Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Across the Threshold

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Across the Threshold

Article excerpt

GERALYN WOLF*

Walking from the coach park to Canterbury Cathedral for the opening Eucharist of the Lambeth Conference, I retraced steps taken 22 years earlier when I was a theological student at King's College, London. At that time it would have been unimaginable to think that women would be ordained as bishops during my lifetime.

In 1976, I was one of a modest number of women students willing to admit to a vocation to Holy Orders. The "irregular" ordination of women in the United States in 1974 sparked heated debate throughout the Communion, and the response of the Church of England, though more subdued than in the United States, was no less agonizing.

The year was difficult for me personally and I remembered all too well the living accommodations for men, complete with meals, daily prayer, and laundering services, and my own modest bed-sitter with two gas burners upon which to cook, no hot water or refrigeration, and the launderette around the block.

As I walked to the Cathedral on that sparkling July morning in 1998, I carried these special memories in my heart. Moving along the ancient streets, I thought of the thousands of other pilgrims in whose footsteps I was following and whose prayers rose beyond the great Cathedral arches that rested upon each other sheltering the faith for generations to come.

Joining ECUSA bishops who were gathering in the crypt, I felt elegant in my red-buttoned magenta cassock, certain that I had grown a few inches since leaving the dormitory earlier that morning. My eyes caught the gaze of a few other women bishops who were also experiencing the feeling of wonderment mixed with a fitch of disbelief. Were we really at Lambeth?!

As I waited in the crypt to join the procession, I remembered a man in a London religious bookshop long ago, who upon learning that General Convention had passed the resolution to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate, informed me and everyone else in the shop that "you can ordain fish and chips but they won't be priests." The clerk and cashier concurred. Closer to "home," the vicar of the parish that I attended for weekday Eucharists challenged me with his well-thought-out reasons as to why women could not be priests. Nonetheless, I returned to the bookstore many times, and when class was dismissed at one o'clock, I literally dashed to the parish for the 1:05 Mass. In each place I discovered spiritual refreshment in spite of their questionable attitude toward me and women's ordination in general.

While others may have refrained from frequenting these lessthan-friendly places, the richness that I received in both establishments far outweighed the discomfort that was also present. My continued willingness to walk amongst those who hold positions that are counter to mine was born of such encounters and apparent contradictions.

Walking in procession from the crypt to the West Door, every nerve ending was alive to the excitement of the day. How could I have ever imagined as a seminarian that at the dawn of the new century I would be one of the bishops attending the Lambeth Conference? I was suddenly overwhelmed by the presence of the God of laughter on this most wondrous morning in which everything was bathed in magenta and gratitude.

And then, just as I was about to cross the threshold of the West Door, a brother bishop, who was attending his third Conference, stepped out of line, extended his hand, and said, "Bishop Wolf, welcome to Canterbury Cathedral."

His outstretched arm remains one of the defining experiences that I had at the Lambeth Conference. For as the conference unfolded, there would be many occasions when I would meet men and women who extended the arm of generosity across thresholds of race, culture, and convictions. Bishops came from so many countries that I had to consult the world map in order to identify the location and juxtaposition of some of the nations. …

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