Tag Archives: women’s ordination

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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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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