Breaking the Episcopal Glass Ceiling

On Sunday, June 28, women clergy who had previously “met” on a Facebook group met face-to-face. At two meetings, over 50 women deacons and priests, members of the Facebook group “Breaking the Episcopal Glass Ceiling,” gathered to discuss how they can support one another toward a goal of more Episcopal women bishops.

“When the nominees for Presiding Bishop were announced in May, many people seemed surprised there were no women bishops on the list,” says the Rev. Canon Stefani Schatz, canon to the ordinary of the Diocese of California. “The primary reason is that very few women who serve as diocesan bishops of our dioceses. And I felt it was the moment to begin connecting women to change that number. So I convened the Facebook group.” The Facebook group is for ordained women who are committed to supporting each other toward the goal of more women bishops!

The group was named and developed together with the Rev. Canon Susan Russell (senior associate at All Saints Parish, Pasadena) who writes, that despite the visibility of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop, “… the undervaluing and under-deploying the gifts of women in senior leadership and an indication of how deeply systemic sexism continues to challenge [the Church].”

Within the first week there were over 1,000 members and by the time of General Convention there were almost 2,000 of the more than 6,000 ordained priests and deacons as members of the Facebook group.

To take advantage of the numbers of women clergy already in Salt Lake City, a morning conversation was held and attended by the Rt. Revs. Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Gray Reeves. Bishop Gray Reeves noted, that with the overwhelming response to the Facebook page, “we have a movement,” and spoke of several initiatives for women clergy to be held in 2016 including both Beautiful Authority and Beautiful Authority 2.0. Later at lunch over 30 women spoke enthusiastically about issues for women in leadership of large congregations, discerning a possible call to bishop, and preparing a diocese for a woman bishop. In both settings, women also pledged to support women of color throughout all this organizing.

At the suggestion of the Rev. Joell Szachara, a member of the group, women and men were invited to wear a purple scarf (or ribbon) on June 26 and Sunday. Scarves were noted on deputies and guests all over the Convention Center. According to posts on Facebook, women also painted toenails purple and wore purple scarves across The Episcopal Church. The Diocese of California’s photos of the participants in their scarves are available on Facebook.

This past week, there has been press attention on the topic of sexism, such as this article from Center Aisle, this article from the Episcopal Herald, and this blog post from the dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO.

The below photo shows the 18 women bishops present for the election of the next Presiding Bishop this year, who knows how many will be present for the photo in 2018?