First woman priest to be ordained in Fort Worth

Received from the Diocese of Forth Worth:

It is with great rejoicing that we make the following announcement.

Thirty-three years after the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, the first woman will be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

At 5:00 P.M. on Sunday Nov. 15 in St. Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Rt. Rev. Edwin F. [Ted] Gulick Jr. will ordain Deacon Susan Slaughter to the priesthood.

She will be the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the history of the Fort Worth diocese, which was founded in 1983. The Rev. Ms. Slaughter also will be the first woman rector of a parish in the diocese. The Episcopal Church approved women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate in 1976 and the first women were ordained priests in January 1977.

Dallas Morning News has the report:

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth was long known as one of the most conservative in the Episcopal Church, and one measure was the refusal by its bishops to ordain women to the priesthood.

When a large majority of clergy and lay delegates of the diocese voted to follow Bishop Jack Iker’s recommendation and leave the Episcopal Church, that split the diocese into churches leaving the denomination (most of them) and those choosing to stay.

The group choosing to stay has long wanted to ordain women to the priesthood – and that will finally happen in Fort Worth this Sunday. Deacon Susan Slaughter will be the history-maker.

From the Press Release:

Susan Slaughter

When Susan Slaughter was 8 years old, two friends, independently of each other, invited her to go to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Houston, TX.

“I loved the liturgy, joined the junior choir and was confirmed at age 12. I was the first in my family to attend and be confirmed in the Episcopal Church,” she said. She soon brought her parents and brothers into the church with her.

She graduated from Bellaire High School and received a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. She married Jerry Slaughter and then went on to get a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from North Texas State University in Denton, TX. Susan and Jerry each had two children when they married. When Jerry died in 2007 they had been married for 28 years. Susan has seven grandchildren.

She completed seminary training at the Anglican School of Theology, Dallas, TX and is currently enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX. For the past several years, she has served as deacon at St. Luke’s in the Meadow. Her leadership and ministry helped stabilize that parish through the rocky time prior to the departure of the former bishop and other diocesan leaders and in the transition time after their departure in November 2008 and before the diocese was reorganized in February 2009.

She began sensing a call to the ordained ministry in the 1980s when she became actively involved in lay ministry at her home parish of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, TX.

“Before initiating Stephen Ministry in my parish, I began noticing an internal struggle regarding my possible call to ordination,” she said. The Stephen Ministry trains and organizes lay people to provide one-to-one Christian care to hurting people in and around their congregations.

She talked with her rector. But no matter how supportive her rector may have been neither Bishop A. Donald Davies nor his successors Clarence Pope and Jack Iker would ordain women to the priesthood. So she developed the Stephen Ministry program, served as lay reader and server, led women’s Bible studies and taught adult Christian Education.

“Believing I was particularly suited to coordinate, train and supervise Stephen Ministry, I attempted to rationalize my not pursuing ordination. When I could no longer deny the persistent drawing, I met with Bishop Pope. In my particular diocese women were not candidates for ordination to the priesthood. Once again, I tried to push aside the sense of call,” she said.

After eleven years of taking seminary courses for her own edification and continuing her discernment process, she met with Jack Iker, the newly consecrated bishop.

“He pointed me in the direction of another diocese. Circumstances prevented me from entertaining the possibility of relocating,” she said.

When she learned women could be ordained deacons in the Fort Worth diocese, she again tried to discern the nature of her ministry. Eventually she returned to Iker believing that her call must be to the diaconate. She was ordained a deacon on Oct. 12, 2002. But over time the realization grew that her call was to the priesthood. After Bp. Gulick was elected, she visited with him and he and the Commission on Ministry agreed she was called to the priesthood.

“It is with a deep sense of awe in the mysterious ways of our Lord that I arrive at this moment. I am filled with gratitude toward those persons, lay and clergy, who have encouraged and supported me over the years. St. Luke’s in the Meadow has been especially supportive and has helped me discern more clearly my true vocation,” she said.

This day was a long time coming. Indeed, had the Rev. Ms. Slaughter lived in any other diocese, she would most likely have been ordained a priest years ago. The long awaited fulfillment of her call adds a deep sweetness to the day.

History of women’s ordination in diocese

The Diocese of Fort Worth was formed from the western part of the Diocese of Dallas, in part out of opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood. The founding bishop, A. Donald Davies, and both his successors, Clarence C. Pope and Jack L. Iker, all left the Episcopal Church over women’s ordination. Under those bishops, women feeling called to the priesthood either had to give up their call or leave the diocese to be ordained elsewhere. At least fifteen women have done so—and all have been invited “home” for the ordination.

The diocese reorganized after Iker’s departure and elected Bishop Gulick as provisional bishop in February. Under his leadership two women priests have been licensed to serve in the diocese—the Rev. Ms. Maurine Lewis who retired to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Milwaukee in 2008 and does supply work among the displaced parishes; and the Rev. Ms. Melanie R. Barbarito, who was hired in August by All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth as parochial associate for evangelism and engagement. She came to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Missouri. She is the first woman to be hired on the staff of a parish here.

But the Rev. Ms. Slaughter is the first woman from this diocese to be ordained a priest, an event that marks a historic turning point in the life of diocese and perhaps more than any other one event, signals what a new day it is in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

A second woman, Deacon ClayOla Gitane, will be ordained on Dec. 5 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth by the Rt. Rev. Bavi Edna “Nedi” Rivera of the Diocese of Olympia. The Rev. Ms. Gitane began the process while Jack Iker was bishop. He refused to ordain women to the priesthood and so she had to leave the diocese to pursue her call. This will be the first time a female bishop has performed an episcopal act in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Shield the joyous.

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