Alice C. Linsley
A reader of Just Genesis who is interested in what I have written about the Priesthood has asked that I tell my story, something that I am reticent to do because I don’t enjoy talking about myself. This is the third person who has asked me to explain how I moved from being an Episcopal priest to an Orthodox laywoman who believes that Holy Tradition precludes women being priests. So I will attempt to put the events in order and tell the tangled tale.
There is risk of giving offense to those who believe, as I once did, that the Bible doesn’t prohibit women priests, and that this question is not Christological and does not touch the essentials of salvation. If you are offended by reading this, then take C.S. Lewis’ advice to his reader in Mere Christianity – “Leave it alone.” Better to leave it, for one never knows how God may impress upon you a certain point that offers health to the soul. Perhaps we can agree at least on this: that God does desire the health of our souls. And it is in this spirit that I offer what I am about to say.
To tell this story I will need to speak of three aspects which, like three interwoven threads, give texture and depth to the telling. The three aspects touch on (1) my personal life; (2) the parish that presented me for ordination, and (3) the situation in the Episcopal Church USA in the early-1980s.
The Situation in my Personal Life
I was first struck (shocked…really) by the thought of becoming a priest while attempting to keep my children warm during a winter snowstorm in Malvern, Pennsylvania. My husband was gone on a school trip and I was unable to reach him by phone when the furnace in our rented house stopped working because we had run out of fuel. Before leaving, my husband had failed to pay the heating bill and the fuel company refused to deliver until it was paid. I discovered that our bank account had about $15.00 and the fuel bill was about $100.00. Fortunately, we had a fireplace and some split wood, so I closed off the other rooms of the house, covered the windows with blankets, and made sleeping pallets for the children by the fire.
After they were asleep, I began to pray. The Lord knows that my husband was never a responsible provider and that he had a straying eye. The straying became a problem about a year before I finished seminary studies, when he began an affair with the women he married shortly after our divorce in 1987. But this snowstorm caused me to recognize that survival was going to depend on my getting a job and managing some of my income to provide for my children’s needs.
And so as I sat with a heavy heart looking into the fire, I prayed, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And it was then that the thought came to me that I should be a priest. I am not saying that God gave me that answer, only that the thought came to my mind clearly and so instantly that I was taken back, for as far as I know, I had never consciously considered such a calling.
My immediate reaction to the thought was negative. I wanted to be a teacher, although I didn’t want to spend my life teaching high school Spanish. For the past 7 years I had been a stay-at-home mom, raising children and vegetables. A young Evangelical priest had enlisted me to teach a Ladies’ Bible Study at the church and I enjoyed this immensely more than I had enjoyed teaching Spanish before my children were born. So my heart yearned not to be a priest, but to teach in the Church. Bear this in mind because it speaks directly to what has gone wrong in the Episcopal Church – namely that women are guaranteed pay only if they work as Priests.
But before we move to the situation in my parish – the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania – let me tell you how faithfully our Lord attended to my family’s needs on that frigid day when the roads were covered with drifting snow. When I couldn’t reach my husband, I called his school and explained our situation. About two hours later a stranger appeared on my doorstep and handed me an envelope with cash to pay the fuel bill. I have lost count of how often our great God has provided for my needs. Not a day passes without some gift from above though I am unworthy that HE should visit me.
The Situation in my Parish
The Church of the Good Samaritan may be known to some of you because it was founded as a mission of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. Others may recognize my home parish by one of its well-known members – Dr. David Virtue whose Anglican news blog is widely read. It is wonderful that an Anglo-catholic parish should plant what became an Evangelical parish and that the two should stand together in resisting the heretical and corrupt leadership of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and The Episcopal Church.
At the time when my family began worshipping there it was a large and thriving congregation, and I believe it still is, even in the face of the many trials faced by right-believing parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the spawning ground for two women bishops, several lesbian priests (one of whom, from Maryland, has been selected to run for suffragan bishop of Los Angeles), numerous other confused women priests, a deposed diocesan bishop against whom criminal charges have been brought and sustained… and strangely, me.
I was the first women put forward for ordination from the Church of the Good Samaritan and the decision to endorse me did not come easily. The Rector was Daniel Kilmer Sullivan, a tradition-minded priest who struggled with this decision. His assistant, the priest who had enlisted me to teach the Ladies’ Bible study, read Scripture apart from Holy Tradition and therefore saw no impediment to my being ordained. I believe that he argued his case to the Rector most persuasively. And possibly, the Rector’s wife took up my cause as well.
Still, Father Dan did not rush the matter. From the time I first broached the subject to him to the decision of the Vestry to endorse me was at least 18 months. And I know that much prayer went into this decision. The weight that tipped the scales came, I believe, from the Diocesan leadership. The Rt. Rev. Lyman Ogilby was retiring and it was almost a certainty that the new Diocesan would support the ordination of women. As it turned out, Bishop Allen Bartlett and his feminist wife supported every radical cause, and it was Bishop Bartlett who ordained me. I left the Diocese before Bishop Bennison arrived to further compromise the Church’s integrity.
The Situation in the Diocese of Pennsylvania
What I didn’t understand then, but have since come to see, is that the ordination of women was the proverbial “foot in the door” and that door would swing wide open to non-celibate homosexual clergy. Bishop Ogilby and Bishop Charles E. Bennison were among the bishops of the Episcopal Church who signed the "We Too" statement for Homosexual Roman Catholics, prepared by Brian McNaught and submitted in November 1975 to all Roman Catholic bishops. It is not a coincidence that the in-your-face ordination of the eleven women, several of whom were recognized lesbians, happened in Philadelphia in 1974.
There had always been some contention between the conservative clergy of the Church of the Good Samaritan and the liberal leaders of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. I have no doubt that there were some backroom conversations between the Rector and the Bishop that involved a certain amount of pressure to conform to the “new thing” that was being ascribed to our changeless God. I stepped into this muddle with the aspiration to be a priest and, not being lesbian or a disclaimer of God’s Word, I must have been seen as a reasonably good candidate. Eighteen years would pass before this priestess would come to repentance.
Telling My Story (Part Two) is here.