20 July 2009

Phyllis Edwards, pioneer deacon of the Episcopal Church dies

Amid the buildup to GC and the coverage of the same, I missed a very momentous event in the life of The Episcopal Church.

On 7 July, the Rev'd Phyllis Edwards, Deacon, died.

Phyllis was the first female ordained to the deaconate of the Episcopal Church. She was ordained in 1965 by the Rt. Rev'd James Pike, Ordinary of the Diocese of California amid a storm of controversy.

Her ordination led to the ordination of women as priests less than a decade later.

According the Episcopal Church news archives, she was priested in 1980 by Bishop Spong:

    Declaring that the "Church tonight is more whole than it was yesterday," the Rt. Rev. John S. Spong, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark ordained to the priesthood one of the first women to be recognized as a deacon in the Church.

    Although General Convention did not officially consider women to be deacons until 1970, the Rev. Phyllis Edwards was declared deacon, rather than deaconess, in 1964 by Bishop James Pike of California.

The news release contined:

    The next year she was working in the inner city of San Francisco when the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., requested clergy to join in a civil rights march in Selma, Ala. Sent as the "token" woman from the Diocese, according to Mrs. Edwards, she found herself in the front line of the march for the same reason. It was during her experience in Selma that she saw the relationship between the oppression of blacks and of women, an insight which affected her ensuing ministry.

    For several years she continued on the Diocesan staff in California, then served as director of Christian education in a parish in Evanston, Ill. Her next position was hospital chaplain, followed by work in a campus ministry at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. During this period of ferment over the place of women in the Church, Mrs. Edwards chose to let her "ministry of being affect the Church, " rather than seeking early ordination.

A service of thanksgiving for Phyllis will be held at St Andrew's Episcopal Church on Friday, 24 July in Port Angeles, WA.

I would ask all readers of this blog to pause at 1 p.m. Pacific Time, on the 24th for one minute of silent thanksgiving for the life and service of the Rev'd Phyllis Edwards, a true pioneer of our church.

UPDATE: Ann Fontaine posts on Phyllis' death, here