"Made more whole": Bishops call for commemoration of 50th anniversary of women's ordained ministry as priests in The Episcopal Church this July

Philadelphia Eleven photos with hands Nikki Bramley/Time Travel Productions


June 26, 2024

Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,

On July 29, 1974, at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, 11 women were ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests–the first women to be ordained priests in The Episcopal Church. This summer the church is giving thanks for the 50th anniversary of that historic event.

It may be difficult now for some to imagine our church without the blessing of women serving as priests. It was a singular moment of transformation in our life together in the Body of Christ.

The women, who became known as the “Philadelphia 11,” were the Reverends Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Swanson and Nancy Wittig. They were as varied in background, style and gifts as any 11 people might be, but they shared a determination and faithfulness that gave them the courage to face into the challenges, roadblocks and hostility with which their call was greeted.

Several of the Philadelphia 11 had connections to our diocese. The crucifer that day was the parish’s senior warden, Barbara C. Harris–14 years later to be elected by our own diocese as the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. 

The ordination took place on the Feast of Mary and Martha. This pointed, of course, to the fact that women had been among Jesus’ earliest and most devoted followers. At another level it highlighted the wholeness which had been missing from the church’s priesthood. Mary and Martha individually represent a difference of style and focus too often set up in binary opposition to one another. In fact, it is the completeness created by both together that is their collective gift. Just so, the ordination of women made us more whole.  

We call upon the congregations and worshiping communities of our diocese to commemorate the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in The Episcopal Church on Sunday, July 28–or on any nearby Sunday that is best in your local context. Below you will find a new litany composed by Bishop Gallagher for this occasion, as well as other resources and suggestions for your individual and congregational observance. We commend them to you with gratitude and Gospel hope.

Faithfully, in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan
The Rt. Rev. Carol J.W.T. Gallagher, Assistant Bishop

A Litany for the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women 

Letanía por el 50 aniversario de la Ordenación de las Mujeres  

Wondrous Creator, you made us in all diversity 
And you have put your voice in all living beings 
We hear your songs on the tender winds 
And your roar in the storms of our lives. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

Throughout history women have told your goodness 
The first to proclaim the resurrection were your daughters 
And all the disciples who had been trembling in fear 
Found an empty tomb and a brand new hope. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

Eleven stood bravely before you and the people 
In defiance of the exclusive rules of our church 
They kneeled and were made priests forever 
Despite the scorn and hatred they all received. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

The road was rough and full of angry dismissals 
Some leaders turned their backs on our church 
Establishing new denominations and new sects 
Yet you smiled on your whole church in that time. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

In 1989, Barbara Harris was made bishop 
And despite the cruel words and the isolation 
She stood firm in her faith for us all 
And taught us all how to sing in hard times. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

We thank you for the bravery of the first ordained and those ordaining 
For Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, 
Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield Fleisher, Jeannette Piccard, 
Betty Schiess, Katrina Swanson and Nancy Wittig as well as 
Bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert DeWitt and Edward Welles. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

Our church has stumbled and often struggled 
Too often a place of privilege and exclusion 
Yet you change us and you open our hearts 
And continue to renew us despite ourselves. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. 

Wondrous Creator, open our hearts to your voice 
So we might hear your call at the very margins 
Let us make room for new and different leaders 
So we might reflect humanity’s wholeness and creation’s beauty. 

We thank you for putting your heart and call on all people. Amen. 

--The Rt. Rev. Dr. Carol J.W.T. Gallagher
Assistant Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Additional resources for commemoration and learning
(also posted at www.diomass.org/liturgy-and-music-resources)

  • The documentary "The Philadelphia Eleven" by local filmmakers Margo Guernsey and Nikki Bramley, available for viewing on demand via Kinema, here, the weekend of July 26-30.
  • Online exhibit from the Archives of The Episcopal Church, "For the Extension of the Kingdom," created this year to examine the role and experiences of women within the church, with a section on women's ordination.
  • June 2024 issue of the journal Anglican and Episcopal History, from the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, focused on the Philadelphia 11 and women's ordination (details for ordering, digital or print, here).
  • Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music commemoration, with suggested prayers and lessons, available via the Diocese of Los Angeles in English and Spanish
  • Women’s Uncommon Prayers: Our Lives Revealed, Nurtured, Celebrated (Morehouse Publishing, 2000) available for order via Church Publishing, Inc., here, including in particular "Litany of Thanksgiving" by the Rev. Linda D. Anderson-Little (p. 342); "For Leaders" by Dr. Pamela P. Chinnis (p. 363); and "Priest's Song" by the Rev. Lyn G. Brakeman (p. 253). [Permission to reproduce pending.]