Twenty-seven years ago, during a tumultuous session of its national convention in Minneapolis, the Episcopal Church made a breakthrough decision and authorized the ordination of women priests.
Last Thursday night, Sept. 25, members of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Magnolia watched with joy as a woman priest, the Rev. Dorian Mulvey, was officially installed as their new parish rector. It was a time of celebration of both the church's ministries and the Rev. Mulvey's installation.
Today, women priests no longer are an issue in the Episcopal Church, and more than 3,500 women serve as priests and deacons in the United States. The Rev. Mulvey joins two other women ministers who lead churches in Magnolia: the Rev. Cathy Barker, pastor of the United Church of Christ, and the Rev. Ruth Geiger, pastor of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Mulvey's Celebration of Ministries service at Ascension was a far cry from the momentous "yes" vote of the Episcopal Convention of 1976 that first opened the door for women in the previously all-male priesthood. It was both an answer to her longtime wish to have a parish of her own and an official welcome from Ascension, with an outpouring of love and acceptance from the congregation.
The service included a symbolic celebration of the church's ministries and also was the culmination of a two-year search process for Ascension's new rector following the 2001 retirement of the Rev. Charles Ridge. The Rt. Rev. Vincent W. Warner, Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, officiated at the service.
During the search process that led to "issuing a call" to the Rev. Mulvey, church members were not too concerned about the gender of their potential rector. They were simply looking forward to the time when a new rector - man or woman - was officially on board.
During one of the interviews, the search team asked Mulvey if she might be worried about being a woman if she came to Ascension.
"I'm not worried," she replied. "I've always been a woman." That broke the ice, and when she accepted Ascension's call, the congregation welcomed her with open arms.
The Rev. Mulvey came to Magnolia in March from Northfield, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where she had served as associate rector of the Episcopal Church of St. James the Less. Her husband, George, a financial consultant with Smith Barney, stayed behind for several months to sell their home in Illinois. Their children, Marissa, 18, and Matthew, 13, also remained behind to finish their last weeks of school. The family was reunited again in June and now is at home in Magnolia in Ascension's rectory.
The Rev. Mulvey grew up in the New York City area where she had only minimal contact with church life until adulthood. She and her husband were living in Connecticut when their second adopted child, Colin, died of SIDS. It was this loss that brought them to church.
"We were put in touch with the pastoral care of an Episcopal priest," she said. "The church community reached out to us, and it was that warmth and help that gave us a powerful sense of God's presence in our lives."
They began attending St. Thomas Church in Bethel, Conn., where she learned more about the Bible. She first taught church school, then adult education, and then went into pastoral work in an AIDS ministry. "This brought enormous joy into my life," she said. "It was a healing process and gave me a sense of something God was calling me to explore further."
During this time she and her husband were confirmed in the church during what she called "a most un-Episcopal way" - an outdoor tent service held in a local park in Danbury. Ten community churches shared in the public ceremony, which included a procession through town, hymn singing and baptisms. "It was one of those mountaintop experiences," she said, "and also confirmed how important God had become to me."
Her thoughts of entering the priesthood followed. "We were relocated to the Chicago area because of my husband's business," she continued, "and I began to explore a call to the ministry." St. Giles, a church in Northbrook, supported her through that process, which began with a discernment period of meetings and reflection at the parish level.Once members of the parish community felt they heard a call, they recommended her to the Bishop of Chicago for his approval and bless-ing. In 1995 she entered Seabury Western Theology Seminary in Evanston - where, incidentally, 60 percent of her class were women. In 1998 she was ordained an Episcopal priest.
"I've always known that I wanted to have a parish where we could grow and expand our ministries together," the Rev. Mulvey said. "Each of us is called to serve God in our own way. One of the most exciting roles in the church is to help persons find their own gifts and ways to use them."
At Ascension she already has started using her own ministry gifts, as well as those from her previous business-management experience, to begin new fall programs called "faith formation for all ages."
She has introduced a sequence of classes for families and adults that begin with young children and continue through the teenage years and on into adulthood. Ascension also is joining in a new ecumenical high-school program with the Magnolia Presbyterian and Lutheran churches to share a youth minister, David Thompson, a senior at Seattle Pacific University.
"Our family has fallen in love with the Seattle area," Mulvey said. "Magnolia has a small-town feeling even though it is part of Seattle. People come and go and call each other by name, which one doesn't normally see in the city.
"We've found Magnolia to be very special," she concluded. The Ascension congregation has found that that goes two ways.
Marion S. Wright, a member of the congregation at Ascension, is an occasional freelance contributor to the News. She can be reached through email@example.com
. The Church of the Ascension is at 2330 Viewmont Way W.