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IOWA: Convention celebrates 30th anniversary of women's ordination



[Episcopal News Service]  The Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, meeting November 10-11 for its 154th Convention, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women.

The convention opened with a renewal of baptismal vows with a procession of women clergy pouring water from small containers into the font at the front of the convention hall in the Des Moines Marriott Downtown in Des Moines, Iowa.

The diocese began supporting women's call to ordination long before it reached General Convention in 1976, according to a diocesan information sheet about its convention. Currently 50 percent of the priests and deacons in the diocese are women. The first two female priests from Iowa, the Revs. Kathryn Piccard and Suzanne Peterson, returned for the convention. In another pair of firsts, the Revs. Orma Mavimbella and Nancy Tshabalala from Iowa's Companion Diocese of Swaziland, were accompanied by soon-to-be deacon, Dalcy Dlamini.

Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris of the Diocese of Massachusetts preached at Evensong and spoke after dinner on November 10. "This is God's Church and God is in charge," she said, giving examples of changed minds and hearts especially toward women priests and bishops, adding that some obstacles have been removed but others remain as women answer God's call.

Retired Bishop Walter Righter sent greetings recounting the early support for women's ordination and Bishop C. Christopher Epting, now the church's ecumenical officer, picked up the story sharing experiences during his tenure as 8th Bishop of Iowa.

The convention passed resolutions to:

  • change the funding formula for congregational pledges;  
  • formalize 12 mission chapters for regional ministry, giving each a seat and voice on the corporate board of directors;
  • pass a balanced budget for 2007 of $1,374,804; and
  • affirm the Millennium Development goals (MDGs) as "an incarnational response to the sacrifice of Christ" and ask each congregation and parishioner to strive to fulfill the goals.

The convention heard a report of a pilot group of gays and straights, clergy and laity, who hold differing convictions about the Windsor Report. "Since meeting this past year, they
began to understand the depth and breadth of each other and come to a sense of identity. A deeper community has resulted. With some trepidation they have become a deeper community," the diocesan information sheet said.

The project began as a result of the 2005 Convention. The group encourages others around the diocese to form similar groups, "knowing the experience involves honesty, vulnerability, a willingness to listen, and allowance for convictions not one's own," according to the diocesan release.

In his sermon at the Saturday Eucharist, Bishop Alan Scarfe talked about Christian identity -- what he called "the invitation to know ourselves as God knows us in Jesus Christ."

"The new creation begins with a call, continues in formation, takes shape through the action of the Holy Spirit and culminates with a mission," he said.

"Can the spirit soar in our vestry meetings when we lock horns, or battle over our disappointments with one another, with our competing rights and wrongs? ...  (As new creations) could we embrace forgiveness and the opportunity to release one another from the grip of our mutual judgments?"

Scarfe noted that while we resist, the poor and the blind, the captives and the oppressed are waiting.

Scarfe's convention address is available here.

The Diocese of Iowa comprises about 10,600 Episcopalians worshipping in 61 congregations.