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.