The Fresno Bee reports that with the change in leadership in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, women are breaking the stained glass ceiling imposed on women by the former bishop.
The split in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin more than a year ago has allowed a new wave of women priests to emerge as leaders in their churches. Women have long been allowed to be priests in the Episcopal Church, but the conservative leadership of the local diocese kept women from assuming top positions. Now that Bishop John-David Schofield has left the Episcopal Church to form an Anglican diocese, that’s changed.
Although the U.S. Episcopal Church has affirmed women priests since 1979, bishops of the Fresno-based Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin long opposed their ordination as priests. Instead, the highest ordination women received was the diaconate, which meant they only assisted a priest in various functions.
Between 1979 and the recent split, there were two bishops: Victor M. Rivera, (father of Bishop Bavi Edna “Nedi” Rivera) who retired in 1988, and his successor, Schofield, who led the movement to break with the national church in December 2007 mainly over differences about homosexuality. Schofield and about 40 congregations formed a breakaway Anglican diocese based in Fresno.
Since the split, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin’s new bishop, Jerry Lamb, has emphasized inclusiveness with its remaining 19 churches. Ward’s ordination (the Rev. Suzy Ward, will become the first woman ordained by the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to the priesthood on June 27) will give the Episcopal diocese five women priests to go along with seven women deacons. The 12 women are 30% of the diocese’s 40 clergy members, a percentage similar to that in Episcopal dioceses nationally.