Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Being the Advocate

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Being the Advocate

Article excerpt

Forty years ago, on 26July 1974, The George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate, under the leadership of the Rev. Paul Washington, became the host church for the ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church of a group of women who have come to be known as The Philadelphia 11. This movement of the spirit, as is true for most transformational moments, required individual acts of bravery that coalesced into a mighty and definitive roar. For the larger Episcopal Church1 this roar proclaimed a desire to live more fully into a calling where, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, male nor female; we are one in Christ."2 For the Advocate the roar affirmed its identity as a ministry of the Episcopal Church with sufficient outsider status to be transgressive and sufficient insider status to be the recipient of support, financial and otherwise, to nurture a radical ministry with extraordinary impact. The "irregular" ordinations were groundbreaking and so was the congregation whose arms opened in welcome.

The Philadelphia ordinations were an identity-shaping moment for women and for the Episcopal Church. With the ordinations in 1974, the Episcopal Church entered into a pivot that challenged its identity; forty years later the Advocate is being called to a similar challenge. This paper will consider the nature of the Advocate's identity that gave rise to such powerful ministry.

The ordinations of the Philadelphia 11 were acts that demonstrated the considerable courage of the ordinands, their sponsors, Paul Washington, and the Advocate congregation. Each faced that decision to step beyond the lead of the General Convention aware that risks and opportunities always come with acts of faith. For the Advocate the risk was loss of diocesan funding that would jeopardize the work. In 1962 Washington had inherited a robust community-oriented ministry that included a day care center, a community center, a two-week Vacation Bible School, and a six-week summer day camp.

By 1974 the Advocate had taken on even larger community significance. In addition to offering programming that met physical needs (i.e. food and clothing), the Advocate had become the embodiment of hope as a leading participant in the struggle for human dignity. She became a shelter and gathering place for children, artists, and athletes. She was the meeting place for those in the Black Power movement, the Black Panther Party, the Black Economic Development Conference, the MOVE Organization, and other groups that rose up to challenge racial and social injustice. She was the place where the community gathered. Paul Washington became the shepherd of a very diverse flock of men and women, people who struggled to change daily realities.3

Because he was compelled by the gospel and quickened by the prophetic call of the Spirit, Paul Washington saw the ordination of women as manifestation of the continual working out of God's purpose and plan for humanity. The added threat of sanctions this action might precipitate was insignificant compared to the greater privilege unfolding at 18th and Diamond.4 He and the others were faithful to the spirit of God and the ordination occurred and the church was forever changed. The identity shift that began in the church prior to the ordinations was affirmed by that singular event and was given, as a result, unprecedented momentum.

Sometimes it takes a while to get to that place of being ready to become something different. This was certainly the case with the Advocate. The Advocate was built as a memorial to merchant and civic leader George W. South by his estate. North Philadelphia was rapidly developing during the post-Civil War boom as an industrial center in the city and was selected as a site in need of Christian missionary activity. A church without pew rents, the Advocate was intended to be a congregation of working and/or middle class families.* * 5

In 1900 when the church charter was presented for reception into the Diocese of Pennsylvania it was approved by the Right Reverend Ozi W. …

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