Wednesday, July 29, 2015

History of The Episcopal Women's Caucus and Women's Ordination

The Episcopal Women’s Caucus started on October 30, 1971, as an intentional response to the resistance to women’s ordination to the priesthood. 

The early 1970’s, thanks in large part to the hard work of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus and it’s founding members, was a time of tremendous energy and drive to move the church forward in ordaining women as priests. 

Women first became deputies at the 1970 General Convention, after a fifty year struggle to do so.  

That same year General Convention changed the term deaconess to deacons and opened the door for women’s ordination to the diaconate. 

Sadly, the resistance to women’s ordination to the priesthood increased in intensity the closer the church moved toward it. 

Resistance intensified following the ordination of the Philadelphia 11 on October 27, 1974. 

The Caucus, along with other women’s organizations of the Episcopal Church, lobbied hard at seminaries and in dioceses, creating resolutions for the General Convention scheduled for September 1976. 

All the good work of caucusing and organizing led to the successful passing of the 1976 resolution authorizing the ordination of women to all three orders, bishop, priest, and deacon. 

But that was really just the beginning. 

Deployment of women to ordained positions has been a long and difficult job, one we have not yet fully overcome. The few number of women in the House of Bishops, and the slate of nominees for Presiding Bishop at this General Convention, which did not include a woman, stands as a clear example of the work before us. 

The Episcopal Women’s Caucus is already on the forefront of this effort, which offers an opportunity for everyone in this room to participate in advancing the cause of women. 

When women have full equality, then every person, regardless of race or gender, will be one step closer to full equality. 

Equal rights begin with women. 

One side note of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus has been the coffee mugs, tote bags, and tee shirts that the Caucus has sold. 

In 1985 our first slogan was, 
“A woman’s place in the house…of bishops.” 

That slogan, on tee shirts and coffee mugs remains a best selling product. 

In 1991, in response to an increased demand for reducing the use of male pronouns to describe God, the Caucus created our most popular slogan, 

“God is not a boy’s name.” 

Coffee mugs, tote bags, and tee shirts carry that slogan, which to this day, gives people a smile and a thoughtful pause. 

In 1994, in response to the struggle around the deployment of women and the lack of viable positions
for women priests, the Caucus came to General Convention that year  with the theme, 

“Faith, Hope, and Parity.”

 Over the years the Caucus has promoted the equal deployment of all people, with the hope that for every white male cleric that holds a position there will also be
 a woman cleric, for every white person there will be a person of color, and for every heterosexual there will be a gay, lesbian, bi and transgender person employed in a viable position as a deacon, priest and bishop. 

The Caucus supports all people in living their ministry as they are called by God. 

And, if you are interested our merchandise can be found 
in the booth at this convention and at the Episcopal Women’s Caucus store at 

If I had to describe the purpose of the Caucus board 
as a part of the body I’d have to say that we are like the stomach - we take all the great things you all are doing 
and digest them into energy that feeds us through the work it takes to come to convention, produce our on-line e-newsletter, manage our Facebook page, and the many other ways we network to bring forth justice in the Episcopal Church as well as in the world. 

The Caucus is always reimagining itself and assessing 
its purpose so that we can stay vibrant and relevant. We are currently looking for new board members. 

Part of the work of the board is to create the vision  for the work of the caucus and help build working relationships with others in and out of the church. 

What are your passions?
What are you hopes?
What are the concerns you have?

Consider this YOUR invitation to join the Caucus and bring  your hopes and dreams for a better world to the Caucus. 

and let us know your interest in the board. 

We are a dynamic group albeit not very diverse at the moment. We’d like to change that!

Most of our work is done in conference calls, meeting once a month or less.

The Caucus breakfast has been a tradition at General Convention since 1982 when it was created to support deputies and friends who were attending General Convention, and particularly as an opportunity to lift up issues affecting women. 

The work of those early days included training women on parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules, in order that women could effectively speak to the issues before convention. 

Inclusive language was also a priority, and some headway has been made. 

Now, however, we are beginning to speak about expansive language, a concept that moves beyond inclusive. 

Expansive language calls us to be sensitive to the many expressions of human kind and our various understandings of God, expanding the language we use 
to speak about God, human beings, and faith.  

Our WordsMatter project and the prayers we have written are examples of expansive language. 

Other issues, that have remained on the forefront of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus agenda, include intimate partner violence, violence against humanity, human trafficking,  civil rights and social justice, and equality for all humans.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sarah Eagle Heart Keynote Address at The Episcopal Women's Caucus breakfast; General Convention 2015

Please check out the new resource: In the Spirit of the Circle

Episcopal Women’s Caucus
Keynote by Sarah Eagle Heart
June 29, 2015

Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye.  My name is Sarah Eagle Heart, my lakota name is Wanbli Sina Win or Eagle Shawl Woman in Lakota. I grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. 

I am the Missioner for Indigenous Ministry and I have been blessed to witness leadership in a variety of ways in the Episcopal Church. I have been blessed to be supported in my leadership by key leaders and especially by women. That support is truly a gift, I will never forget all the days of my life becauseI didn’t want to be a leader. Beginning when I was seventeen years old, I was actively trying to get out of it. Sometimes, I still try to get out of it. Being a leader is difficult, which is why I often share my story so other young leaders who step forward will know leadership is truly a calling. For native people, leadership includes a sense of responsibility for the whole community. 

I intimately know the socioeconomic and justice issues indigenous people must face in order to persevere. I often share my own experience of childhood on one of the most poverty-stricken communities in the United States to educate. All my life I have felt as if I walked in worlds of cultural duality. I grew up one mile outside a small white farming town of 1100 inhabitants, in a tribal community in the LaCreek District of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The town of Martin, South Dakota is located between two Indian reservations in South Dakota. This unique interracial environment allowed for an early introduction to race, class and power dynamics. Fortunately, I had strong role models, determined Lakota women, raise us with traditional Lakota values and taught to live our cultural values inherently and give back to our people. 

The first settlers carried with them the belief of the Doctrine of Discovery, which relied on a fifteenth-century document by the pope (called a Papal Bull) that gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” for their Christian monarchs. Land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and claimed. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, their lives might be spared.

The idea of Manifest Destiny guided the colonization of North, South, and Central America—a racist belief that European settlers were “destined” to claim land from coast to coast. This attitude guided the behaviors that pushed western expansion and promoted the forced removal of Native Americans from their traditional homelands. 

In the name of God, the Indigenous people of this land were forced from their homes and made to walk the Trail of Tears. Many died, both along the journey and when they reached the reservations (also known as prison camps). Many tribes, cultures, and languages were decimated on these long, 
forced marches. The very last goal set by the government was assimilation of “Indians.” 

Indigenous tribes were not given enough food to eat, and they caught diseases from the European immigrants. Many Indigenous people died from illnesses like smallpox, but the colonists also killed many people in cruel and inhumane ways. In a 2012 pastoral letter, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori decried the Doctrine of Discovery: “These religious warrants led to the wholesale slaughter, rape, and enslavement of indigenous peoples in the Americas, as well as in Africa, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific, and the African slave trade was based on these same principles. Death, dispossession, and enslavement were followed by rapid depopulation as a result of introduced and epidemic disease.”  

In 2009, The Episcopal Church became the first denomination in North America to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and acknowledge our role in this shameful era of human history. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said, “This is also a matter for healing in communities and persons of European immigrant descent. Colonists, settlers, and homesteaders benefited enormously from the availability of ‘free’ land, and their descendants continue to benefit to this day. That land was taken by force or subterfuge from peoples who had dwelt on it from time immemorial—it was their ‘promised land.’ The nations from which the settlers came, and the new nations which resulted in the Americas, sought to impose another culture and way of life on the people they encountered. Attempting to remake the land and people they found ‘in their own image’ was a profound act of idolatry.”

The work of the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery continues our commitment to the 1997 Jamestown Covenant by exposing the wrongs done “on behalf” of Native Americans through the brutal settlement and conquest of the Americas. The Episcopal Church does not omit the past but instead stands in solidarity with Native Americans and Indigenous people, advocating 
for the oppressed and praying for the oppressors. Today, missionary work does not strive to assimilate but to raise local leaders for reconciliation through healing, contextual education, empowerment, and advocacy. The strength of The Episcopal Church is the ability to stand in the tension of shame and guilt, facing it with Jesus at our side and acting through the Baptismal Covenant to strive for peace and justice.

Due to the loss of our foundation of traditional Indigenous teachings of cultural identity, the result has been a loss of trust for humanity… sadness, despair and anger has taken its place on many reservations. Many of our indigenous communities in North America have become numb and struggle to connect with who they really are, a beautiful people with cultural riches beyond what anyone can imagine in this contemporary day, and what they are capable of achieving.

This is where a theory of healing and action was born. The theory that healing and education provides an avenue for communities to reconcile and come together for action. Ministries such as Navajoland, Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota have begun to pick up the pieces and revitilize language and culture with youth. These mission areas actively work with to combat the suicide epidemic, gathering leaders for healing and theological education.

Those who do the vulnerable work of healing:  feel a need to rebalance society, learn to forgive, learn to trust and begin to dream again. This is an individual and communal rewiring of possibility. This is transformational point of intersection is where truly meaningful, long-term intergenerational grassroots action can occur.

We are now at a place where we are beginning to see the fruits of healing and action. It’s time to target communities to network, leverage excitement and momentum to map assets, assess needs, identify key stakeholders, develop timeline and budget, and designate a team of community managers. Vital to the success includes key leadership, flexibility, continuous feedback, improvement and ongoing evaluation. 

Key indicators for success  include: White Earth Ojibwe Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor implemented White Bison’s teachings on intergenerational trauma in tribal juvenile detention system and saw a 70% decrease, reservation demographics indicate half of population to be under the age of 18 years and Tribal youth are raised with Lakota/Dakota/Nakota values of: Wacantognaka (generosity), Wotitakuye (kinship), Woksape (Wisdom) and a sense of communal responsibility “to help your people”. Indigenous youth desire to learn and connect with their culture. Identification with culture leads to emotionally stable, dedicated, communally driven leaders. Reservation Community Development Enterprises, such as Thunder Valley, are being developed with 20-year strategic plans to build eco friendly housing and healthy communities. Access and affordability of organic foods is essential as life expectancy is drastically lower within indigenous populations. This is a place ripe for healthy community development. 

I am inspired by the people I meet working collectively to build better communities: White Bison, Inc., a non-profit known for teachings on intergenerational trauma due to boarding school era, became the first example of a cross sectional partnership demonstrating a major denomination could support healing, traditional spirituality and cultural revitalization. Another example is the recent partnership between the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota and the White Buffalo Calf Women’s Society for domestic violence prevention through a Domestic Foreign Missionary Society New Opportunity Grant. As well as the work that Bishop’s Native Collaborative theological education and training funded by an Domestic Foreign Missionary Society Indigenous Theological Training Grant. 

To plan for seven generations, we have to continuously foster relationships with youth and young adults. It has been my joy to help young adults discern leadership direction through programs like Why Serve, the Young Adult Discernment Conference for People of Color. To see them excel as speakers here as deputies and preaching makes me proud beyond measure. 

The moments that have stayed with me since becoming a missioner include spontaneously funny and deeply spiritual occasions… praying at Good Shepherd Mission in Navajoland and feeling ancestors all around me; laughing with Cornelia as she put on her collar for the first time, seeing my friend Cathlena get ordained knowing how hard she worked to be able to attend seminary, the moment Catharine gave me a turquoise ring to symbolize her support, receiving a blanket from the Diocese of South Dakota with Terry honoring ministry work, talking to Bishops about history of the church with Native Hawaiians, listening to a group of women spontaneously sing in their traditional language to us over video conference, or standing in Lake Pyramid with Paiute women as Reynelda blessed me with sage and water. 

These moments come by spending time in relationship with people serving Indigenous Ministry. These moments are a gift not only to me, but for the whole church teaching of generosity, selflessness and humility. Of a people still hurting, but still resilient. Reminding us that it is not just about you or me, but about all of our relations. Mitakuye Oyasin. Amen.