Last night for the Latin Vigil Mass and today for the High Mass (read lots of bells and smells), I had the pleasure of serving with beloved Mother Shireen Baker, who is St. Thomas the Apostle’s own homegirl. She is the Assistant Rector of St. Clement’s by-the-Sea in San Clemente, but she was gracious enough to make the drive north to serve as a substitute for Canon Ian Elliott Davies, who was off on retreat with the Vestry (governing board) of St. Thomas.
Shireen arrived at St. Thomas several years ago while still an undergraduate and went into discernment for the priesthood somewhere along the way. I was honored to be the head of her discernment committee for a year and since then have watched as she has navigated her way through an English degree from UCLA, then a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. I also have been lucky enough to attend both her ordination as a deacon and then a year later, as a priest at St. John’s Pro Cathedral here in Los Angeles. I cooked for her reception after her ordination to the priesthood and felt very pleased to be able to help entertain a few of the special people in her life who had come to share in that happy moment.
This weekend has been very special to me. Standing next to Mother Baker last night while she celebrated an entire mass in Latin was impressive enough, but to hear her preach a fine sermon this morning as well as to sing the mass in her beautiful alto voice almost sent me into big boo-hoos. I am known to cry when I am happy and today I felt my lip begin to tremble. However, I knew that it is not fitting for a Lay Eucharistic Minister (my newly appointed role) to start sobbing in the middle of mass (though I am sure I would not be the first). Still, I shifted my thoughts and got myself back together.
The gist is that I feel so proud of and happy for this young woman who has made her way through the arduous process of becoming an Episcopal priest. She is already a fine religious leader and I am quite certain she will continue to bring grace, wisdom and authenticity to congregations for years to come.
On a slightly different subject, at the Saturday Vigil Mass, there were three women and one man serving at the altar with Mother Shireen. That perhaps is the very first time that has happened at St. Thomas the Apostle since its inception. As much as I love all my male priest and acolyte friends, I can’t keep myself from shouting, “Girl Power!”
It felt special to share last evening not only with Mother Shireen, but also Joan Henehan, Michelle Waterloo and Rodney Borr (who was most gracious given his outnumbered status). Having grown up at a time when there were only male priests and acolytes, I have to say that I continue to get a thrill when I see women included in these leadership roles. It is not yet so much the status quo that these positions can be taken for granted. No, controversy still rears its ugly head on this subject. Let me just say, I, for one, am delighted to be part of a church that celebrates inclusion. Hooray.
I hope Mother Baker will be joining us again in the near future. It is always a pleasure to have her in our midst.