Episcopal Church Women: The First Hundred Years part 11

Episcopal Church Women: The First Hundred Years part 11

This story is excerpted from Episcopal Church Women of Minnesota: The First Hundred Years, published in 1982 and reprinted in 2020. 

The early 1970s were confused years, notable in part for individualism, Christian Renewal, and Woman’s Rights. These were the years when people “did their own thing;" when they joyfully, commendably, and publicly became active in Faith Alive, Cursillo, Charismatic Movements, Bible study or prayer groups; and also when some women (and men), possibly unsure of what “rights” really implied, questioned the existence of women’s organizations apart from the whole Church.

However interesting the spirit of the times may have been, it nevertheless did not lend itself to missionary outlook. Indeed, in 1972–1973, Apportionment dropped to $12,883.50—the lowest since the Diocese of Duluth “came home.”

Apportionment, though, did not stay that depressed and within two years had grown to over fourteen thousand dollars. How best to allocate Apportionment had been a matter of concern to ECW ever since it had decided to make its own choices. Now, for the first time, it enunciated a budgetary purpose: “The money is to be used . . . to support pilot projects and programs emphasizing women, youth, and minorities when other funds are limited or unavailable.” (Incidentally, Bishop McNairy encouraged ECW in this decision—indeed, he was one of the first to pro- pose the concept of seed money for innovations.) Concurrently, ECW adopted a new practice of holding January Budget Hearings which anyone could (and can) attend.

The Board of Episcopal Churchwomen and its committees, despite financial stringency, maintained programs, retrenching necessarily in some. Supply, for instance, which once had received four thousand dollars a year, now got along with a few hundred—the needs it once filled being cared for elsewhere, and CSR, which had just assumed the sale of Koinonia pecans, requested that money instead of merchandise be sent at Christmas to missions, to the Clergy Discretionary Fund, Scholarship Fund, and Building Fund. CPC still distributed print, sending money to the National Book Fund, remembering seminarians with books at Christmas, providing magazines and newsprint for Gilfillan Center and Neighborhood House, plus sending dictionaries to Uganda, Bibles to New Guinea, library books to Puerto Rico, and UTO in Minnesota collected in Blue Boxes from 1974–1977 the sum of $70,572.69. Christian Education sent committee members to parishes and regions with intent “. . . to equip them to fulfill their Christian mission” and distributed a booklet called “Who? Me?” The Diocesan Altar Guild, now busy making surplices for General Convention, continued to distribute almost-new altar furnishings, and Devotions sent out materials and prayers to local units. Church Women United and School of Missions reported full programs as did Hospitality (its function was to make social arrangements), and Communications provided publicity and would later add a Newsletter entitled “For Heaven’s Sake.” Indian Crafts dissolved because its work of creating a market for mission products had been accomplished, and Women in Ministry—the historic committee dedicated to vocations for women— now made one of its concerns the ordination of women. Indeed, two of its four members were ordained in Philadelphia.

In 1976, General Convention and Triennial met in the Twin Cities. For the first time, both used a new administrative organization in which a volunteer coordinator—one of Minnesota’s ECWs, as a matter of fact—worked for nine months before the opening, setting up a network of volunteers. Under her, there were twelve coordinators, almost all of whom had strong ECW ties. Working as chairmen in various areas—House of Deputies, House of Bishops, registration, ushering, booth display (in their own ECW booth, they sold wild rice from the missions), they also directed over 800 regularly assigned volunteers—at least 700 of whom were Minnesotans. For many, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to work in booths at Convention or Triennial, to attend Triennial meetings, to be present at the UTO Ingathering in the St. Paul Auditorium (Minnesota’s Blue Box total for 1975–1976 was $24,265.63), and to observe the Convention. Incidentally, there seems to have been plenty to observe there, as, in that year, women were admitted to the Priesthood, and a new Prayer Book was adopted.

The Convention and Triennial had been a great thing for ECW of Minnesota—and for all women—for two reasons. First, it gave visibility to women working together, and, second, it demonstrated the value of women’s organizations.

Two years later, there were changes in leadership in the Diocese of Minnesota when Bishop McNairy, who had so successfully piloted the Diocese through the troubled years, reached retirement. Bishop Robert M. Anderson was his successor. (Subsequently, two assistant Bishops were added: Bishop William Dimmick and Bishop Robert Varley.)

Bishop Anderson soon established himself as one more in a line of vigorous Bishops, and he and ECW [had] developed a cordial and appreciative relationship.

At about the time that the new Bishop became the Bishop in the minds of Minnesotans, there seems to have occurred in the United States, country-over, a subtle switch in female philosophy. Ten years earlier, society had been awash in me-me-me. (To women, who had, traditionally, never been taught to think of themselves first, this was pretty heady stuff.) Now, women seem to have accepted their liberation and be at ease with it—and, in a sense, they became aware of a need for each other. Support groups blossomed all over the place—executive women, battered women, etc., and ECW, which had been there all the time (a support group if there ever was one), was being recognized again as “a gathering point for women, for friends.” Defunct ECWs even began making sounds of reorganization, and Apportionment—that litmus test of missionary interest—rose in 1980–1981 to $18,899.