FORT WORTH: First woman priest to be ordained Nov. 15

Episcopal News Service. October 28, 2009 [102809-03]

Pat McCaughan

Thirty-three years after the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, is following suit.

The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. (Ted) Gulick Jr., bishop of Kentucky and provisional bishop of Fort Worth, is set to ordain the Rev. Susan Slaughter to the priesthood on Nov. 15 at St. Luke's in the Meadow Episcopal Church, where she currently serves as deacon.

Slaughter will become the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the history of the diocese, founded in 1983. She will also become the first woman to serve as rector of a diocesan parish -- also at St. Luke's in the Meadow.

"It is with a deep sense of awe in the mysterious ways of our Lord that I arrive at this moment," Slaughter said recently. "I am filled with gratitude toward those persons, lay and clergy, who have encouraged and supported me over the years. St. Luke's in the Meadow has been especially supportive and has helped me discern more clearly my true vocation."

It's been a long time coming for Slaughter, who was introduced to the Episcopal Church when she was eight years old, by two friends. She soon convinced her parents and brothers to join her.

"I loved the liturgy, joined the junior choir and was confirmed at age 12," she recalled recently. "I was the first in my family to attend and be confirmed in the Episcopal Church."

A graduate of Bellaire High School, she earned a bachelor's degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and taught speech pathology and audiology. She earned a master of education degree in guidance and counseling from North Texas State University in Denton.

Although she sensed a call to ordained ministry in the 1980s, diocesan bishops declined to ordain women to the priesthood, forcing her to "push aside the sense of call," she said.

She became an active lay minister at her home parish, St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Arlington. There, she developed a Stephen Ministry, training lay people to provide one-on-one compassionate listening and care to hurting people within the congregational setting. She was also a lay reader and server, led women's Bible studies and taught adult Christian education.

Eventually, she completed seminary training at the Anglican School of Theology in Dallas but still found the priesthood elusive.

Former Bishop Jack Iker told her she'd have to leave the diocese to be ordained to the priesthood. Unable to relocate, eventually she returned to Iker believing that her call must be to the diaconate. He ordained her a deacon on October 12, 2002.

For the past several years, she has served as deacon at St. Luke's and is credited with helping to stabilize the parish after the November 2008 departure of Iker and other diocesan leaders. Citing theological differences over the ordination of women and gays, they disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church and realigned with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

The continuing diocese reorganized in February 2009 with Gulick as provisional bishop. Under his leadership two women priests have been licensed to serve in the diocese, the Rev. Maurine Lewis, who serves displaced congregations, and the Rev. Melanie R. Barbarito, a pastoral associate at All Saints Church in Fort Worth.

Finally, Slaughter, who is currently enrolled in a master of theological studies program at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, will realize her call to ordained priesthood.

The Fort Worth diocese was formed from the western part of the Diocese of Dallas. The founding bishop, A. Donald Davies, and his successors, Clarence C. Pope and Iker, all left the Episcopal Church over women's ordination.

At least 15 women seeking ordination to the priesthood left the diocese during their collective tenure, according to Katie Sherrod, diocesan communications director. They have been invited "home" for Slaughter's ordination.

Slaughter has seven grandchildren. She was widowed in 2007 after 28 years of marriage to Jerry Slaughter.

She may be the first -- but is not the last -- woman ordained to the priesthood in the Fort Worth diocese.

The Rev. ClayOla Gitane, also serving as a deacon, will be ordained to the priesthood Dec. 5 at Trinity Church, Fort Worth, by the Rt. Rev. Bavi Edna "Nedi" Rivera, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Olympia and provisional bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon. It will be the first time a female bishop has performed an episcopal act in the diocese.

Ordination of women in the Episcopal Church began in 1974 when 11 women were irregularly ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia. Four others were ordained in Washington, D.C., in 1975. The Episcopal Church's General Convention approved women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate in 1976.