Altar Egos

An Episcopalian gets bounced from her church for pressing the issue of female priests

And this sentiment doesn't come from just men.

Cindy Smith, wife of Stephen Smith, says Darras has a "feminist vendetta."

Bronwyn Campbell, an 18-year member and church cantor, says the Bible clearly states that women cannot be priests.

Anita Darras (shown with husband Norman): "I had my 
Rosa Parks moment."
Daniel Kramer
Anita Darras (shown with husband Norman): "I had my Rosa Parks moment."

"The sacraments are holy, and I don't think that you're supposed to interfere with or tinker with something…that God has provided us," Campbell says. But, she stresses, "this really isn't about women priests. What it's about is one woman didn't get her way at a church meeting and is sort of throwing a temper tantrum. Because all churches have meetings at which people disagree, and they don't end up with the offended party running to the media."

Houghton declined comment, and Stephen Smith did not want to say much more than what he wrote to Darras last month: "St. Barnabas is and has been a conservative parish. That is not likely to change in the foreseeable future."

Darras says this issue is much bigger than St. Barnabas, and she wants an audience with local Bishop Don Wimberly. But the Episcopal Diocese of Texas doesn't have an opinion, according to spokeswoman Carol Barnwell.

"You can't force a church to take someone they don't want as a leader," she says. "You can put the option" of male or female candidates "in front of them and ask them to participate in the search. And we found that that works the best."

Barnwell was asked if the diocese has a responsibility to encourage churches to make progress for the sake of the entire tradition. For example, what if members of a church demanded only a white priest?

"This is their church and they can choose who they want to be the clergy person," she says.

While the diocese does not feel an obligation to encourage local churches to explore different ways of growing, the Reverend Dr. Bill Kondrath feels otherwise.

Kondrath is an associate professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He believes it's good for the Episcopal Church as a whole for dioceses to weigh in on controversies within local churches. The idea isn't to admonish, but to at least engage in discussion.

"Bishops, diocesan councils, local leaders, should be seeing that the [Episcopal] Church moves forward," Kondrath says. "One of the hopes I would have for the Church is that it can find a way for people to live alongside one another who have radically different beliefs."

Kondrath says that while it's unfair to expect a small conservative church to change overnight, change is possible.

But in the case of Darras and St. Barnabas, it sure doesn't look that way. Both are passionate about their beliefs. And while they're reading from the same Good Book, they're on completely different pages.

While Darras wants to find a new church where she'll feel comfortable, she ultimately wants Bishop Wimberly to admonish St. Barnabas. In a recent e-mail to Wimberly, she wrote, "Bishop Wimberly, either you do or you do not fully support the rights of women. You can no longer encourage equality among the genders to be optional. This argument was settled twenty-nine years ago. It is time for all parishes to acknowledge that fundamental belief or quit calling themselves Episcopal Church USA."

Wimberly has not replied.

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