When asked to reflect about being the first woman ordained a priest in the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Rev. Canon Victoria Hatch has said it before and she says it again, with feeling: “It’s been a wild ride, but it’s been full of grace.”
Such moments of grace included attending the 1974 ordinations of the Philadelphia 11 — one of whom was her sister, the Rev. Nancy Wittig. A July 26 celebration commemorating that event was held at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia.
“It was amazing,” Hatch recalled about the first celebration. The recent event, which Hatch was unable to attend, also celebrated the ministry of all women, lay and ordained, in the past, present and future and some speakers called for a greater representation of women in the House of Bishops.
So, Los Angeles being the only diocese in the Episcopal Church with three resident women bishops —Diane Jardine Bruce, Mary D. Glasspool and Catherine Roskam — the Episcopal News invited them to join Hatch in sharing their views about the impact of women on the wider church in general and about their own ministries in particular.
Also amazing for Hatch was coming of age in a military family and experiencing church throughout the world. “Today (Aug. 6) is the anniversary of my confirmation,” she said.
“It was the Feast of Transfiguration, 1961. We were in Kobe, Japan. I was confirmed by the presiding bishop of Japan, because Dad was on a ship that was making a port call, and there was the American consul general and my family and the commander-in-chief of the 7th Fleet and little old me. It was one of those moments in time where all those things come together and you get whacked upside the head by the Holy Spirit and recognize it.”
There have been other such moments for Hatch, who eventually landed at the American University in Washington, D.C. She immediately became active in diocesan councils, like the interracial task force formed after the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“It was an amazing experience to sit with Verna Dozier and others from the black community who were saying, ‘no more second-class citizenship, back- of-the-bus stuff,’” she recalled. “It was an incredible experience … I began to see the church from that perspective and understand it as a political entity as much as a community of faith.”
Of her own “bumps” along the way, she says, “they were good training for the rejection of one’s life in the church.”
Such as seeking the support of her rector at St. James’ Church in Leesburg, Virginia, during the process to ordination. “He said, ‘Like hell — we’re not going to sign the papers.’” She transferred membership to Church of the Resurrection in Alexandria, which wholeheartedly supported her.
“It was not the end of the world,” she recalled, “but it was rough.”
There were death threats when she was ordained Jan. 15, 1977 and a bank of reporters. Yet with characteristic humility Hatch said, “I guess it was historical, but it was these other people’s ordinations too, not just mine.”
Those experiences prompted her to support other women in the ordination process. Her advice to women serving in any lay or ordained ministry is to “be authentic. Don’t try to be something else. For the first couple of years there were some guys who wanted us to be mini-guys. It’s that authentic being that is essential to the priesthood and when you don’t do that, you betray God and you betray the church, ultimately.”
She served as an associate at St. Cross Church, Hermosa Beach; spent 27 years at St. Agnes, Banning, and two and a half at St. George’s, Riverside, before retiring. She now assists at Church of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs.
Women clergy have come a long way, but “in terms of the integrity of the church and the integrity of the community of faith, I think we still have a long way to go,” she says. “I don’t think it’s an easy thing for women in the church even now.”
Yet, she says, “it amazes me that, in less than 40 years, we have a presiding bishop who’s a woman.”
She recalled a moment with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, during which Hatch thanked her “for what you’ve done for the church since becoming PB. Her response was, ‘No, thank you for leading the way. We’re all in this together; we all must continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.’”
Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce
Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce was the first woman elected rector at St. Clement’s by-the-Sea Church in San Clemente, where she served for 10 years prior to her 2009 election as the first woman bishop in Los Angeles.
Being authentic is the way she won over an early St. Clement’s skeptic, a woman who on her first day as rector gave Bruce “three weeks to prove yourself to me or I’m out of this congregation.”
But when the skeptic discovered Bruce, in T-shirt and shorts, scrubbing the restroom floor on her hands and knees, she had a change of heart. She helped Bruce spruce up the room.
“The following week,” Bruce recalled, “she came in and said she’d decided not to leave. She said, ‘I figure if you care as much already as you do for us, I want to see what else you’re going to do. You have my full support. And she became my biggest supporter. “
Bruce considers the story an example of women’s tendencies to be relational, and the resultant healthy impact locally and in the House of Bishops (HOB).
“Although we are small in number in the HOB, I do think our nature is influencing the way the House operates,” said Bruce, who serves as assistant secretary to the HOB. “I tend to be pretty open and honest about everything I’m thinking and feeling. That kind of openness makes for more collaborative relationships.”
Having a woman in the church’s top spot helps, she added. “Having a woman presiding bishop has had a wonderful influence on the House and the Episcopal Church, and a hallmark of Bishop Katharine’s work has been in the building of relationships all over the Anglican Communion.”
Building community and relationships has also been a hallmark of her own episcopacy. “The clergy know my number and they know they can text or call me. If they don’t hear back in 24 hours, they should do it again because it means I didn’t get it.”
Increasingly, more women are taking on leadership roles in the church, Bruce observed. “We see more women rectors, and younger women coming up for ordination. We also see women of color taking more responsible roles in the church,” through multicultural ministries, areas she oversees in the diocese.
“I am just eternally grateful to the brave women and the bishops who made this 40th anniversary possible and the women who were ordained right after them who did not have an easy time going though the process,” Bruce added. “They paved the way for people like me not only to be ordained but to become a bishop. There are no words to express except deep and profound thanks for their bravery and openness to step into this work.”
Bishop Mary Glasspool
Bishop Mary Glasspool, the second woman elected bishop in Los Angeles, a cradle Episcopalian, jokes that “being in the church is the family business.” The daughter of a priest, she is also a great- great-granddaughter of Alfred Lee, “the first bishop diocesan of the Diocese of Delaware and the 10th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the days when the PB was not elected but rather the senior bishop in the House of Bishops.”
A professional challenge, she said, “is really not to take the institutional church too seriously, to know spiritually that God is bigger than the church and from that perspective to try to discern what is it that God is up to now, because God is always doing something new.
“I believe that God may be able to use the Episcopal Church in very particular ways and the Episcopal Church as an institution is not the be-all and end-all of God’s mission in the world and God’s plan for the universe.”
As an undergraduate student at the time of the Philadelphia 11 ordinations, she said, their bravery sparked for her “a major-league wake-up call” to ordination as well as paving the way for tremendous change in the church.
She applauded Jefferts Schori for focusing the church on mission and “on the millennium development goals (MDGs). When we [General Convention 2006] voted to have the MDGs help us as the kind of key value to shape our work in God’s mission in the world I was happy to come home and look up the United Nations (UN) web page and see the shield of the Episcopal Church … with the UN proclaiming that the Episcopal Church had partnered with them,” she said. “I was proud to be an Episcopalian.”
And although women have come a long way in the church “in terms of supporting the gifts and skills of virtually half the church, half the world … we have a long way to go,” she said.
“So, I would say to the woman in the pew, thank you for being in the pew. Thank you for showing up, for offering yourself. Thank you for all that you do, not only in the church but in the world and help us make it even better for our daughters, collectively speaking.”
Supporting young people is a special joy for Glasspool who, in addition to engaging interfaith and ecumenical ministries, also oversees the diocese’s Episcopal schools. It affords opportunities to see “loads of creative and expansive and supportive ways of assisting our young people to learn the core values of what it means to be a child of God in the world today and to express themselves in creative and healthy and growth-producing ways.”
Bishop Catherine Roskam
Bishop Assisting Catherine Roskam is eager to throw out the first pitch Sept. 5 at the annual Episcopal night at Dodger Stadium because “I’m a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.”
Admittedly heartbroken when the Dodgers moved westward, the native New Yorker believes her pitch “is part of the healing. For me, this is coming home. I’m going to wear my Jackie Robinson jersey and I am just over the moon.”
She interrupts herself to “tell a funny story” about Olen, 5, her only grandchild and the reason she and her husband Philip relocated to Van Nuys. Recently, the father of one of Olen’s friends approached Roskam curiously, she said. “‘I need you to clear up something for me,’ he said. ‘Olen is telling everyone his grandmother’s pitching for the Dodgers.’ I just loved it.”
She served as bishop suffragan in the Diocese of New York for 16 years before moving to the Southland, and agreed to assist the bishops during and after Bishop Diocesan Jon Bruno’s recovery from leukemia.
She serves now as bishop-in-charge at St. James’ Church, Wilshire (Los Angeles), and also as caregiver for her husband Philip, who has Parkinson’s.
“I do feel very called at this time and this place and we’re having a good time … there’s a real sense of rejuvenation there,” she said. Among other things, the congregation is creating a “living directory” comprised of members’ selfie photos.
Roskam has a background in theater as an actress and producer, and was ordained in 1984, during “the second wave” of female priests, she says. She served as an associate for five years in New York and recognized, after a while, “women were not being placed in charge of congregations.”
After a move to San Francisco where she served as an interim, she was asked by the bishop to lead a small mission church on the verge of closing. “He said they weren’t very used to women priests,” she recalled.
“Their priest had died of cancer. An earthquake damaged the roof. There were about 12 people on Sunday.” But, she said, “in nine months’ time, we had a new roof, 50 – 60 people on a Sunday and nobody was talking about closing anymore and we had a lot of fun together.”
Afterwards, she became a missioner for the diocese, assisting about 24 churches with congregational development and visioning. Then she was elected bishop suffragan of New York.
Roskam believes inclusion of women clergy has resulted in “a clergy that is more whole now in terms of reflecting the image of God, male and female.”
The question of the small numbers of active women bishops — less than 10 percent — in the church involves systemic change, she said.
“My hope is that if we examine the nature of the integration of women in the House of Bishops and into the church as bishops, we don’t have to go the way of the world. Because, what happens when women go into a field and finally break ground and get there, generally what it means is the field itself loses remuneration and power,” she said.
Change requires imagination, encouragement, nimbleness and fun, she added. “Because, to me, there are no failures; only successes and learning experiences.”