This next series of blogs will highlight interviews, testimonies and words of wisdom from female clergy throughout our nation and world.
One of the blessings of writing this weekly blog is to share the experiences of clergywomen from varying walks of life and faith. Everyone’s experience is different. Some have had tremendously difficult struggles on their journey into the ministry. Others have had minimal to no roadblocks. All share the blessings and triumph of overcoming faith.
Today’s blog features an interview with Episcopal priest - the Rev. Dr. Katherine Ward, Rector Emeritus of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Oakland, California. Dr. Ward shares that “God made her way plain” with minimal barriers towards ordained ministry…
Shepastor Blog Interview with
Rev Dr. Katherine Ward
Rector Emerita, St Augustine Episcopal Church
Assisting Priest, Our Savior Chinese Episcopal Church
Could you share a little about your call experience:
"I actually started thinking about the call when I was in my early 20’s in Mississippi when I attended Jackson State. As a youth growing up, I was a very dedicated layperson involved in everything at the church. I was raised in Baptist and Methodist churches. I had uncles that were both Baptist and Methodist ministers. However, I mostly attended church with my Methodist uncle, traveling around to various congregations."
How did you become Episcopalian?
"In college I had a wonderful campus minister who had a voice that sounded like God. When he spoke, I felt like I was listening to God. He was Episcopalian. Because of him, I always wanted to become an Episcopal priest. However, in that day and time (during the 50’s and 60’s) there was no way for me to pursue the priesthood. No women, white or black were being accepted as priests. So I became a teacher and later an administrator and counselor. I also decided to pursue campus ministry because I saw the positive influence our campus minister had upon the students, and I wanted to do the same. The idea of becoming a priest however remained in my heart. I made up my mind that when I retired, I would go to seminary."
How did you end up attending an Episcopalian church?
"In college, there was a Baptist church on the corner, but I did not like all of the noise they made during worship. One day I looked down the street and saw another church. I did not know the church’s particular denomination. I just wanted to see if it was a little quieter than the other church I was visiting.
When I walked in, it was quiet. The choir (an adolescent choir) sounded like angles and it felt meditative. The church just happened to be Episcopalian. I later joined and became an Episcopalian."
When did you revisit the idea of becoming an Episcopalian priest?
"The feeling that I would be a priest never left me. I knew somehow that it would happen. In 1974, women began to be ordained in the Episcopalian church. I always said that I would retire and go to seminary. In 1990, I retired and in 1991 I went to seminary."
What would you say was your most challenging experience pursuing becoming a female Episcopalian priest?
"Actually, I cannot say that I had any big challenges. I just felt God made the way plain for me. It was the same with getting a job. I was almost 60 when I graduated from seminary. My age, however, did not hinder me. Seminary was a breeze. I loved school. The process was wonderful. In the Episcopal Church the Bishop has to agree that you can start the process. When I went to go and see the bishop, he did not just say 'yes', he said, 'YES' exclamation point!!!"
The biggest annoyance, was attending a seminary that in its history only had about 6 black students. That was the most they’d ever had. That fact, however, did not stop me. It was just like a fly buzzing at you.
While in seminary, they said that I should get church experience. I didn’t agree with them because I’d been in church all of my life! But since they required me to have field experience, I wanted an altogether different experience. I chose the Chinese Episcopal Church."
What was it like working with a totally different culture
"At first they were very aloof. They were civil, but aloof. Eventually they warmed up to me and gave me my own Chinese name, which was pronounced 'Wa-duc-bok-see'
Which means, 'beautiful, charming, intelligent, talented!' I kept my relationship with the church when my internship was finished. I have a 17 year relationship with that church. When I retired, they asked me to come back and help out, which I do to this day."
How old were you when you were called to your first church?
"My first job was at the richest church in the diocese. I was an assistant priest. When the funds for that position ran out, I got a job at San Francisco University as a campus minister. I worked part time as a chaplain and part time as an assistant. The people kept telling the bishop, 'Why doesn’t Katherine Ward doesn’t have a church of your own?' When I finally got a church the Bishop said that he was so glad!
Before the year was out, St. Augustine’s asked me to become their rector. I have not had a hard time."
How are Episcopalian Priests Called?
"In the Episcopalian Church, you apply for jobs and churches select you."
What advice would you give to clergywomen facing challenges being accepted into the ministry.
"I would say, don’t lose your focus. Keep your eyes on your goals and whatever God is calling you to. I know people that had different challenges. A lot of them gave up. Those that did not give up made it. The challenges sometimes are just a way of strengthening you.
Most of Jesus’ followers were women. The loyal ones were definitely women. Most of the disciples ran away! Don’t let people tell you that women are not meant to be ministers, because Jesus’ followers were women following him from town to town.
Women were in the church since ancient times and if there were no women in the church in modern times, there would be no church! All the women have to do is stay home one Sunday!" End of Interview
What’s your story? Are you on the journey towards ordained ministry? What is it like for you? If you are already ordained, how has your faith carried you through? We’d like to hear from you. Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,