The Episcopal tradition has allowed the ordination of women to the priesthood since the 1970's. However, one of the first female priesthood leaders was a deacon named Phoebe, who served in the Church in Cenchreae and was a contemporary of Paul's (Romans 16:1). However, many translations of the bible translate the greek word "diakonos" as "deacon" for men and "servant" for women. Likewise, when women have historically been referred to as "prophets" (as is the case with Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noadiah, Anna, Isaiah's Wife, and the four daughters of Philip) translators and conservative preachers have either tried to suggest that these individuals were not considered "priests" or "leaders" but rather "wise and faithful sisters." Another great example is that of Junia, who was clearly identified as an apostle; However, scholars have tried to insist that Junia was actually Junius, a man.
Adding to this perplexing linguistic dichotomy is a verse from Acts 2:17-18, which says, "Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, Your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." With all of this biblical evidence for the ordination of women, why do so many Churches not allow women to be ordained?
Before we answer that question we should consider that in almost every significant story of the Savior's ministry, he was accompanied by or interacting with a woman. Think back to the anointing of Jesus by Mary, the crucifixion, the witnessing of the resurrection: in each of these important instances Jesus choose women as his ministers and friends.
Even as late at 350 AD we find archaeological evidence that suggests women were ordained and living as priests. For example, in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla there stands a fresco with a women dressed in priestly vestment, another women being ordained as a priest, and yet a third wearing the same robes as the bishop on her left. Clearly women were being admitted into the priesthood.
However, in 494 Pope Gelasius I wrote a letter condemning the participation of women in the celebration of the Eucharist, a role he felt was reserved for men. This letter, and other documents like it, make clear that at some point the cultural interactions between men and women became competitive, and women were eventually pushed out of the way.
Whatever the reasons for this might have been, the history of the last four decades demonstrates the Lord's guidance over his Church. Today we see almost every major denomination struggling with the question of female ordination. While many of these institutions are resisting such change, many others are embracing the word of the Lord and being lead to ordain women.
At St. Mary's we have had several female Priests who have led our congregation with great skill and concern. We are grateful for them and for the other women, past and present, who have worked tirelessly to make St. Mary's a wonderful place for finding acceptance, equality, and peace.