She has been a priest for 25 years

by Maureen Fiedler

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No, that headline is not a mistake. "She" is the Rev. Ana Langerak, who was ordained a priest 25 years ago in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America but who now serves St. Matthew/San Mateo Episcopal Church in Hyattsville, Md. (ELCA is in communion with the Episcopal church, and they share clergy.)

I just returned from the liturgy and luncheon that celebrated Ana's quarter-century of priestly service, much of which was in Central America and some at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. As a Roman Catholic, it is truly heartening to see a parish accept Ana fully -- indeed, with great love and appreciation -- as she celebrated her 25 years of priesthood.

I hope, of course, that this scene can be repeated in the Catholic church in not too many years. But we have a lot of catching up to do. This was, after all, not an ordination; it was the silver jubilee of an ordination!

And it is amazing to realize that most major Protestant denominations have had female clergy members for almost half a century. The Lutheran church began ordaining women in 1970, 45 years ago. The famous Philadelphia 11 were ordained irregularly into the Episcopal church in 1974, although it took a couple of years for their ordinations to be recognized. Now, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church is a woman (Katharine Jefferts Schori), and a woman is the bishop of Washington, D.C. (Mariann Budde).

There was something refreshingly ecumenical about the anniversary celebration. Both Lutheran and Episcopal clergy took different roles in the liturgy, which is very much like the eucharistic liturgy one would find in a Catholic church on Sunday. A couple of Roman Catholics, including me, were present. One female attendee told me she is Jewish, so it was even interfaith. Everyone felt at home, at ease, a part of the celebration.

It seemed perfectly natural to celebrate 25 years of a woman in the priesthood. When are we going to be able to say that in the Catholic church? How long, O God, how long? 

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