Monday, August 10, 2009

Telling My Story

A Priestess Comes to Repentance
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.


Rick Lobs said...

Dear Alice, I am deeply moved by what you have written and I trust by what will follow. Thank you for writing it - you do it well and with grace. Rick+

Undergroundpewster said...

I saw the link on Dean Lobs' site and dropped in. I thank you as well.

margaret said...

A foot in the door for the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals... yes... of course. I had not thought of this before but it makes sense. The penny which has been suspended these 20 years is beginning to drop.

Alice C. Linsley said...

You note that the ordination to the priesthood of the 11 women in Philadelphia came in 1974, the same year that the Episcopal gay-lesbian action group formed - called "Integrity" (hah!) The next year the "Me Too" document was sent by Integrity to all US Roman Catholic bishops. In 1975 more lesbians were ordained. Here is the account in Louie Crew's wn words: "More 'irregular' ordinations of women took place in Washington, DC, in September 1975, after our convention. In Washington at the time, on a missionary journey to our new chapters in the east, Jim Wickliff and I yielded to the counsel of friends who advised that our visibility at the ordination might put in jeopardy lesbians among all early ordinands." From here:

Do you know that further efforts to erode the Historic Faith and Practice have happened almost every year since 1974? The 1976 General Convention passed a resolution affirming homosexuals behavior, and in 1977, Bishop Paul Moore ordained Ellen Marie Barrett, who had served as Integrity's first co-president.

The homosexual attack on catholic orders has been persistent and steady. Those who uphold Holy Tradition are on firm ground, but we are surrounded by many who hate us.

If only right-believing Christians were this persistent and steady in their efforts to bring poor sinners to the Savior!

Jerry Kramer said...

Thank you for this. May God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alice,

I have sent the URL for your Part 1 of your story to the members of St. Luke's, Maysville, and others, reminding them that you came to succor us following our departure from the local Episcopal church in the Diocese of Lexington in that bleak time of December, 2005.

We will always remember your coming to us open-hearted and open-handed, and we will pray for you and give thanks for your early blessings upon us.

Lou Browning

Alice C. Linsley said...

Lou, how kind of you!

I follow the news of St. Luke's in Maysville, KY. I'm so pleased to hear what our Lord Christ has accomplished among you. HE is faithful and will do more than we can ask or imagine!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dear Alice,

God bless you for sharing your story.

I am really looking forward to Part Two: The Joyful Repentant!!

The Joyful Repentant...

Amen to that!!!

Sasha said...

What an intricate path, Mrs. Linsley, you went through in that whole ecclesiastical caper - being pushed into the "priesthood" by circumstances and various voices plus thoughts! Here it's worth noting that even the Devil can very much appear as an "angel of light" when it suits him, and apparently it was he who gave the push for you to go there!! [Note for nothing that we're commanded to "test the spirits!"]

Yet, maybe God was Willing that you go through there so you could eventually see the full error thereof and be able to speak to others about it - truly His Ways can be so marvellous, and given how you were regularly praying to Him (which doesn't fit so overwhelmingly many of us, and that includes me, alas...), it just could be He Wanted you to see it for what it was, particularly as a witness to the body rot that had already insinuated itself into EOUSA's marrow.

[What Spong, Pike and others had prepared the ground for in the '70s and '80s was to prove itself starting by about 1990, just as their Commie professors had done even by 1940! Thus, it took about not less than 70 years for EOUSA to collapse into the abomination it is now...]

Very moving and edifying story!! Hoping that your gall-bladder surgery goes well and that nothing more serious reveals itself. God Bless!!!

Anonymous said...

Hello Alice,
Thank you for posting this. It must be hard for you, and I will pray that you have the strength to finish the task.

I hope there is a way to share this story with our Orthodox brothers and sisters; I really feel that when the homosexualists finish with the mainline protestants, they're coming for us and the Catholics and we need to be ready.

The Pilgrim

Anonymous said...

Alice,I read your story with great interest as I grew up at Good Samaritan and started attending again in the 1990s. I do agree that the ordination of women has contributed to the dire situation we now face in TEC. However, it was the changing of centuries of church teaching and embracing revisionist theology in the early 1970s to permit the marriage of divorced persons that laid a clear path for the further erosion of Biblical marriage that we are faced with now. I still attend Good Samaritan church, and do you know that there is no teaching on Biblical marriage or that marriage of divorced persons is not a marriage at all, but adultery. Well, the chickens have come home to roost. The only path for us is the path you have taken, and that is repentence for our own sin of embracing revisionist theology and allowing marriages that are really adultery. Sadly, many of my friends who like to wear the cloak of conservative theology are blind to God's truth and can not see that our very own Good Samaritan needs to repent and turn back to correct Biblical teaching on marriage. I hope that your story will give them the courage to do so.

Petroc said...

Thank you Alice for your interesting and challenging post. I'm an Anglican priest working in Britain, but am still sitting on the fence as regards the ordination of women. There are several women clergy in my own diocese. Your witness in a powerful one and profoundly moved me.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr Petroc,

These are sad days for the Church of England. May the Holy Spirit move in your situation. May the grace of Christ flow freely through you to those you are called to serve.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I am not going to weigh in on any of the doctrinal or discipline issues in this post, as it is unnecessary. Like one of my mentors, C. S. Lewis, quipped when asked what he believed about this or that, 'It's all written in the Common Prayer book.' Though I am no longer a member of the Anglican communion, the original BCP still plays a large part in my life, even as a Greek Orthodox. 'Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse...'

Thank God, all my memories of the Episcopal Church are good ones. My heart has been cleansed of the memory of the great disaster that plunged the leadership of that community by and large into open apostasy. I only remember the saints with whom I worshipped and worked.

Thanks for posting this well-written biographical sketch. I am about to go to its sequel, and I'm sure not to be disappointed.

Glory to God.