served.  Lady Father is now available at Amazon.com. Sign up at the bottom of this page and you will receive her newsletter and important emails.


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He’s Gone Too Far!

It’s taken hundreds of years and probably millions of words dancing on the edge of total heresy but finally – he’s done it!  The Pope has gone over the edge with the Vatican’s latest Normae de Gravioribus Delicti document in which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has put ordaining women or being ordained and being a woman right up on the list with sexual abuse of children and the mentally challenged.

Through my disbelief and rage, I can still manage to ask 3 questions:

1. Who do they think they are?

2. What Bible do they read?

3. Did they ask God about this?

Let’s take the 3rd one first – I know they craft these highly religious documents in an atmosphere of prayer and I am certain that those prayers include asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.  I don’t claim to be God or anything but the God I do know wouldn’t have steered them anywhere near this rocky and treacherous shore.

The God of love whom I worship sent his Son to eradicate this kind of condemnation and I believe that Jesus was following orders when he flew in the face of every discriminatory practice of the day.  He ate meals with women, he talked to them in public, he touched them and let them touch him, no matter what time of the month it was.  He encouraged women to be real and he even entrusted – you got it – women! with the first news of his resurrection.

So that brings us to the Bible – neat huh? – have any of you ever read anything in the words of Jesus or even in the whole Bible about ordination.  Folks, we made that up!  We picked up on the whole anointing and setting apart and raising up from the selection process God put in place from the days of the early kings but there was no Commission on Ministry, no Standing Committee, no elaborate service with incense swinging and multiple holy hands weighing down on one head.

If Jesus didn’t tell his future church leaders how to “ordain” priests, how can anybody read anything he said and conclude that he would exclude women from such a process, which he didn’t set up in the first place.  What Jesus DID set up was a standard for treating women as intelligent and valuable members of society so can you even imagine what he’s thinking now?

The Bishop who ordained me was a very wise man – many of you knew the Rt. Rev. C. Charles Vaché, 7th Bishop of Southern Virginia as a I did – warm, caring, with a gift for storytelling and a clever turn-of-the phrase.  He was known for his gift of understatement with a touch of humor.  One of my favorites was his quick comeback to what I know was an often repeated request every where he went:  “Bishop, can’t you do something about this weather?” His stock answer was:  “Sorry, I’m in sales, not management.”

After his long struggle with the question of the ordination of women, he became very clearly convinced that the ordination of women was “of God.” I remember someone asking him one time, “How do you know that?” And, I had to pick my lower jaw off the floor when I heard him say, “Because God has made effective and faithful female priests for more than 10 years now,” and, with that subtle twinkle in his eye that I had come to really appreciate, he looked at me and said, “And there’s no doubt that Susan Bowman would not have made it through the ordination process without God’s help.”

He was so right! I knew from the beginning that I needed God to survive the male-oriented system still present in Southern Virginia in the early 80’s and that, after 13 years away from academia, which I didn’t conquer too strongly during my first assault, I was in serious need of divine inspiration and intervention.

This brings us to the final question:  “Who do they think they are?”  This is one of my favorite responses to the outrageous and it’s close kin to “What were they thinking?”  Of course, it’s a rhetorical question and I’ve no doubt that the literal answer is “God’s Church” or “God’s Servants” as these committed and concerned prelates seem to feel called somehow to serve as “guardians of the faith” in a faithless or at least a “faith-challenged” world.

The faith they are called to protect, however, is not theirs. They don’t own it; Faith is a gift from God to fallen humanity and, even as we seem to be constantly struggling with it, questioning it, and in some cases, rejecting it or modifying it to suit our tastes, it is the bedrock foundation for our lives. Everybody has to have faith in SOMETHING.

Our Christian faith is constantly under attack from all quarters, even from within our own denominations so it is clear that we humans need help with such crucial theological concepts as the Trinity, redemption, and the list goes on . . . .” I don’t claim to know everything about God (in fact, I’m not even sure that any of us can really KNOW things about God – I think we “faith” them) and I’m certainly teachable and ready to learn but I learned in seminary to check everything against Scripture and while I’ll certainly admit that there are tons of unclear and even contradictory evidence in the Bible about the role of women, there is no doubt in my mind about three things:

1. The Pope and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith think that they are the absolute and final authority on “things of the Faith” and that they speak for God in all matters of the Faith.  The first time there was an attempt to “play God,” two people got thrown out of the Garden.

2. The Bible that I read speaks loudly of God’s love for every human being, for Jesus’ love and respect for women, and for his fair treatment of every kind of person – even sinners. It speaks loudly of God’s hatred of evil and humans hurting each other and nowhere does the Bible I read equate the most despicable treatment of God’s most vulnerable with a woman’s sincere desire to serve God.

3. If the Pope and his CDF asked God about what to write in this newest piece of religious teachings, they either didn’t listen to the answer or they heard it wrong or they made up the answer they wanted to hear.

I don’t want to stoop to their level and call them unfit or unsuited and I certainly will not call them names or impugn their character as they have done to me and thousands of women like me.  I will leave them to God.

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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry.  Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is available now at Amazon.com and don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.


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Working Through “The Process”

Anyone who has been part of an evaluative procedure knows the abject terror that is brought on by the simple word – “Interview.” Whether it’s for a job, admission to an educational program, or even for your child’s school newspaper, even the prospect of an “interview” brings on sweaty palms, a shaky voice, weak knees, and a queasy stomach because it is an experience that puts you “out there” in front of other people in the most vulnerable position – on the “hot seat.”

This is where you sit while another person, or a group of people, grill you about your past, your present, your future, what you know, what you think, what you want, who you are, who you want to be, and even who you have been and don’t want to be anymore.  The feeling of terror is directly proportionate to the number of people doing the grilling, as well as the power those people have over your life.

“The Process” towards ordination is mainly a series of one interview after another and, as I sit here more than 20 years after the final one, I can’t tell you which was the worst one or the most terrifying.  I can tell you that one of the most dreaded steps in the ordination process is the final interview by a rather unwieldy but daunting group made up of the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee, both of which are charged with examining every Candidate for ordination and making a recommendation to the Bishop regarding a rather nebulous quality known as “readiness for ordination.”  I arrived in Norfolk for my “ordination interview” sometime in April of 1984, about a month before graduation, and I was terrified beyond belief.

All interviewees in this process are encouraged to bring their spouses both for moral support and so that their opinions and insights can be considered as well.  As a single person, I was alone.  There was no one sitting before this august body to face the inquisition but me.  I had been a single person for 10 years at that time but I had never felt more alone than I did at that moment.  But – I sucked it up as always and looked confidently and expectantly at the Chairman….He greeted me warmly and then opened the floor for questions from any of the Commission members and my nemesis from the last few years immediately spoke up.  My heart plummeted as I knew that nothing good was coming out of her mouth.  She looked at me with, I swear, a glint in her eyes, and said, “Well, we understand that you aren’t a very good housekeeper.”

What followed wasn’t pretty!  I was assailed with ridiculous questions and comments about how prospective employers and church vestries would respond to me with my “messy” tendencies and my weight problem.  Anyone listening in would have been convinced that I was being interviewed as a prospective entrant in the Miss America pageant.  By the time it was over, I was convinced that these people did not see me as a prospective priest and that the last four years had all been in vain.

“The Process” I refer to is the method whereby a person is evaluated, judged, and admitted as a participant, then is molded into what “The Process” expects.  It is difficult but worth the hard work; it is painful, but not “unto death”; and it is destructive and productive at the same time – weeding out the inappropriate behaviors and tendencies and encouraging the development of more acceptable qualities.  Actually, it’s a lot like squeezing the proverbial square peg into the round hole but, I have to admit, it works.

In many situations, this refining process takes on a life of its own, especially when there are extraneous “issues” involved.  The Ordination Process in the Diocese of Southern Virginia in the 1980’s was a “well-oiled machine,” which was managed by very capable clergy and laypeople who had the best interests of the church at heart but many of whom also had “issues” with the admittance of women to the previously all-male priesthood.  It was this combination that rendered “The Interview” for my possible ordination as a Deacon almost useless as a tool for measuring my actual readiness for that step.  It became instead an evaluation of the image I created as a future priest of the church and whether that image was acceptable.  For many of those involved in “the Process” at that time, that image was not what they were looking for nor was it what they believed the church should be encouraging and accepting.

I was caught in a “process” that I quite frankly believed in as a tool for the formation of God’s ministers but which had become more of a tool for proving that women are not appropriate and acceptable candidates for this “process” and which threatened to “process” the first woman right out of the program.  Very shortly, you can read all about how close this came to being a reality and how I survived “the Process.”

My memoir, “Lady Father,” is now available on Amazon.com.”  Fill out the form below now and you will receive our newsletter and important emails.

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Women Clergy – Victims or Victors

Prejudice and discrimination is alive and well in our society and, unfortunately, it also flourishes in the Church where it makes many people into victims.  In my mind, this is the one institution where we should be able to operate freely without prejudice and discrimination – where ministers of the Gospel should be victors instead.  We should be accepted in the Church just as Jesus accepted all people, especially women, during his earthly ministry.

In my positions as a municipal employee, I encountered some initial hostility by the men I worked with until I proved myself worthy.  In both positions, I was holding jobs for which I had no previous experience and for which I had not been formally trained.  In one case the job I was hired to do was unique and I had been hired in a pay grade that had always been for a highly technical position, so some skepticism was understandable.  In both cases, once I showed  I was capable and more than willing to learn and to pull my weight, I was accepted and respected.

In my experience as an ordained woman in the Episcopal Church, I found such acceptance to be spotty at best, mostly conditional, and at the worst, just the opposite.  Generally speaking, I was neither totally accepted  nor respected by the majority of people I worked with  or the members to whom I ministered.

In the ordination process, I found people in positions of authority over me and my standing within the process, as well as people in the pews, who fell into five general categories:

  • Totally accepting and supportive – These were few and far between and they tended to be people who either blindly supported the equality of women in every facet of life or those who had thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the ordination of women and come to the conclusion that it was part of God’s plan for the Church. They also tended to be vocal in their acceptance and in their support of individual women whom they thought were suitable for ordination.
  • Accepted the idea but with reservations – There were many good church people who wouldn’t dream of being prejudiced against women or any other group and so they called themselves supporters of women’s ordination.  They were inwardly unsure of the wisdom of upsetting the Church’s traditional heirarchy and of their own comfort zone  with women functioning in a traditional male role on a spiritual level.
  • Accepted the person’s qualifications but not the concept of women in ordained ministry – These people often were heard to say, after an encounter with an ordained woman, “I don’t think much of the ordination of women, but Xxxxx Xxxxx is OK.”
  • Rejected the idea of women’s ordination, but were open to change – These were also thoughtful and prayerful churchpeople who just were not able to accept a female in spiritual authority or were uncomfortable with women functioning as priests (celebrating the Eucharist, absolving sins, and pronouncing God’s blessing, etc) but were willing to discuss it rationally – at least most of the time.
  • Totally rejected the possibility that women could function as priests – Many in this category were hostile, either openly or passive-aggressively and most refused to accept a woman’s ordination as valid.  There were many clergy in this category and there still are a good number of Episcopal clergy who will refuse to accept communion from a woman.

During my journey through the ordination process, I encountered some of all of the above categories.  The most difficult to deal with were the people who had no rational reason for rejecting women as priests; they just couldn’t “deal with it.”  I found many women in this category.  Their questions were many times strident and pointed:  “Why can’t you do ministry in the church as a lay person like I do?”  “Why do you feel like you have to be ordained?”  “Who will take care of your child while you’re in seminary or running out in the middle of the night for pastoral emergencies?”

Have you encountered these folks in your own journey?  Have you been hurt by such thoughtless words, even when uttered by a friend or family member?  Have you dealt with clergy and bishops who could not accept your call or your ordained status?  Write to me with your experiences – I’ve found some healing in sharing such moments with others and I have found ways to co-exist with the prejudice and discrimination of women clergy in the church.

Also, I hope you enjoy my memoir entitled “Lady Father,” in which I detail my experiences, good and bad, as a priest of the Church and how I moved from “Victim” to “Victor.”

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Susan Bowman, is an ordained Episcopal Priest, a Grandmother, and a Professional Writer.  She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1986 and has a story to tell that will speak to all women who are functioning in a traditionally male role.  She has written a book about her experiences of discrimination within the church’s ordination process and in the parishes she served.  It is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  Fill out the form below to enter contact information securely and check out her Facebook page at https://facebook.com/ladyfather.


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“What Do You Call a Woman Priest?”

“Lady Father” is a title that was given to me by a dear friend – see my first post – and I’ll never forget the night he so graciously endowed me with that moniker.  He was not what anyone would call a liberal and certainly wasn’t a supporter of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church until somehow I managed to move him from one side of that issue to another.

I thank God for that man and his openness to the Holy Spirit and the courage it took for him to announce in public his transformation.  I thanked him that night and let him know how special my new “nickname” was to me.  He didn’t bat an eye but told me sternly (Fr. Bill said most everything “sternly”) that I was to have LadyFr put on my license plate as soon as possible.  I said that maybe I would and he looked me right in the eye and said, “You have to put that on your license plate – I made it up and I want everybody to see it.”  So, I agreed.

Later that same evening, I was surprised by a woman I knew well (she had very recently been ordained a priest), who approached me with a sympathetic look on her face, hugged me, and said, “Didn’t you just die when he called you ‘Lady Father’?  Isn’t that just an awful name – what a sexist!” Since none of that had even occurred to me, I looked at her like she had several heads and responded as gently as possible, “Well, actually, I love it!  It’s an incredible compliment coming from Fr. Bill and I’m going to put it on my license plate.”

She was appalled and turned away, shaking her head at how naive I was.  But I wasn’t being naive.  I believe that titles are very important as they serve a number of essential purposes:

  • Identity – A title can let the world know who you are.
  • Occupation – A title also can indicate what you do.
  • Honor – A title can confer honor or respect on you.
  • Authority – A title can give you authority over others.

The title “Lady Father” identified me as a female, who is a priest to those familiar with the Episcopal Church’s designation of ordained priests as “Father.”  It also clearly indicated that my occupation was “clergy.”  In my estimation, this title was Fr. Bill’s way of saying that he honored my ordination and respected my position as a member of the Episcopal clergy.  It gave me the same authority that he had as a priest of the church, making me his equal.

That being said, I have to tell you all that I do not ask people to call me “Mother” as many female clergy do.  I don’t particularly think the use of “Father” is completely helpful and appropriate for a priest since many people have serious issues with their own fathers, making the use of that title somewhat problematic for them.  Also, it can conjure up the whole family image with the outdated “Father is the head of the household” idea.  Interestingly, however, I do revere the title “Father” as a word that means one set aside by God’s holy ordination to be a priest of the church.

In that vein, I have often said that I would rather be called “Father” than “Mother” because introducing a female title centers the entire issue of women’s ordination on gender.  I don’t consider myself a “woman priest” anymore than Fr. Bill considered himself a “man priest” or “male priest.  I am just a priest – period.  Back to the license plate – later that year, I was at Vail’s Gate, NY on retreat when I met a woman who was the clergy chaplain for that week.  I made an appointment to speak with her after lunch one day and as we got acquainted, I relayed to her the story of “Lady Father,” mostly to see what she thought of it since I was still puzzling over that woman’s response to it as “sexist.”

She whooped!  She thought it was absolutely wonderful and, in fact she loved it so much that she wanted to run out to the car and see my license plate.  Like Fr. Bill, she was aghast when I told her I hadn’t done it yet because it was just now time to renew it and I didn’t have the extra money it cost.  Well, she whipped out her Discretionary Fund checkbook and wrote me a check for $50 to cover the extra fee and she said, using almost the exact same words as Fr. Bill, “That name has to be out there for the whole state of New York to see!”

So, anybody out there struggling with the “title” issue – when you read my book you’ll love my encounter with then Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning and what he said about clergy titles for women AND men!’  Let me hear from you!!  Have you got your own great story to tell?  Or have you been burned by the “title” thing? Would you want to be called “Lady Father”?

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Susan Bowman, is an ordained Episcopal Priest, a Grandmother, and a Professional Writer.  She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1986 and has a story to tell that will speak to all women who are functioning in a traditionally male role.  She has written a book about her experiences of discrimination within the church’s ordination process and in the parishes she served. It is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  Fill the form out below to enter contact information securely.


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