Fort Worth diocese ordains its first woman priest

Episcopal News Service. November 16, 2009 [111609-03]

Pat McCaughan

Fort Worth Episcopalians spent a busy and joyous Nov. 13-15 weekend electing their next provisional bishop at diocesan convention, and a day later celebrated the ordination of the first woman priest in the 27-year history of the Texas-based diocese.

About 75 clergy and lay delegates who gathered at All Saints Episcopal School in Fort Worth on Nov. 14 unanimously elected the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, retired bishop of Northwest Texas, as their next provisional bishop, to succeed Bishop Edwin "Ted" Gulick Jr. of the Diocese of Kentucky.

Gulick, who had served as Fort Worth's provisional bishop since a February 7 special meeting of convention, immediately installed Ohl as his replacement. Gulick was acting at the request of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who also sent greetings thanking the diocese for their "strong and faithful ministry. You give hope to others," Jefferts Schori added.

On Sunday, a throng of more than 400 well-wishers gathered at St. Luke’s in the Meadow Church for the 5:00 p.m. ordination of the Rev. Susan Slaughter, 67. Gulick ordained her to the priesthood and Ohl immediately installed her as rector of the Fort Worth parish where she has served as deacon for several years, also making her the diocese's first woman rector.

The presiding officers of the Episcopal Church sent congratulatory messages to Slaughter, which were read during the gathering.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offered gratitude “for this sign of resurrection in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Many thought this day would never arrive, but you have all been faithful, hopeful, and highly persistent,” she wrote, comparing the diocese to the biblical story of the widow who persisted until she received justice.

"May the Rev. Slaughter be a living witness to the ministry of such seekers after justice," Jefferts Schori added.

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson also sent gifts to both Slaughter and convention. She called Slaughter's ordination "the day we see hope realized in God’s time."

"The Episcopal Church is truly blessed by the commitment of the lay people, bishop and clergy of this diocese" and as signs of God's presence and of deep faithfulness, Anderson added.

Anderson sent to Slaughter and the people of St. Luke's a cross which had been presented to her by the people of Eastern Oregon during the 76th General Convention in Anaheim in July. "They asked me to keep the cross until I felt the appropriate time to pass it on. Today is the time," wrote Anderson, who was unable to attend because of illness.

Diocesan communications director Katie Sherrod, a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, read the letter and presented gifts on Anderson's behalf. Anderson sent to Gulick and the chair of the diocesan standing committee an official seal of General Convention, inscribed from the House of Deputies.

Also sending greetings to Slaughter were: retired bishop suffragan of Massachusetts Barbara Harris, who was elected in 1988 as the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, and the Rt. Rev. Mary Adelia McLeod, who was elected in 1993 to head the Diocese of Vermont, becoming the first woman diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Slaughter, 67, is a grandmother and a widow; her husband of 28 years, Jerry, died two years ago. She had pursued her dream of becoming a priest since the 1980s but the former diocesan leadership opposed women’s ordination.

The first women were irregularly ordained to the priesthood in 1974, and became known as "The Philadelphia Eleven." Two years later, General Convention 1976 approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Slaughter, who holds bachelor and master’s degrees in teaching, speech pathology, audiology and counseling, completed seminary training at the Anglican School of Theology, Dallas, and is currently enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies program at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.

"It is with a deep sense of awe in the mysterious ways of our Lord that I arrive at this moment," she has said about her ordination.

Convention unanimously pledges 21 percent to wider church

Gulick told about 250 people who attended convention that the speed with which the diocese set about accomplishing stated priorities of ministry to the poor and homeless and evangelism "truly astounded me, delighted me, humbled me and moved me" over the past 10 months.

He also commended convention delegates for their unanimous approval of giving the full asking, 21 percent, of the diocesan operating budget to the Episcopal Church, another first for the diocese, according to Sherrod. She said the diocese anticipates a 2010 budget of about $600,000.

The convention presented Gulick with a symbolic pair of cowboy boots and a vacation getaway gift in appreciation for his service to the Fort Worth diocese.

Gulick presented Ohl with the crozier commissioned for Gulick by Fort Worth Via Media, calling it his "Texas crozier." Ohl will commute to Fort Worth from his Oklahoma retirement home.

Ohl, who retired as bishop of Northwest Texas in January 2009, will serve about two weeks per month, Sherrod said.

A native of Chickasaw, Oklahoma, he earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of the South in 1965, and worked as a loan officer for the next six years. After a two year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, he attended Nashotah House in Wisconsin.

He was ordained a deacon in December 1973 and a priest in June 1974. He served congregations in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was elected and consecrated the fourth bishop of Northwest Texas in 1997.

In other convention business, delegates: approved changes to conform diocesan constitution and canons to Episcopal Church canons; elected diocesan leadership; and changed to mission status those parishes held by leadership purporting to have disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church.

Delegates also committed to a listening process with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Episcopalians, and to providing for training to enable congregations to carry out ministry goals to care for poor and homeless people and conduct missionary work and evangelism. Convention also accepted Gulick’s resignation, effective immediately.

Gulick was elected provisional bishop at a special Feb. 7 meeting of convention to help shepherd the diocese through reorganization after the November 2008 departure of former bishop Jack Iker.

Iker and a local group, citing theological differences over the ordination of women and gays, purported to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church in November 2008 and to realign themselves with the Argentina-based province of the Southern Cone and joined the new Anglican Church in North America. They have attempted to retain property and assets.

Under Gulick’s leadership two women priests have been licensed to serve in the diocese and another deacon, the Rev. ClayOla Gitane, will be ordained on Dec. 5 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth by the Rt. Rev. Bavi Edna "Nedi" Rivera of the Diocese of Olympia.

The Diocese of Fort Worth was formed in 1983 from the western part of the Diocese of Dallas.