Tag Archives: prejudice and discrimination

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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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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