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Feast of Albert Rhett Stuart (July 8)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

An Episcopal flag hangs in my bedroom.  This is a rotated image.



Episcopal Bishop of Georgia and Advocate for Civil Rights


People are discovering that a life full of gadgets is no satisfactory substitute for a life lived in the power and presence of God.

–Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart, 1956; quoted in Henry Thompson Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (Atlanta:  Diocese of Atlanta, 1960), 195


This feast comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Saints of Georgia (1998, 2004), by Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., Bishop of Georgia from 1995 to 2010.  Bishop Louttit set the feast day on July 8 and concluded his profile of Bishop Stuart with:

Pray that we may stand with integrity for justice in our world, but always with compassion for sinners, including perpetrators of injustice.

–Page 16

That is consistent with the spirit Bishop Stuart embodied.

Scanned from Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Albert Rhett Stuart, born in Washington, D.C., in 1905, was a prophetic (in the best sense of that word) presence in the Church.  Prior to his tenure as the Sixth Bishop of Georgia (1954-1971) he was:

  1. Rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Greensboro, South Carolina (1931-1936);
  2. Rector of St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, South Carolina (1936-1947); and
  3. Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana (1947-1954).

He also served on the denominational National Council from 1939 to 1943.

The date of Stuart’s consecration as Bishop of Georgia was October 20, 1954.

Above:  Episcopal Dioceses in Georgia, 1960

Scanned from Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Bishop Stuart presided over a mostly rural and deeply conservative diocese, the northern boundary of which was south of Columbus, to the south and east of Macon, and to the west and north of Augusta.  The Diocese of Atlanta (“the great northern diocese,” as Bishop Louttit called it in my presence once) filled out the rest of the state.  The Diocese of Florida was to the south, the Diocese of Alabama was to the west, and the Dioceses of South Carolina and Upper South Carolina were to the east.  Toward the end of Bishop Stuart’s tenure the Diocese of Alabama divided; the lower portion joined with the part of the Diocese of Florida in the Central Time Zone to form the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast.

Aside:  I grew up in southern and central Georgia–in the rural areas, to be precise.  My experiences taught me that these parts of the state have never been bastions of social, theological, and political progressivism, certainly not in the realms of race and gender.  Open racism was bad in the 1980s, when came of age.  Many of my neighbors and fellow parishioners could have walked off the screen at a screening of Blazing Saddles (1974).  The blatant racism was worse in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when Stuart was the Bishop of Georgia.  Long have I had strong social, theological, and political differences with the majority in southern and central Georgia, a place where I felt like a resident heretic.  When I felt especially snarky, I called myself a Godless communist.  I have, of course, been a Christian as long as I can recall and have never been a communist.  Fabian Socialism has come to make much sense to me, however.

Bishop Stuart’s support for evangelism was vigorous.  He founded missions in growing communities and in towns lacking an Episcopal Church presence.  He also encouraged choirs and year-round Sunday school programs.  As he built up the Diocese of Georgia Bishop Stuart also oversaw the opening of the new camp and conference center, Honey Creek, in northern Camden County, in 1960.

Above:  Lodge 1, Honey Creek, May 15-16, 1998

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

With regard to emotional and difficult issues Bishop Stuart led the way while calling for patience and grace.  The latter of Stuart’s episcopate overlapped with the beginnings of the revision of The Book of Common Prayer (1928).  Early stages of the road to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) included The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper (1967) and Services for Trial Use (1971).  Mainly in reference to the former, due to the chronology, Bishop Stuart called for calm and encouraged people to do as The Episcopal Church requested–send feedback via official channels.  Bishop Stuart also supported the expansion of roles for women in ecclesiastical life.  During his time as the Bishop of Georgia that mainly meant permitting women to full more leadership roles on the parish and diocesan levels.  “Laymen,” he insisted, meant men and women.

The major storm with which Bishop Stuart had to struggle was institutionalized racism.  At the 1956 diocesan convention he called for

patience and charity in the midst of prejudice.

–Quoted in Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960), 196

For most of the existence of the Diocese of Georgia the African-American minority had been, as Father Charles Lwanga Hoskins, author of Black Episcopalians in Georgia:  Strife, Struggle and Salvation (1980), wrote, a

troublesome presence,

from the perspective of many in the white majority.  Under Bishop Stuart, however, African Americans in the Diocese of Georgia became, as Hoskins wrote,

part of the family.

This did not meet with the approval of many lay people, who were more conservative than their bishop and most of the priests.  This did not meet with the approval of some the priests either.  And, when Bishop Stuart, in segregationist Savannah, was one of the few white leaders who dared to go on television to support racial integration, he created more controversy.  In 1964 Bishop Stuart was one of 39 Jewish and Christian clergymen who signed the following statement:

Let every citizen recognize that all human rights and freedoms are given by God Almighty to be shared equally among all men, to be preserved, guaranteed and protected by government, and to be upheld by all persons for their mutual benefit and employment.

Thomas J. McDonough, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Savannah, signed the statement.  So did John Owen Smith, the bishop with jurisdiction over the North and South Georgia Conferences of The Methodist Church (later The United Methodist Church).  Yet many evangelical and fundamentalist religious leaders refused to sign the statement.  So did Father Ernest Risley, the Rector of St. John’s Church, Savannah, and one of the sixteen unsuccessful nominees for Bishop of Georgia in 1954.

Risley, a segregationist, refused to permit African Americans to worship on a regular basis at St. John’s Church.  In 1965 to wrote Fathers Harry Woolston Shipps (later the Bishop of Georgia, as Louttit’s immediate predecessor) and Mark Becton, priests of the diocese,

I believe that integration is contrary to God’s will. I will resign as a minister before I’ll allow Negroes in St. John’s.

That year Risley renounced his Episcopal ministry and led the overwhelming majority of St. John’s Church (the vote to leave had been 785-75) out of the denomination.  Most of the secessionists reunited with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia at Pentecost 1969, minus Risley and those who with him had formed St. Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church in 1968.  St. Andrew’s Church affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church in 2006.  For the last few years the congregation has called itself St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, due to its affiliation with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Bishop Stuart retired in 1971.  He died in Savannah on April 21, 1973.  His wife, Isabella Alston Stuart (b. 1915) had predeceased him in 1964.  Their two children survived him.

Sometimes we in the church need bishops and other leaders who contradict our prejudices, to which we cling stubbornly.  We might recognize the greatness and moral courage of such leaders after they have left office or died.  But do we dare to recognize their greatness and moral courage in real time?








Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Albert Rhett Stuart,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


Feast of the Pioneering Female Episcopal Priests, 1974 and 1975 (July 28)   6 comments

Above:  The Eight Surviving Members of the Philadelphia Eleven


In 1974 and 1975 fifteen women shattered the stained-glass ceiling and forced a morally correct change in the ordination policies of The Episcopal Church.


Within the past three years I heard the following anecdote:  Someone asked a young Roman Catholic female how many sacraments there are.  She answered,

That depends on whether you are a boy or a girl.

I am glad to report that Episcopalians have equal access to all seven sacraments without regard to their XX or XY chromosomes.

Prior to 1970 women could not serve as delegates to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.  That year the denomination redefined Deaconesses as ordained members of the Sacred Order of Deacons.  Three years later the General Convention almost opened the priesthood and the episcopate to women, except for a parliamentary procedure.

On July 29, 1974, at the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, three bishops conducted eleven “irregular” ordinations.  These were “irregular” because the ordinands were women (all deacons, by the way) who lacked the recommendations of their bishops and diocesan standing committees for ordination.  These eleven women became the first female Episcopal Priests, the “Philadelphia Eleven.”

The three bishops were Daniel Corrigan (retired from the Diocese of Colorado), Robert L. DeWitt (resigned from the Diocese of Pennsylvania), and Edward R. Welles II (retired from the Diocese of West Missouri).  These men, who had devoted many years of their careers to social justice, considered the ordination of women consistent with this inclination.  Welles, for example, had supported the ordination of women since at least 1928.  A fourth bishop, Jose Antonio Ramos, diocesan of Costa Rica, was present and supportive, yet did not ordain anyone.

The Philadelphia Eleven were:

  1. Merrill Bittner
  2. Alison Cheek
  3. Alla Bozarth-Campbell
  4. Emily C. Hewitt
  5. Carter Heyward
  6. Suzanne R. Hiatt (died in 2002)
  7. Marie Moorefield (Fleischner from 1980)
  8. Jeannette Piccard (died in 1981)
  9. Betty Bone Schiess
  10. Katrina Welles Swanson (died in 2006)
  11. Nancy Hatch Witting

Laywoman Barbara Clementine Harris (later the first female bishop, in 1989) participated in the service.  And Professor Charles V. Willie of Harvard University, delivering the sermon, likened that day’s events to African Americans refusing to sit at the back of the bus anymore.   (It was an accurate analogy.)

Prior to the service Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin, who opposed the ordination of women, asked the 79-year-old Jeannette Piccard, a widow and former aviatrix, not to go through with the rite.  Speaking as perhaps only a grandmother could, she replied,

Sonny, I’m old enough to have changed your nappies.

Two weeks after the Philadelphia service, at an emergency meeting at O’Hare International Airport, the House of Bishops (by a vote of 129 to 9, with 8 abstentions) declared these ordinations invalid.

Two priests, Peter Beebe (of the Diocese of Ohio) and William Wendt (of the Diocese of Washington) permitted some of the Philadelphia Eleven to function as priests in their parishes.  For this these men faced disciplinary actions in their dioceses.

Then, on September 7, 1975, at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C. (William Wendt’s parish), George W. Barrett,, retired Bishop of Rochester, ordained the Washington Four.  They were:

  1. Alison Palmer
  2. Eleanor “Lee” McGee
  3. Elizabeth “Betty” Rosenberg (Powell)
  4. Diane Tickell

Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin, who opposed the ordination of women, asked that bishops involved in “irregular” ordinations face no church judicial consequences.  So the House of Bishops censured these men and “decried” Bishop Barrett’s actions.

The 1976 General Convention approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops.  The following year, the Church accepted the fifteen “irregularly” ordained female priests.

In 1977 many church conservatives, opposing various Episcopal reforms, including the draft proposed 1976 Prayer Book (better known afterward as the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) and the ordination of women, gathered at St. Louis.  Out of this congress came the Anglican Church of North America (distinct from the newer Anglican Church in North America).  The 1978 ACNA broke up over the next few years, with the Province of Christ the King going its way in 1978, the Diocese of the Southeast departing in 1979, the United Episcopal Church of North America leaving in 1980, and the Diocese of the Southwest breaking away in 1982. The remnant calls itself the Anglican Catholic Church.

(Note: The best book on the subject of breakaway Episcopalians is Divided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement, by Douglas Bess, a priest of one of those communions.  The Tractarian Press of Riverside, California, publishes this volume.  My critique is this:

  1. Bess has done extensive research.
  2. An index would be nice.
  3. A list of abbreviations would help, too.
  4. An excellent proofreader would be a good idea.
  5. His writing is clear.

And what happened to the fifteen pioneering female priests?

  1. Most of them served in parishes and/or as chaplains.
  2. Carter Heyward and Suzanne R. Hiatt began teaching at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1975.  Heyward retired in 2006.  Hiatt retired in 1998 and died in 2002.  In 2004 EDS made the first appointment to the Suzanne R. Hiatt Professorship in Feminist Pastoral Theology and Church History.
  3. Emily C. Hewitt, Assistant Professor of Religion and Education at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, graduated with honors from Harvard Law School in 1978.  From 1978 to 1993 she practiced law at the Hill and Barlow firm, Boston.  Then she became General Counsel to the U.S. General Services Administration, leaving that post in 1998 to become a judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.  In 2009 she became Chief Judge of that court.
  4. Eleanor McGee retired as Professor of Pastoral Counseling at Yale Divinity School in 2006.
  5. As a girl Katrina Welles knew she had a vocation to the priesthood.  Decades later, at Philadelphia, in 1974, her father was one of the bishops ordaining the first female priests.  By then she was Katrina Welles Swanson, wife of Father George Swanson, an Episcopal priest.  As a priest Katrina insisted that her parishioners call her by her first name.  The Apostles did not have fancy titles, she said, so why should she?  She died in 2006, survived by her husband, children, and brother.

Today women do not sit at the back of the proverbial church bus.  We (as a body) should never have made them sit back there.

The ordination of women has always been a given in my mind.  Growing up as a United Methodist “PK” in the South Georgia Annual Conference, I encountered female clergy and thought nothing of it.  The fact that people debate the issue strikes me as being ridiculous.

Yet I recall an example from 1989.   My father had received an appointment to another two churches, the Alapaha and Glory congregations in Berrien County.  His successor at the Berlin-Wesley Chapel Charge in Colquitt County was to be a woman.  Most opposition to her came from frustrated housewives, not men.  Luanne became a beloved pastor of those two churches.


Lord Jesus Christ, in whom there in no longer male or female,

Jew or Gentile, slave or free person:

We thank you for the pioneering female Episcopal priests of 1974 and 1975.

May their examples of faithfulness and their overcoming of difficulties encourage all

who encounter discrimination and open the eyes of all who

perpetuate or support discrimination in your Church.

In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Galatians 3:19-29

Psalm 84

Matthew 27:55-61, 28:1-10


MARCH 4, 2010 



Modified on July 28, 2017 Common Era



In 2015 the General Convention of The Episcopal Church approved a revised calendar of saints, published the following year as A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations.

In that volume one finds a new commemoration germane to this post.  That feast is for the “First Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in The Episcopal Church, 1974,” set at July 29.  The Rite II collect for the occasion follows:

O God, you poured your Spirit from on high to bless and summon these women,

who heard the strength of your call:  Equip, guide, and inspire us with

wisdom, boldness, and faith to trust you in all circumstances,

hear you preach new life to your Church, and stretch out our hands to serve you,

as you created us and redeemed us in the name of Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, everlasting.  Amen.


July 28, 2017