To Stay or Not to Stay: Facing Challenges in the Pursuit of Equality: Parliament of the World’s Religions Workshop

One of the most powerful workshops I attended at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City explored the difficult decision women face about whether to stay and work for change within their religious traditions or to leave to find equality outside their religions.

Bridget Mary Meehan, Ann Smith, Brooke Swallow, Kate Kelly

Bridget Mary Meehan, Ann Smith, Brooke Swallow, Kate Kelly



Bridget Mary Meehan, Ann Landaas Smith, Brooke Swallow, Kate Kelly

Bridget Mary Meehan, Ann Landaas Smith, Brooke Swallow, Kate Kelly

A panel of four women discussed the topic “To Stay or Not to Stay: Facing Challenges in the Pursuit of Equality.” Kate Kelly and Brooke Swallow chose to leave their Mormon tradition; Ann Smith chose to stay in her Episcopal tradition, and Bridget Mary Meehan chose to stay in her Roman Catholic tradition. Kate and Brooke spoke on the importance of upholding the human rights of women even at the cost of losing their religion. Ann and Bridget Mary chose to remain within their faith traditions to bring about necessary changes that will uphold the dignity and human rights of women.

Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly

In 2013 Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer, founded Ordain Women to get at the root cause of sexism in the Mormon church: men are ordained and women are not. Mormonism operates with a lay clergy, and all men and boys are ordained at the age of 12, meaning nearly seven million men are ordained. That leaves seven million women and girls who are not. Thus women are excluded from all leadership roles, from all decision-making, and from performing rituals.

At the Parliament workshop Kate Kelly also tells of being excommunicated from the Mormon church in 2014 because of her advocacy for gender justice in the religion. She appealed the excommunication and lost. “I chose to stay, but they wouldn’t have me,” Kate says, her voice trembling with emotion. “I tried to stay and make things better. Now I see that staying is not the only honorable option. I had to stand for principle instead of an institution. I want women to follow their own hearts, but that’s difficult when we’re indoctrinated every day. I hope women will put faith in themselves. Some may be able to stay and work for change from within the church. There is no one way to dismantle patriarchy.” She talks about the pain she felt the day of her excommunication. She hurt not only for herself, but for her family who had to choose between love and loyalty to the church and love for her. Kate expresses gratitude that they have chosen love for her, but sadness that they have suffered the consequences of being ostracized by church leaders and losing friends and influence in the church. She thanks her mother who is in the audience that day at her Parliament workshop.

Brooke Swallow

Brooke Swallow

In June of 2013 Brooke Swallow, a social justice activist, chose to leave the Mormon church to protest not only the church’s policies that exclude women from leadership but also the church’s stand against same-sex marriage and the church’s stance on other social issues. Since then Brook has helped organize mass-resignation events near Temple Square in Salt Lake City. At the most recent event on November 15, 2015, more than 1,000 Mormons submitted letters of resignation to protest a new policy barring children of married same-sex couples from being baptized until they are adults. “This is about compassion and supporting our community,” Brooke said. “No longer are we going to keep our mouths shut.”

At the Parliament workshop Brook Swallow says that the Mormon church never taught her about feminism; in fact, the church taught her that feminism was evil. She says, “I felt I had to leave the Mormon church, but I went through a grieving process when I left the religion I grew up in.” Brooke talks also about the family, social, cultural, and economic sanctions imposed against her and others in Utah who aren’t Mormon, who don’t dress with Mormon garments and keep Mormon customs.

Ann Landaas Smith

Ann Landaas Smith

Ann Landaas Smith, co-founder and director of Circle Connections, works with national and global organizations as an advocate for women, the environment, and other social justice issues. She believes that including the Divine Feminine is vital to justice and peace: “When enough people worship the Divine Feminine—as sacred, as God—the rape of women, sex trafficking, and all forms of violence against women and girls and the land, all creation, will end. We are co-creating a new story that balances the Divine Masculine with the Divine Feminine.” Because she brought the Divine Feminine into worship and helped organize the global women’s movement, she was fired from her position as director of Women in Mission and Ministry in the Episcopal Church USA, a position she had held for 17 years.

At the Parliament workshop Ann Landaas Smith also talks about working for change both within and outside her Episcopal tradition. She calls herself an “Episcopagan,” telling how she combines her Episcopal faith and earth-based spirituality. She feels “connected to Earth” and compelled to care for creation. Although the Episcopal hierarchy fired her because of her feminist advocacy work, Ann has chosen to stay in the Episcopal church to bring transformation. “We’re in solidarity with the church, but the church is not in solidarity with us,” she says. “My mission of bringing Divine Feminine language continues, of celebrating God as both Mother and Father to value all people and all creation in the divine image. And I am a circle evangelist, replacing hierarchies with circles. I believe in power with, not power over.”

Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan

Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan

Bridget Mary Meehan, a Bishop in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, rejects the Vatican’s excommunication and chooses to stay in her tradition. Bridget Mary was among the first eight women in the US to be ordained Roman Catholic priests and among the first four American Roman Catholic women bishops. There are now more than 215 ordained Catholic women priests and 75 faith communities led by them. Although the Vatican has excommunicated these women priests, their ordination is valid according to Catholic tradition because the male bishop who ordained the first women bishops is in full apostolic succession. “We are not leaving the church, but leading it to a new day of justice and equality,” Bridget Mary says.

At the Parliament workshop Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan also talks about why she stays in the Roman Catholic Church. “The people are the church,” she says. “The hierarchy alone is not the church! Even though my church is patriarchal and dysfunctional, I am staying to build a bridge to move it from its present sexist, oppressive structures to a new community that honors women and men as equals in every area of life.” Bridget Mary also stays because she loves the mystical and social justice heritage in Catholicism and because she is passionate about her ministry of bringing gender equality to the church and the world. “The Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement is a great blessing to the institutional church,” she says. “Our liturgies include female imagery of God and dialogue homilies. In our grassroots communities, all are welcome, including the divorced and remarried without annulments, LGBTQ people, and women who have given up on the church. Our vision is to renew the church as a discipleship of equals.”






Posted in She Lives! | Leave a comment

Guest Blog, “My Mecca: Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco,” by Colette Casburn Numajiri


Colette standing in front of herchurch, photo by Sagan Hardman

Colette standing in front of herchurch, photo by Sagan Hardman

Guest Blog, by Colette Casburn Numajiri

Devi Vaani: Dioanne Kohler, Alison Newvine, Kathleen Neville Fritz, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Devi Vaani: Dioanne Kohler, Alison Newvine, Kathleen Neville Fritz, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Last weekend we church hopped all the way to San Francisco to Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran. Jann had been telling me about herchurch (which they don’t capitalize) for years and she had recently collaborated with their church band, Devi Vaani, on a new holiday CD. Jann was going to their Harvest herfestival to give a workshop on her new book and hymnal and suggested I go. Somehow it worked out and my youngest son, Nikko, and I hopped a plane, and my sister who lives out there picked us up.

Sagan and Alexander, photo by Colette Casburn Numajiri

Sagan and Alexander, photo by Colette Casburn Numajiri

We first visited herchurch on the Saturday of the festival and felt welcomed from the parking lot. My sister, Sagan, and I brought her two young boys and Nikko that day to check out the resident artisan market and to see the art exhibit (over 30 artists were represented at their Goddess Spirit Rising Art Show Opening), all Divine Feminine themed. People everywhere introduced themselves and played with and held our babies so that we could look around. We weren’t there very long on Saturday but left smiling and intrigued.

photo by Alice Heimsoth

photo by Alice Heimsoth

On Sunday morning Sagan and I met Jann at herchurch for the liturgy (Sunday service) along with our two youngest sons. The service blew us all away. I don’t know how many times I cried. These people were HAPPY and creative and thriving.

photo by Colette Casburn Numajiri

photo by Colette Casburn Numajiri

I went to a very artsy university and I work regularly in the theatre around incredibly talented artists, but the herchurch members took it a step further. ALL of them multitalented in so many ways, this institution was like a breeding ground for all things creative. Musicians, painters, jewelry makers, poets, photographers, interpreters, weavers, gourmet cooks, healers, visionaries, writers, dancers, performers, yoga instructors, volunteers and philanthropists (from what I saw) and all in one building: one small community in this huge city encouraging and feeding off of each other’s productive energy. I very quickly felt I needed to step up my game (for lack of a better expression.) This place is on (Pele) fire!

So, the service began and we sat up front where the lively, colorful, enthusiastic and dare I say sexy, (Why can’t our spiritual leaders be sexy? Why has that become unacceptable?) Pastor Stacy Boorn had suggested we sit so that our children could see and experience it all.

photo by Colette Casburn Numajiri

photo by Colette Casburn Numajiri

The cathedral sanctuary is GORGEOUS. It’s a traditional Lutheran church building with high ceilings, beautiful arches, stained glass and blonde birch wood everywhere. The chairs are arranged in a semi-circle so that everyone feels a part and equal. The Devi Vaani trio began, singing one of the Christmas (Sophiamas) songs from the new CD. It was the most glorious sound I’ve ever heard in a church; their music was as angelic and all-encompassing as any church choir has ever sounded. They set the tone for something special.

Katie Ketchum & Dionne Kohler, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Katie Ketchum & Dionne Kohler, photo by Alice Heimsoth

The golden Goddess on the piano, Katie Ketchum (whose artwork is on the CD cover and photo-enhanced by the pastor), then took us on a lively bluesy/gospel musical adventure like I’d never experienced. By this time, Nikko was up and dancing and drumming right there in the middle of it all. And if my sister’s infant, Alexander, could’ve walked he would’ve run over to that piano. I didn’t quite know what to think; I kinda just stood their bouncing in amazement like I’d walked into someone’s raging party but it was only 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday! This led into the Grandmother Invocation where we sang and bowed to each of the 4 directions, a divinely moving ritual.

Karianne Burns, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Karianne Burns, photo by Alice Heimsoth

There were Tibetan bowls ringing, a conch shell sounded. and there was poetry followed by one of the Goddess on piano’s hymns. Someone read Psalms 146: “My spirit sings to Goddess. With all my being I praise Shekinah.” A young woman, Karianne Burns, who I think was an actual Seraphim angel, sang “an original piece as a reflection on the pain and light in Paris” a cappella. I was transported.

And then before Pastor Stacy began her sermon, re-coined “Wisdomscape,” she ran around with their Holy book and many members excitedly touched it. Everything they did was fun.

Pastor Stacy Boorn, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Pastor Stacy Boorn, photo by Alice Heimsoth





During her Wisdomscape, the pastor (who wore the traditional Lutheran collar but with a bright robe as well) very enthusiastically shared her message, with Nikko always nearby. While constantly welcoming and encouraging my child in the middle, she quoted Gloria Steinem who was recently asked who she was going to pass her torch to. She said, “No one!”; that no one should give their light up but help light other’s torches. We all have a torch to carry, work to do.

Then for communion—I’ve never seen a congregation so excited to take communion, the fresh-baked bread WAS really good though. We chanted: “Earth my Body, Water my Blood, Air my Breath, and Fire my Spirit” as we waited in line. This was followed by the Celtic Blessing : “May the circle be open but unbroken. May love of the Goddess be ever in your heart. Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again.” Pastor Stacy blessed us and more music closed the liturgy. I think I just sat there throbbing and fulfilled, not knowing what had just hit me.

Jack Pantaleo & Nikko, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Jack Pantaleo & Nikko, photo by Alice Heimsoth

Posted in She Lives! | 3 Comments

Deepening Conversation, Finding Common Ground: Circles with a Spiritual Center: Parliament of the World’s Religions

“Dance the World,” by Penny McManigal

“Dance the World,” by Penny McManigal

At the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, I experienced anew the power of sacred circles. For about six weeks before the Parliament began, I had the joy of joining a circle through telephone conversations as we connected and planned the Parliament workshop, “Deepening Conversation, Finding Common Ground: Circles with a Spiritual Center.” My friend Ann Landaas Smith, among those featured in my book She Lives!, invited me to participate in this workshop as a circle facilitator. Although 8 to 12 women took part in each of our phone conversations, we followed the circle principles of giving each voice equal value as we each shared our wisdom.

Feminine GroundOn the day before the Parliament opened, I connected in person with some of these women and many others in an afternoon of sacred circle. Kathe Schaaf, one of the co-founders of Women of Spirit and Faith, whose leadership I’d experienced at a Circle the UN program at the 2014 UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW), was among those who created this awesome pre-Parliament event titled “On Feminine Ground: The Alchemy of our COLLECTIVE Wisdom and Strength.” Women of Spirit and Faith collaborated with Gather the Women, Millionth Circle, and several other organizations to co-create this event. Approximately 100 women from multiple organizations and networks gathered in a lovely room at the Episcopal Church Center of Utah to practice the core values of leadership “On Feminine Ground”:

Everyone is a leader.

Everyone has wisdom to share.

Every voice is heard.

Every voice matters.

We divided into many small circles to connect our hearts, affirm our intentions, and ground the Parliament in the Sacred Feminine. Dorothy “Rowdy” Brewick, whom I’d also connected with in New York City at the UN CSW, facilitated our circle of women from various faith traditions, generations, and ethnicities. In just a few hours we formed deep connections, making reality this vision for our time together:

We will: 

meet ourselves and one another

experience the power of sacred space

deepen our skill of generative heart-listening

discover resonance and reverence

nurture the root system of women’s spirituality.

Our collective wisdom and strength will become a dynamic and effective organism that keeps showing up throughout the Parliament.

Our wisdom did continue to show up throughout the Parliament. Women from the “On Feminine Ground” event led 26 scheduled workshops, and we continued to receive additional invitations to lead workshops and participate on panels at the Parliament.

After experiencing the amazing circle at the “On Feminine Ground” event, I felt a dissonance while attending the plenary sessions and many of the workshops where the rooms had a linear arrangement with rows and rows of seating and speakers on raised platforms at the front. Instead of hearing the voices of all participants as in circles, we heard only the speakers and a few people who asked questions at the end of presentations.

MillionthCircleOne of my most powerful experiences of sacred circle came on Sunday at the Parliament workshop presented by Millionth Circle: “Deepening Conversation, Finding Common Ground: Circles with a Spiritual Center.” Although the large meeting room was arranged in the same linear style as most of the rooms at the Parliament, we quickly took the presenters’ chairs from the platform and formed a semi-circle for us to sit on the same level with everyone there. Leslie Lanes, co-designer of The Rose Circle, a community organization training women to be Circle Mentors for girls’ circles, began by introducing us and describing how we would move into small circles for our time together. She gave the Circle Principles we would follow:

Create a sacred space.

Open and close by hearing each voice.

Speak and listen from the heart.

Listen with discernment instead of judgment.

Speak from your own experience.

Hold in confidence what is shared in confidence.

Use silence for reflection, meditation, and prayer.

MillionthCircle2Jean Shinoda Bolen explained a little of the background and purpose of circles. The Millionth Circle Initiative, an idea that began at the 1999 World Parliament of Religions in South Africa, was inspired by her book The Millionth Circle: How to Change Ourselves and The World. The Millionth Circle is a metaphoric number that, when added to all the others, creates a tipping point in planetary consciousness. Every circle draws upon and contributes to a morphic field that is energized by compassion, interconnection, and the principle that we are all one. Circles with a spiritual center become circles of understanding, compassion, and wisdom for people whose theology and religious traditions may differ, but who share the common ground of a deep spirituality. Circles are a form through which transformation can take place through dialogue and silence. Circles with a spiritual center facilitate speaking and listening from the heart, and support authenticity, creative solutions, and compassionate actions. Circles are dynamic, inclusive, and nonhierarchical.

“Peace for Our Children,” by Penny McManigal

“Peace for Our Children,” by Penny McManigal

The circle I facilitated was indeed dynamic, inclusive, and nonhierarchical. In our circle we all became facilitators. Although the 4 of us came from 4 different parts of the country and 4 different faith traditions, after a little more than an hour of sharing our stories and our deepest hopes, we felt as though we’d known each other for a long time. We shared the common ground of visions for a future of peace and justice. We wrote words expressing our prayers on hearts to place on a display in the Parliament exhibit hall. Artist and designer Penny McManigal, one of the circle facilitators, created this display which illustrated the Parliament theme, “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity” and included her beautiful artwork “Peace for Our Children.”










After the workshop I walked over to the Parliament exhibit hall, where I found Ann Landaas Smith and Penny McManigal. Ann and I placed our heart prayers on the display while Penny photographed us.

Ann & I, interview


A young woman, Aline Kras, walked up with videography equipment and began a conversation with Ann and me. We learned that Aline is a photographer, videographer, artist, and associate producer of the documentary film The Future of Energy. She mentioned that she’s also working on a film on gender equality and reconciliation, and we told her about our involvement in Millionth Circle and our Parliament presentation “Reclaiming the Divine Feminine.” Aline asked if she could interview us for the documentary on gender equality. In the interview she asked us to talk about our passion for gender equality. We talked about how passionate we are about gender equality because it’s connected to peace, care of creation, racial equality, economic justice, marriage equality, and justice for all people, and about how important it is for women and men and all people to work together for gender equality. We spoke about the transformation that comes through changing hierarchies to circles and through balancing female and male multicultural images of the Divine in our religious and spiritual traditions.



Posted in She Lives! | Leave a comment

Parliament of the World’s Religions: Images, Quotes, and Commitments


The 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City was an amazing and inspiring experience with people from a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions joining together in our commitment to end hate, violence, injustice, and inequality. The Parliament theme “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability” expresses our united vision. The five days of the Parliament were exhilarating but also overwhelming: there were approximately 10,000 people participating from 80 countries and 52 faith traditions, more than 70 major speakers, hundreds of workshops, numerous artistic groups, and hundreds of exhibits. The program book is 371 pages, and an accompanying commitment booklet is 39 pages.

In this blog I’m including some memorable images, quotes, and commitments.

“When we meet our Creator, we will be asked, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And if you respond that you have no wounds, the Creator will ask, ‘Was there then nothing to fight for?’” — Allan Boesak, African Dutch Reformed cleric and anti-aparteid activist

"One Billion Rising" video, women around the world rising up against violence

“One Billion Rising” video, women around the world rising up against violence

“The idea of women changing the world is a very real possibility.”—Jean Shinoda Bolen, psychiatrist, author, co-founder of The Millionth Circle initiative

“Welcome to the revolution: women are re-interpreting traditions and rituals.”—Ruth W. Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

“We don’t need a revelation; we need a revolution.” —Terry Tempest Williams, on the Mormon Ordain Women movement

climate“If you are a feminist, you are an environmentalist. If you are an environmentalist, you are a feminist.” —Terry Tempest Williams, Mormon activist, author, conservationist





“I am not a pagan, a heathen, or a savage. I am a spiritual man.”—Chief Francois Paulette, educator, co-founder of the Dechinta Center for Research and Learning in Alberta, Canada

“We’ve been taught to pray from the neck up. We need to learn to pray with all the chakras.”—Matthew Fox, Dominican-turned-Episcopal priest/theologian

“God is a radical too.” —Teresa Edmunds, founder and president of the Mormon organization WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality)

“If commerce starts to undermine life, then commerce must stop, because life has to carry on.” — Vandana Shiva, author and environmental justice activist

Sikhs serving lunch to thousands each day

Sikhs serving lunch to thousands each day

“We can either emphasize those aspects of our traditions, religious or secular, that speak of hatred, exclusion, and suspicion or work with those that stress the interdependence and equality of all human beings.”—Karen Armstrong, author, commentator, former Roman Catholic nun




Divine Feminine banners lining hallways

Divine Feminine banners lining hallways

“The divine goddess is not just beautiful — she is fierce!” —Marianne Williamson, spiritual author and lecturer

One“Spirituality unites us. Religions divide us.”—Jean Shinoda Bolen, psychiatrist, author, co-founder of The Millionth Circle initiative

“We cannot separate ourselves from our Mother Earth.”—Rangimarie Turuki Arikirangi Rose Pere, teacher of the Kura Huna, the traditional mystery school of the Maori.

“One of the worst enemies is separation and division.”—Ilyasah Shabazz, author, community organizer, social activist, motivational speaker

“Comprehension is not a prerequisite to compassion.”—Sara Rahim, a Program Associate for the Parliament of the World’s Religions

A call to action came also in the form of a booklet challenging us to make commitments to action on the dignity and human rights of women, care of the environment, income inequality, nonviolence, and social justice for indigenous peoples. Here are some examples of these commitments:

(1) To bring awareness to the fact that the struggle for the dignity and equal rights of women is the global human and civil rights struggle of our time.

(2) Remind religious and political leaders of the abuses women suffer and what they can do to alleviate them, and encourage them to speak out against rape, sexual abuse, and all forms of gender discrimination.

(3) Recruit influential men and male religious leaders to assist in gaining equal rights for women, and encourage religious leaders and communities to advocate for the dignity and rights of women, including within religious communities.

(4) Encourage religious and political leaders to support UN agencies that advance the human rights of women, and to support national and international efforts to condemn and outlaw all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

(5) To become well informed about issues connected to climate change

(6) To reduce the carbon footprint of my household, travel, and workplace.

(7) To hold programs in my organization or faith community on what we can do about climate change.

(8) To contact my policy makers to let them know of my individual and organizational concern about climate change and to call for specific actions.

(9) With the help of spiritual disciplines, to turn away from the control that greed has in our personal lives, and to live in simplicity, compassion, and generosity.

(10) Using the worldwide network of religious communities gathered at this Parliament of the World’s Religions, partner across boundaries with those who are willing to work together on economic policies that lead to the common good.

(11) Partner with religious communities and community organizations that work for justice for those who are poor in our local neighborhoods and cities.

(12) Reverse the media’s vilification of those who are poor, including those driven into poverty because of their race, caste, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin.

(13) To work with my religious community to join with other faith communities in community efforts and governmental initiatives that promote nonviolence and civil discourse as means to resolve conflict and to advance constructive change.

(14) To help my religious community to take public stands against injustice and war, and to become partners in movements that work for nonviolent social transformation.

(15) To support legislation and administrative policies at all levels of government that give priority to nonviolent means and methods for reducing and resolving conflict.

(16) To help create a component of the local, national, and global interfaith movement that will partner with the media to reduce hate, violence, and war.

(17) Reach out and connect with indigenous peoples and organizations in my region and offer support.

(18) Support indigenous-based policy changes that support social justice for indigenous peoples.

(19) Support the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

tepee(20) Encourage local, national, and regional media outlets to do in-depth reporting on more indigenous issues.


Buddhist monks creating peace mandala

mandala Buddhist monks creating peace mandala

One Voice Children's Choir

One Voice Children’s Choir





Peace Angel Processional

Peace Angel Processional

Peace Angel, Divine Feminine banners

Peace Angel, Divine Feminine banners

Ann Landaas Smith and I, photo and art by Penny McManigal of the Millionth Circle: "Reclaiming the Hearts f Humanity"

Ann Landaas Smith and I, photo and artwork “Peace for Our Children” in “Reclaiming the Hearts of Humanity” exhibit by Penny McManigal of the Millionth Circle






Kendra Weddle Irons at Women's Assembly

Kendra Weddle Irons at Women’s Assembly


labyrinthSkylight book



Posted in She Lives! | 2 Comments

Parliament of the World’s Religions: Ordination of First Woman in Utah to Roman Catholic Priesthood

Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan and newly ordained priest Clare Julian Carbone

Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan and newly ordained priest Clare Julian Carbone

CatholicOrdination1“Christianity must follow the example of Jesus and treat women as equals in every ministry including ordination,” proclaims Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan in her homily at the ordination of the first woman in Utah to the Roman Catholic priesthood on October 18, 2015. I had the honor of participating in this ordination, one of the most moving experiences I had while I was at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Clare Julian Carbone, like the other 220 Roman Catholic women who’ve been ordained, has the courage to follow her call even though she was excommunicated by the Vatican for being ordained. Undeterred by any action of the Vatican, Clare Julian, a former social worker and Poor Clare nun, claims her call as a priest to be a “bridge” between faith traditions and a “bridge” between this life and the next as she serves as a hospice chaplain and a “bridge in “living out our inclusivity and reconciliation with all creation within the realm of Sacramental Catholic tradition.”

CatholicOrdination3Ordination8Tears fill my eyes as I take part in the sacred ceremony of laying on of hands along with an excommunicated Mormon woman, a woman rabbi, a Buddhist priest, Roman Catholics, and people of other Christian denominations. Also in the congregation are several Muslim women with joy and wonder on their faces. I recall that Bridget Mary, when I interviewed her for Changing Church: Stories of Liberating Ministers and She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, said that the ordination of women priests reminds us that women are equal symbols of the Holy. I can see the truth of this statement especially in the faces of these Muslim women and of Kate Kelly, a brilliant lawyer who was excommunicated from the Mormon church for advocating for women’s ordination. Several days before at a Parliament workshop, I’d heard Kate choke up as she spoke about her spiritual pain when she learned that she’d been excommunicated and the choice her family had to make between love for her and loyalty to the church.ordination6

The ordination liturgy for Clare Julian includes a beautiful biblical passage describing Divine Wisdom: “I preferred Her to the light of day, for Her countenance shone unceasingly. Through Her I received all good things, and because of Her I had wealth beyond counting. Everything was given me to enjoy, but I did not know that Wisdom was the source of it all. What I learned over time, I now share freely with you, for I do not want to hide Her abundance. She is an inexhaustible treasure to humankind” (Wisdom 7:10-14a).

The newly ordained priest, Clare Julian, the other women priests presiding at the altar, and everyone at this gathering embody Divine Wisdom and shine with Her radiance. ordination11

Bishop Bridget Mary, believing that the Eucharist belongs to the whole community, invites all gathered at the ordination service to raise our hands toward the bread and wine and to speak the words of consecration together. When I interviewed Bridget Mary in Sarasota, Florida, I had this same experience at Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community, where she serves as one of the priests. I told her that I experienced my Baptist teaching of “priesthood of all believers” more fully in this Catholic community than I had in most Baptist churches, where only the pastor speaks the communion consecration words.

ordinationcongregationIn the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Clare Julian’s ordination, I’m also thrilled to join in speaking an inclusive version of the Prayer of Jesus: “God, our Mother and Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name. Your kin-dom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kin-dom and the power and the glory now and forever.” My spirit is also stirred by a beautiful voice singing “Ave Maria” to harp accompaniment and by the invitation of one of the presiding priests, Janice Sevre-Duszynsky, to present the chalice of wine at the altar.

In her homily, Bishop Bridget Mary gives strong support from Scripture and church tradition for the ordination of women. She links the biblical narrative of the woman who anoints Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13) with the women priests who take unpopular public action in following the Gospel. Although the male disciples denounce her, “Jesus affirms the anointing woman’s prophetic gesture for all time.” Bridget Mary also cites Scripture to show that Jesus included female disciples (Luke 8:1-3) and chose Mary Magdalene as the apostle to the apostles (John 20:11-18), and that Junia was an apostle in the early church (Romans 16:7). “There are more than 12 apostles, news flash to the Vatican!” Bridget Mary exclaims. Church tradition also affirms the ordination of women, she states: “For 1200 years women were ordained. Gary Macy, in his highly acclaimed book, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, reminds us that ‘references to the ordination of women exist in papal, episcopal and theological documents of the time, and the rites for these ordinations have survived.’”

Clare Julian Carbone, Bridget Mary Meehan, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, Diane Dougherty

Clare Julian Carbone, Bridget Mary Meehan, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, Diane Dougherty

Also following the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching of apostolic succession of priests, the first women priests in modern times were ordained by a male bishop. Then a male Roman Catholic bishop ordained two of these women as bishops. Therefore, in spite of what the Vatican says, the Holy Orders of these women are valid because a male bishop with apostolic succession ordained the women bishops who can now legitimately ordain women priests.

Bishop Bridget Mary comments on the importance of ordaining women: “Women priests are visible reminders that women are equal images of God. Our Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement makes the connections that poverty, violence, and abuse of women in the world are related to sexism in the church. We are breaking through centuries of Vatican opposition to women priests by disobeying an unjust church law that discriminates against women.”

Unstopped by opposition, the women priests view excommunication by the Vatican as a badge of honor and continue to claim their rightful place in the Roman Catholic Church. Bridget Mary often says: “We are not leaving the church; we are leading the church into a new era of justice, equality, and inclusion. One could argue that, when Pope Benedict XV1 canonized two excommunicated nuns, Mother Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary MacKillop, he made excommunication the new fast track to canonization! So our motto could be ‘excommunicated today, canonized tomorrow.’”

Bridget Mary Meehan, Kate Kelly, Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Bridget Mary Meehan, Kate Kelly, Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Bishop Bridget Mary commends and challenges Pope Francis: “Pope Francis told the bishops that God is not afraid of new things. Amen, Pope Francis! Here we are! Women priests are a new thing in our day! I believe that the worldwide movement for women’s equality in all religious traditions is a new work of the Spirit rising up in our times. I believe that the international women priests movement is a new work of the Spirit rising up for justice in the Roman Catholic Church. Like our sisters in other faith traditions, we are a movement of hope that gender equality will become a reality in all areas of ministry and leadership in our church. As we follow Jesus’ example of Gospel equality and walk in the footsteps of the women who ministered to Jesus, and who served as deacons, priests, and bishops in early Christianity, I believe that a new day is dawning for a more egalitarian, inclusive, flourishing church now.”

As the title of one of Bridget Mary’s books declares, Roman Catholic women priests and their inclusive faith communities are Living Gospel Equality Now: Loving in the Heart of God.”

Posted in She Lives! | Leave a comment