The Rev. Ann Stribling is a 76 year-old, female priest who was ordained in the Diocese of Virginia in 1982 and served until the year 2000. Below she reflects on her journey to the ordained priesthood when as a child she never thought it would be possible.
My experience as a priest in the Diocese of Virginia has been overwhelmingly positive. Ministry in the three parishes I served, St. James’, Warrenton, Holy Comforter, Vienna, and St. John’s, Arlington, confirmed my life long conviction that a community of God’s people is the best community one can find. In my retirement my association with Leeds Church, Markham, has furthered that conviction.
I want to state that clearly because my road to ordained ministry was not altogether smooth. One of my earliest memories on this subject is of standing in the aisle of our church after services and asking my mother: “Why can’t girls be ministers?” She replied something along the lines of, “that is only done by men.”
It didn’t make sense to me but, being a rather compliant child, I accepted the situation even though it meant putting aside my fairly strong sense of call. I am now 76 years old, so this was taking place in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Like many women of the era, I substituted teaching Sunday school and other church involvement before being ordained. In college, I was president of our religious organization, led chapel services and even dated a young man who said he was going to be a missionary. That seemed the perfect solution to my situation, but the romance didn’t last.
After college, I married, worked a short while, and then stayed home to care for our three sons. I continued being active in church work. I was one of the first women in our parish to be on the vestry and was one of the first women to serve on the board of Goodwin House, Alexandria. However, I was not active in the drive to have women ordained.
When the ordination of women was approved the long held desire to be a priest surfaced again. However, by this time I was not sure I could do it. I was concerned that so many faithful Episcopalians were not at all happy with the church’s decision to ordain women. It bothered me that my presence at the altar would interfere with some people’s worship or, worse yet, drive them from the church.
Three things helped me overcome my reservations. One was my husband’s support and encouragement. His statement, which I remember well, was that if women like me were ordained the church would overcome its resistance. The second was my realization that other women were going to be ordained whether I was or not. Finally, there was the support of the rector of our church.
All that being said, I was still not able to apply for postulancy and be on the track toward ordination. So I entered seminary in 1978 with the expressed desire of getting a degree that would enable me to be a director of religious education. I can confess now that even at the time I knew this was not my real desire.
One of the priests with whom I had served on the Goodwin House Board invited me to do field work in his parish, St. Paul’s, Alexandria. I reminded him I was not on the tract toward ordination. He said that was fine. One of the first things he had me do was preach. It was the first time since college that I had done so, and I was now in my late thirties. In fact, I had never even been a lay reader since college.
My experience at St. Paul’s marked a turning point for me. I applied for postulancy. For all sorts of reasons, the Commission on Ministry was not pleased. For one thing, at the time it was strongly discouraged for individuals to enter seminary before receiving postulancy. For another, I did not perform well when interviewed. I had always had a good, affirming relationship with all church bodies. To my surprise, the interview was not very friendly; even hostile I felt.
I was not prepared to assert myself and the three priests interviewing me turned me down, with the statement that “I was not called by God.” It was especially distressing to me that they felt they could discern what God was saying to me in the course of a couple of hours. I came to understand that my performance in the interview was simply not what they expected or what they usually saw. I am also convinced that, understandably, the Diocese did not want to have a large number of women who had been active church leaders to now have the desire to be ordained.
Thanks to the support of many church members with whom I had worked, Bishop Hall made me a postulant although the Commission of Ministry never approved me. I well remember meeting with him in Richmond. He smiled and said, “You must be the most popular woman in Northern Virginia.” I spontaneously replied, “Bless you Bishop,” and then was horrified that I had had the nerve to say such a thing.
The rest of my experience with the Diocese, with seminary and certainly with the people of this Diocese has been a blessing for me. I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to serve our church in this way.
Written by: The Rev. Ann Stribling
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