1967: Virginia allows women to serve on vestries

The Diocese of Virginia has a reputation for seeking a middle way. But if in the 60s “the diocese could be labeled centrist on issues of race, it was decidedly conservative on women’s participation within the church” until late in the decade. The quote comes from The Episcopal Church in Virginia by Edward Bond and Joan Gunderson, commissioned by the diocese and published in 2007. They go on to say, “bishops and male leaders consistently feared that admitting women to [positions of leadership] would result in a withdrawal of men and a takeover by women.”

Of the 1960s Bond and Gunderson write (pp. 157-158):

In 1961, the Episcopal Church Women … was chagrined when the Virginia deputies to the General Convention voted against seating women or allowing them on vestries. At the 1962 [diocesan] council the ECW requested, and was granted, appointment of a special committee on the status of women. The four women and four men of that committee surveyed all parish and mission vestries in the diocese and found that sixty-eight opposed allowing women to serve on vestries, twenty-seven supported the change, and seven were undecided or evenly divided. The committee thus recommended in 1963 no constitutional or canonical changes. However, the committee had discovered to its surprise that there were no canonical bars to women being elected to the council. In 1967 … the council voted to allow women to serve on vestries. … Later that year, the General Convention took the first of two required votes that would change the church constitution to allow women to hold all lay offices. In 1969 Virginia was the only diocese to send a woman to the provincial synod. The diocese thus moved into the modern world at the same time as the general church.

How times have changed. For the better.

And yet: I was thinking about using this passage when someone brought to my attention the question, where are the women at the president’s faith table? Of the members of President Obama’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships one of the ten is a woman. How many of the men on the council are asking about the imbalance?

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