Of the 160 bishops active in the House of Bishops, only 21—or 13 percent—are women. To raise awareness of the effort to continue to break the “stained glass ceiling” in the House of Bishops, supporters of moving more women into the episcopacy declared July 9 to be Purple Scarf Day at the 79th General Convention. Purple scarves could be spotted in just about every corner, from those in the exhibition hall booths to many of those who rose to speak the amendments and resolutions on the floor.
At 1:30 p.m., about 150 to 200 purple scarf-wearing deputies, bishops, and other convention-goers gathered outside the worship space in the Austin Convention Center. Those gathered heard from Judy Stark, Chair of the Board for Transition Ministry, who called upon several women bishops to share their perspectives. “Brother bishops” were also welcomed to share their perspectives on the need for more women to serve as bishops.
Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maryland shared the story of her path to the episcopacy and the various episcopal roles in which she has served. Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of Indianapolis observed how “bishops are picked at the parish meeting,” elaborating on how leadership decisions made at the parish level ultimately impact leadership at the diocesan level.
Both Baskerville-Burrows and Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of Central New York emphasized that still having children at home should not be perceived as a barrier to a woman who is discerning a call to be a bishop. Duncan-Probe added that, in her experience, serving as a bishop has been better in some respects for raising children than serving as a parish priest. She noted the many ways people express resistance to a woman serving as a bishop, from those who told her she was too short to be a bishop to others who told her that DeDe just isn’t a good name for a bishop.
Sister Miriam Elizabeth of the Order of St. Helena highlighted the importance of prayer, both on the part of those who are discerning a possible call to the episcopate and by those supporting women who may be discerning such a call. She invited individuals who would like to be added to her prayer list to reach out to her, then asked that those assembled at the Purple Scarf rally join together in prayer, especially for the Rev. Martha N. Macgill of Maryland and the Rev. Helen Svoboda-Barber of North Carolina, who are the two nominees for election as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas. The election will be held on October 19 in Topeka.
At the 79th General Convention, a number of resolutions were proposed in response to the #metoo and #timesup movements, many by the Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation and its five subcommitees. Resolutions related to women serving as leaders in the church include A140 Diversity Guidelines for Episcopal Elections, which did not make it out of the legislative Committee on Church Wide Leadership; A143 Study Career Development of Female and Minority Clergy, which is on the House of Bishops’ consent calendar tomorrow; C060 Breaking the Episcopal Stained Glass Ceiling, which comes to the House of Deputies tomorrow, and D086 Inclusive Practices for Diverse Representation, which is awaiting action in the Committee on Governance and Structure.
“The Church is to be a beacon of what is possible, good, and right in society, and yet participates in outright discrimination, setting a poor role model for women and girls,” wrote the proposes of Resolution C060 in an explanation in support of the resolution. “The Church should always be at the forefront of justice, and the status and mistreatment of women and girls must be a part of that gospel mission. Something must be done to remove the log from our own eye, so that we may work to remove it from that of the society in which we live.”
Originally proposed by the Diocese of Newark, C060 proposes authorizing a twelve-person task force with the charge of “research[ing] sexism in The Episcopal Church, and the role it plays in pay equity, status, and gender-based harassment.” Resolution C060 is scheduled for consideration in the House of Deputies on July 10.
Although women have served as bishops in the Episcopal Church since the consecration of Bishop Barbara Harris almost 30 years ago, “the overall percentage of women in the House of Bishops today is little changed from 20 years ago, especially amongst diocesan bishops,” according to “Cast Wide the Net” on the Episcopal Church’s web site,
Province VIII, on the West Coast, has the most active female bishops with five.. Provinces I, in New England and III in the Mid-Atlantic have four each.
Rebecca Watts is a senior MDiv student at the Seminary of the Southwest, and an alternate lay deputy and candidate for holy orders from the Diocese of Central Florida. Prior to seminary, she was associate professor of communication and media studies at Stetson University.