Tag Archives: Lady Father

God’s Still Working on Me

Some years ago I learned a song  that I’ve never been able to put out of my head.  I only remember the first few lines but I found it on the internet, where you can find virtually anything!  Here it is:

God's Making Me What I Want to Be

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.

In the mirror of His Word reflections that I see
Make me wonder why He never gave up on me.
He loves me as I am and helps me when I pray
Remember He’s the Potter, I’m the clay

The point of bringing up this song is twofold:

  1. I am a work in progress, always have been, and always will be
  2. I’m still working on my eBook “Lady Father: How I Overcame Outrageous Discrimination in the Church,” have been for years, but will not always be – in fact, I’m more than halfway finished so sign up to be on my Announcement List and I’ll let you know when it’s ready. (See below)

    The School of Theology

    The School of Theology

This eBook I’m writing has been rolling around in my head and my heart for about 5 years now – I even started on it during a 2-week Fellow-in-Residence stay in Sewanee.  I wrote every day for 2 weeks and came home with a lot of my journey stored on a floppy disk, which is now “God knows where.”  I have checked out all the old “floppies” I have and somehow all that work has disappeared.

My theory about that, which I figured out after ranting and raving for a little bit about the monumental waste of time it was to work that hard and then lose it, is simple:  It wasn’t time yet.  There was still more of the journey to come that shouldn’t be left out of it.  It’s sort of Paul Harvey’s “rest of the story” if you will.

So much has happened within my life in the church since then that I am actually glad to have started again.  It has flowed much more smoothly, I have learned so much more about myself and how my journey affected my life, and I am so much more comfortable writing about the uncomfortable things, that feels like the right time.

I think it’s because of three things:

  1. I have completed the active ministry part of my life as an ordained woman in the church so it feels like a natural place to stop and reflect.
  2. I have a new perspective on my experiences as I am now able to “look in on it” from the edge of it instead of in the middle of it.  I’m not totally “outside of it” but I can see it all better than I ever been able to before.
  3. I have a new motive for writing this book than I did before; at that time, I wanted to expose it all – to warn other women to watch out for the pitfalls I had not seen looming ahead of me and, I suppose to garner some sympathy for all the pain and grief I had endured.

My motive now is rooted in my new-found, transfigured faith that God did indeed call me to be a priest in his Church, that he used me to make a difference in the lives of many people, and that I now have the God-given talent, the opportunity, and the means to use my experience to help other women who may be facing the same attitudes and who may not have a support system to turn to for encouragement, advice, and a safe place to ventilate, share, and reflect with someone who has “been there.”

Maybe you’ve been there – maybe you’re there now – maybe you can see it coming – maybe you just want to be prepared for your journey through the ordination process.  Whatever – just add a comment – or email me.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget to sign up for my Announcement List so you’ll be among the first to get a copy of the eBook when it’s finished – or at least when it’s at the place where it makes sense to publish it.  I know that it will never be finished because God is still working on me!

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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.  Lady Father is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. Fill in the form below to enter contact information securely.


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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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The “Lady Father” is OK

Lady Father is the name given to me by Fr Bill Hoffman in 1986.  I was a brand new priest and Fr Bill was a dyed-in-the-wool, old-school, Episcopal priest.  We had both been asked to serve as Spiritual Directors on a Cursillo weekend along with Fr Norm Baty.  Since Fr Bill was the head of the Spiritual Director team, I knew he had agreed to have me serve with them on the team and I foolishly assumed that he was, therefore, a supporter of women’s ordination.

He greeted me when I arrived with no inkling that he was uncomfortable with the idea of sharing sacramental duties with a woman.  After 4 days of worshiping, praying, and sharing priestly duties together, I was shocked to hear him say to those gathered for the closing ceremony that he had not been a supporter of the idea of ordaining women to the priesthood before our weekend began.  I was even more shocked to hear him state:  “But after serving with Susan Bowman this weekend, I want to say that the ‘Lady Father’ is OK.”

I have been “Lady Father” ever since.  It is on my license plate, it has been my user name on countless internet websites and email programs, and some of my parishioners insisted on calling me “Lady Father” and introduced me as “the Lady Father” to everyone we met.  I have used it with particular pleasure because of my love and esteem for the man who coined it but also because it was the ultimate acceptance of my priestly ministry by one who had previously been on the “other side of the fence.”

My 23+ years of ordained ministry have been filled with such stories – some as moving and positive as this one but some were hurtful and negative as my beloved Episcopal Church struggled with the emotionally charged issue of women’s ordination at every level of the church.  I have been called a pioneer, a fraud, a brave woman, and a pushy female who had no business wearing a clerical collar.  I have been ignored, shunned, and at times, blatantly insulted as well as welcomed, encouraged, and admired.  I have been an inspiration for many but a disgrace for some.

As I am now retired from full-time parish ministry, I am in a position of being able to look back and reflect on the “agony and the ecstasy” of life as an ordained woman in the Episcopal Church.  So, can you smell it coming??  Yes, I am writing a book on my experiences in the ordination process in the Diocese of Southern Virginia in the early 1980’s and in parish ministry both in Southern Virginia and then in the Diocese of Albany for almost 20 years.

It has been a long road – exhilarating at times, tiresome at others – and that road continues though it has recently taken me into another part of the Christian family – the United Methodist Church.  I serve now as a supply pastor for a tiny worshiping United Methodist congregation in upstate New York between Albany and the Vermont border. It’s even close enough to Vermont that I “go over” to get cheaper gas every Sunday morning after church. It’s also where I found new life after two difficult and draining parish experiences which came close to destroying me.  I remain a priest in good standing in the Episcopal Diocese of Albany while I serve, with the blessing of both Bishops, in the Adirondack District of the UMC.

This brand new blog, as well as my upcoming eBook, is my way of reaching out with my story to the church that has raised me, called me, trained me, used me, and (I hate to say it) dumped on me and rejected me. It is also my way of reaching out to other women who have faced or are facing prejudice and discrimination in a church that professes and stands for inclusiveness, openness, and God’s great love and acceptance of all people.

So, watch for more reflections and good dialogue as well as for the publication of my eBook in the near future.  I welcome your comments, questions, and reflections.  The Lady Father is indeed “OK!”

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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.


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