The Modern Woman Priest

Joy Carroll Wallis was among the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in England, in 1994. She tells her story in The Woman Behind the Collar: The Pioneering Journey of an Episcopal Priest (The Crossroad Publishing Company), a portion of which appears below. Carroll Wallis lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband (Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis) and their two children.

"I ask that you greet the results, whatever they might be, with a dignified silence." Tension filled the debating chamber of Church House in Westminster. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was about to put an end to the agonizing wait. I had not moved all day from my seat. My body cried out for food, coffee, and painkillers for my pounding headache, but I wanted to hear every word spoken for and against the motion to ordain women to the priesthood of the Church of England.

At the end of the debate, we voted. I rose to my feet and moved toward a large oak door engraved with the words "Clergy Ayes." On either side of the door stood tellers carefully counting each body that passed through. My hands were sweating, and my heart was beating wildly. This was the precious vote I had been elected to cast.

The three houses - Bishops, Clergy, and Laity - each had to secure a two-thirds majority for the motion to pass, and we knew it would be close. On the other side of the doors, in the circular corridor surrounding the chamber, those who had voted spoke in hushed tones to one another. I stood beside one of my women colleagues, a good friend from the Manchester diocese. She whispered to me with a look of agony on her face, "It feels like we've been pregnant all this time, preparing for new birth, and now, at the last minute, we're not sure whether the baby will be born alive or dead."

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Sojourners Magazine August 2004
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