Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How the Church of England Came to Ordain Women Priests

This is the true story of how the Church of England came to ordain women priests.

         My great-grandpa, Sam Welles Sr., saw Tchaikovsky perform at the inaugural concert of Carnegie Hall in 1891 when he was a seminary student in New York City. Here's the Wikipedia account of the event:

         "Another area in which Tchaikovsky promoted Russian music in general as well as his own compositions was as a guest conductor. In January 1887 he substituted at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on short notice for the first three performances of his opera Cherevichki. He had wanted to conquer conducting for at least a decade, as he saw that success outside Russia depended to some extent on his conducting his own works. Within a year of the Cherevichki performances, Tchaikovsky was in considerable demand throughout Europe and Russia, which helped him overcome life-long stage fright and boosted his self-assurance. Conducting brought him to America in 1891, where he led the New York Music Society's orchestra in his Festival Coronation March at the inaugural concert of New York's Carnegie Hall."

         When he was ordained as an Episcopal priest, he was sent to Oklahoma to live as a missionary. He had two sons on the farm- Sam Welles Jr. (my grandpa) and Edward Welles. One day in 1913 a black man wanted Holy Communion and so my great grandpa gave it to him. The town found out about it and informed my great grandpa that he and his family would be killed if they did not leave Oklahoma immediately. Sam Welles, by then a Canon, had a priest friend in New Jersey who gave him a job ministering to prisoners and hospital patients but the church never trusted him with his own parish again.

From Left: Sam, Mabel, Mary, Muriel, Bishop Edward
Mabel DeGeer, Canon Sam Welles

         My grandpa, Sam Welles Jr., was a Rhodes Scholar out of Princeton and he served in the State Department during WWII as the Special Assistant to Ambassador Winant at our London Embassy. After the war he worked as a Senior Editor for Time Magazine and he was invited to the 1947 Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers. He wrote a book about his trip titled, "Profile of Europe". For a while there was a photo of Sam Jr. with Shostakovich hanging in the Kremlin. Sam Jr. married my grandma, Margery Miller Welles, who was one of the founding authors of Sports Illustrated as well as their boxing expert. She has been placed on a list of nominees for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
         Edward Welles ran track at Princeton where he met David Cecil, AKA Lord Burghley. Lord Burghley was immortalized in the film Chariots of Fire- his character was Lindsay, the man who stood and smoked a cigar while his butler poured champagne into glasses fixed on top of hurdles. My Uncle Edward Welles has been to that house. The real Lord Burghley was a conservative British politician who served as the Governor of Bermuda during WWII.
         Edward went on to become an Episcopal Bishop and he had a daughter, my cousin, Katrina Welles who was absolutely brilliant. I believe she graduated from Harvard by the age of 20 and she wanted to be a priest. Remember, Uncle Edward was on that farm in 1913 and he remembered what his father had done - so he and two of his bishop friends who were also retired ordained the first class of female Episcopal priests. Today those women are referred to as the Philadelphia 11 and they consisted of my cousin Katrina and her classmates. And this is the Church of England, so that meant that from that point on, women across the British Empire could be priests. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church today is a woman named Bishop Katharine.
         Below is a picture of Bishop Edward Welles with FDR and Churchill during the war at Christ Cathedral in Alexandria, VA. (Edward is the one shaking hands with FDR.) Soon after this picture was taken, my grandpa was at our London Embassy as the SA to the US Ambassador. Churchill isn't looking at Uncle Edward but he almost certainly knew who he was- he's Sam's brother, but he's also Lord Burghley's friend.

From Left: Edward Welles, Winston Churchill, FDR at Christ Church in Alexandra, VA

         Also, while this picture was taken my grandma was a student at Wellesley. She would choose for her senior thesis to write a bio of Joe Louis which was reviewed by Eleanor Roosevelt and published before she graduated in 1945. So, to Mrs. Roosevelt- Edward Welles was Margery's brother in law and Sam the Rhodes Scholar/diplomat/Time-Life Executive was Margery's husband. Katrina Welles, one of the Philadelphia 11, was Margery's niece.
Katrina Welles Swanson
(My cousin)

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