Women's stories are missing from the history of the church just as they are missing from secular history, said Bishop Suffragan Bavi Edna Rivera of the Diocese of Olympia during the second annual St. Margaret's Lecture at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
The title of her October 14 lecture, "Give That Woman a Chair," echoed the effort to create the St. Margaret's Chair for Women and Ministry at the Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, California.
Rivera told the nearly 200 people attending the lecture and lunch that she feels a sense of responsibility to the women of her family along with teachers, mentors and friends who went before her in ministry.
Echoing a poem by Daisy Zamora, a poet and former vice minister of culture in Nicaragua, which speaks of only hearing the stories of the men in her family, Rivera said "I search to today for the women of my church, beginning with the women of my house."
She then told the stories of some of those women, beginning with one about how her grandfather, Victor, his brother and all seven of his sisters studied at the mission and seminary of the Church of Jesus, founded in Puerto Rico in 1902 by Manuel Ferrando, who later became the bishop suffragan of Puerto Rico. Her great-grandfather, her bisabuelo, Pancho, sent them the mission center. Rivera said she learned during her preparation for the lecture that it was her great- grandmother, her bisabuela, who made it happen by asking them all, on her deathbed, to join the mission
"It had always been Abuelo Pancho's story. Now I know it is shared by Abuela . . . Abuela . . . Abuela who? I don't even know her name and I have told you the one story that I know," she said.
Her grandmother, Philomena Torres Santiago, also trained at the mission and Rivera said she learned her story from Philomena's daughter. Her Corsican godparents, devout Roman Catholics, did not want their godchild to be part of the mission, offering her their property if she left the mission. She turned it down. Rivera said that her aunt said the only thing Philomena and Don Ferrando ever argued about was women's ordination.
Philomena visited families in rural Puerto Rico on horseback, providing pastoral care, organizing boys and girls clubs, working with local doctors and nurses and finding ways that the women could use sewing and embroidery skills to overcome their poverty. She also taught homemaking skills as well as art and music. Rivera said that she has met other women from India and Africa who did similar missionary work.
"I have a sense of responsibility to them. We have a chair for history [at CDSP]. Do we have one for the missionary women around the world? Give my grandmother and the deaconesses and the women missionaries of India and Africa a chair. I search for the women of my church," she said.
Rivera also told the story of Abbie Loveland Tuller, an innovative children's educator, who founded the Anglican Order of the Teachers of the Children of God in 1935. At one time the order ran a dozen schools across North America, including the Abbie Loveland Tuller School in Tucson, Arizona, which Rivera attended.
She recalled spending 10 hours a week in the altar bread kitchen baking and packaging communion wafers for sale. They worked with two older nuns and, often, Mother Abbie.
"When she was there, the conversations were lively, challenging and theological," Rivera recalled. "It was here that we talked about our lives, our hopes and dreams. One afternoon, I remember I asked her if she thought I might have a vocation to the order. 'I don't think so, dear,' she said. Mostly, though, what I loved about her was that she took our spiritual lives seriously."
Rivera also told her mother's story. "I think she had to work hard to claim her own vocation other than that of wife, helpmate and mother," she said. Barbara Rivera became a teacher and social worker. She also earned a master of divinity degree from a Mennonite seminary in Fresno, California and later taught church growth.
Rivera said she suspects that teaching church growth was in part a way to claim her part in her husband's work. "But even more it became a way for her to give to the world what she needed most as a teenager and college student: the gifts of love and grace that come from the heart of God through the church to those who are lonely and alone," she said.
Rather than have a question-and-answer period, Rivera invited the men and women at each table to tell each other their stories about the women of their families and their churches. "Honor them by remember them," she said. "Give them a place, a chair, at your table."
She also asked that those attending to tell one of their "living spiritual forbearers" what they mean to them. "Remind them of the story you share with them. Give them a chair in the university of your life," she said.
The St. Margaret's chair would be the first fully endowed chair of women's ministries in an Episcopal seminary. The name acknowledges the history of lay women's ministry in the church through St. Margaret's House, a training school for women that existed at CDSP prior to the ordination of women. The effort has raised just more than $671,000 in gifts and pledges.
She is the first Latin American woman bishop and only the 12th woman bishop to be ordained in the historic episcopate of the Episcopal Church and the 16th woman bishop of the Anglican Communion. She is the daughter of Bishop Victor Manuel and Barbara Rivera. Victor Rivera was bishop of San Joaquin, California from 1968 to 1988.