Virginia Erwin, c. 1991

November 17, 1945 – September 12, 2023

[The Episcopal News – September 13, 2023] The Rev. Canon Virginia “Ginny” Gilbert Erwin, former rector of Trinity Church, Orange, and a former archdeacon for Clergy Deployment and Development of the Diocese of Los Angeles, died Sept. 12 in Banning, where she had been living in retirement since 2006. She was 78 and had been suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s for several years.

Survivors include her sons William Edward (Chip) Erwin and John Matthew (Matt) Erwin; and her brother, John (Jack) Gilbert. Her marriage to William Erwin ended in divorce in the early 1990s.

Services will be held at Trinity Church; details are pending.

On Sept. 15, 1991, when Bishop Frederick H. Borsch installed Erwin as rector of Trinity, Bishop Suffragan Chet Talton was simultaneously installing the Rev. Kathleen Cullinane as rector of St. Mary’s Church (Mariposa), Los Angeles. In an article in The Episcopal News (October 1991 issue), editor Ruth Nicastro noted, “The rites instantly increased the number of women rectors in the diocese by two-fifths.” They were the fourth and fifth women in that role; Erwin was the first in Orange County.

During Erwin’s 15 years at Trinity, the congregation grew considerably. A talented administrator, she led a capital campaign that funded a new youth center and expansion of the parish hall to include a state-of-the-art kitchen and nursery. Erwin also built up the youth and children’s program. Her close friend Nancy Guthrie recalls that Erwin often did magic tricks during her children’s sermons, relating the illusions to the lessons of the day.

Before Erwin’s tenure at Trinity, Borsch appointed her archdeacon for Clergy Deployment and Development. In that role, which she carried out for about two years, she assisted congregations seeking new rectors and vicars and worked with the clergy of the diocese on all aspects of ordained ministry, from initial inquiry through ordination. She also provided pastoral care and support to clergy, including advice on continuing education and vocations and spiritual development.

In an interview in 1991 when she was called as rector of Trinity, Erwin said said of her diocesan role: “In this work I clearly saw a need for more parishes who by their witness and ministry give hope and courage to their own people and thereby to the people of God everywhere.

“I believe Trinity Parish to be such a place,” she added.

Ginny Erwin poses with Bishop Fred Borsch at her installation as rector of Trinity Church, Orange, in 1991. File photo

She also remarked, “It seems to me that every congregation has three calls from God. The first is to strengthen our corporate faith in action, beginning with our individual commitment to Jesus Christ. The second is to care for one another, to be a place for healing and transforming lives with distinctive Christian caregiving. The third is to reach out actively to those in need, moving toward Christ’s mandate to love God and our neighbor.”

Before entering the ordained ministry, Erwin had an extensive career as an educator, mostly in Buena Park. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Nevada and Reno, and became a classroom teacher beginning in 1963.

In 1975 Erwin earned a master’s degree in education from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles and became a school site administrator in a large urban middle school. Later she served at the district level, assisting with federal and state projects. Her experience included work in multi-ethnic communities, low-income areas, and with both mentally challenged and mentally gifted students.

“Even though my career as an educator was very rewarding, I continued to feel incomplete in my professional life,” she said. “After much prayer and thought, over a considerable period of time and in concert with others, I determined to use my life to serve as an ordained minister.”

She studied at Bloy House, completing the course in 1985. In 1986 she earned a master’s degree in theology from the School of Theology in Claremont. She was ordained to the diaconate in June 1986 by Bishop Robert C. Rusack, and to the priesthood the following January by Bishop Suffragan Oliver B. Garver.

After her diaconal ordination she became a curate, and later assistant for pastoral ministry, at St. James in-the-City Church, Los Angeles, a period she described as “two of the most wondrous and joyous years of my life.”

Bishop J. Jon Bruno named her an honorary canon of the diocese in 2006.

Erwin was born in Long Island, New York on Nov. 17, 1945. Even as a child, she felt the call of ordained ministry, which at that time was not open to women.

“At a very early age, I can remember sitting in the congregation, observing the priest and thinking, ‘If I were a man, I’d really like to do that,’ she once told a reporter. “I didn’t dwell on the thought because it simply was not possible at that time. Yet I always seemed to understand God as responding, ‘Not yet. Just wait. Not yet.'”