Yesterday was probably the biggest upset yet — Frances Perkins edged out Martin Luther King, Jr. by the barest of margins. I commented on a friend’s fb page yesterday that I wished there had been a “both/and” category for voting. I have a hunch that Frances’ coming out slightly ahead reflects a desire on the part of many of us to see her story more broadly and boldly told. How could I, as a history major back in college, not have known about her before Lent Madness? The New Deal is always associated with FDR; Perkins was the architect of it (and so much more) and yet remains largely unsung. I hope that changes and I thank the Supreme Executive Committee for bringing her to the wider attention.
Today I’m once again faced with a vote-off between two saints for whom I voted in the Round of 32. However I don’t feel nearly as torn by the choice today as I did yesterday. Today Greg the Great goes up against Florence Li-Tim Oi whom I dubbed in the first go-around the “Rosie the Riveter of Anglican priests.” She was, as you may recall, the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion — many years before the ordination of the “Philadelphia 11” in 1974. She was ordained during World War II when there was a shortage of priests on the island of Macau. After the War, just as Rosie relinquished her place in the assembly line to the returning GI Joes, Florence relinquished her license to officiate to stem the burgeoning tide of harrumphing within the Anglican Communion about a woman priest. She never denounced her orders though and lived to see a future day when she could once again reclaim her full priestly calling.
It’s probably pretty obvious by now who gets my vote today. Don’t get me wrong, Gregory the Great did great things for the church during a particularly dark period of history as the Roman world was falling apart. (I do hold one grudge against him, though — apparently he was responsible for the claim that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and for the assumption that millions have made through the centuries about her even though there is not even the merest suggestion of this in the actual Bible). But today I am once again voting for Florence Li-Tim Oi.
We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us — those who sacrificed to blaze a trail — and as a priest who happens to be a woman I am keenly aware of what we owe to the brave ones like Florence, like the 11. Yes, this one is personal, but it’s not just about me and my priesthood, it’s about my daughter and all daughters everywhere. It’s about the struggle that still continues for equality, for justice, for the freedom to be able to be who God has uniquely created us each to be.
Soon after I arrived in the Diocese of Pennsylvania some 22 years ago I attended an informal gathering of women priests. Among the people gathered were two women in particular: the Rev’d Nancy Stroh, the priest who had been the interim rector at the parish I had just started serving, and the Rev’d Nancy Wittig, also a priest in that diocese — and one of the original Philadelphia 11. That day I had a major “aha” moment as I realized with immense gratitude I could thank the one for my being a priest and the other for having set the precedent which enabled that parish to imagine a woman rector.
We stand on the shoulders of the brave ones, the giants, who come before us.
To vote, go here.