Virginia Theological Seminary celebrates 26 years of Women in the Priesthood

More than 150 women clergy, VTS students and staff recently filled the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Auditorium to hear the first woman Supreme Court Justice speak.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor kicked off the Conference for Women in Ministry, hosted by the Center for Lifetime Theological Education at Virginia Seminary, and spoke on the subjects of women in power and leadership, infusing the speech with stories of her own personal struggles to the top of the judicial system.

Some of attendees and conference leaders were pioneers in the struggle for the ordination of women within the Episcopal Church. Such women included the Revd Alison Cheek (VTS '69), who was one of the first two women to enter the MDiv program at the Seminary, and the Revd Nancy Hatch Wittig (VTS '72). Both were among the 11 women ordained in Philadelphia in 1974, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the approval of the ordination of women in 1976.

Jane Holmes Dixon, the recently retired Suffragan Bishop and Pro Tempore Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, attended and led a workshop on "Women and the Episcopate." Bishop Dixon was the second woman to be elevated to the office of bishop in the Episcopal Church and the third woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Justice O'Connor, a woman who knows something about breaking open doors, ended her speech with some advice to the audience. "It's all well and good to be the first," she said, "but just don't be the last."

Virginia Theological Seminary is the largest of the 11 accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church and was founded in 1823. The school prepares men and women for service in the Church, both as ordained and lay ministers, and offers a number of professional degree programs and diplomas.

By Albert H. Lee

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