5 Oct
Posted in: Interviews, Timelines

A new board member speaks: musings of Susan Guise in a letter to her family

Through the years, I had heard about the Episcopal Women’s History Project that Mary Donovan co-founded and supports. And it was at an Anglican Women’s Empowerment (AWE) meeting in New York about three years ago when I first saw EWHP’s oral history collection in person: Mary was interviewing attendees from other parts of the world who, like me, were there to serve on the NGO of the Anglican delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. [Follow this link for more information about EWHP’s archives, including the oral history project.]

Virginia Norman is on the right.

I was living in Florida at the time, but I had recently taken an ECW trip to the Dominican Republic. We visited several churches, and our hostess and I began discussing the leadership of Virginia Norman, whom I had known for over 50 years.  Her phenomenal career and leadership, both in her own diocese and the broader Church, had inspired many women.  I decided to create a bi-lingual training manual on church leadership featuring Virginia, and began taping interviews with her.  Finally, I transcribed the tapes and translated the interviews into English from Spanish.

Then, I responded to a call for papers and was invited to present the oral history and writing I had done about her at the EWHP conference in Seneca Falls, and our work was presented at that conference a year ago. The setting with so much historical significance for women brought into focus some amazing women with wonderful stories to tell.

I went home inspired by the gathering and was pleased when asked if I would put my name forward to join the Board of the Episcopal Women’s History Project.  Fast-forwarding almost a year found me on a plane to LaGuardia from Tampa for my first board meeting.

Zion Episcopal Church, Dobbs Ferry, estab. 1833

Arriving early, I rented a car and began, with my GPS on board, to explore Dobbs Ferry, New York, that beautiful setting on the Hudson River.  Places like the Masters School and George Washington’s headquarters marked that small town as a wonderful tourist destination for me.  Our first official meeting was for dinner at the Half Moon Restaurant on the banks of the Hudson River.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and socialized while awaiting the arrival of two members delayed by weather. The first business meeting was set for 9 a.m. at Zion Episcopal Church, Dobbs Ferry.

Mother Grambsch welcomes EWHP to the Rectory.

Greeted by the welcoming smile of Mother Mary Grambsch, priest in charge of Zion Church, we began in earnest.  I had arrived with two questions in mind. Before traveling to New York, I had met with both my priest and my bishop and asked for their blessings as well as any questions they might have for the board.  Fr. Steve mentioned that many saints are mentioned in the Daily Offices without a sense of their identity; he often doesn’t know anything about them, making it difficult to use their life as an example.  Both he and the bishop mentioned that, in the changing Church, history is considered by some to be not particularly relevant in a positive vein, particularly in discussion of church changes and the redefinition of mission.  I hoped to hear discussion of these two observations.

The business day progressed with the discussion centered on communication and also the place of EWHP as so much is evolving.  We discussed membership and even the use of the word “project.”

Rev. Barbara Schlachter, ordained at Zion Church, in front of her ordination photo.

We also spent some time where each individual introduced herself. This meant so much to me because of the fascinating backgrounds of each.   Barbara Schlachter mentioned that this was a sentimental journey for her, as she had been ordained 35 years ago at Zion Church.   A picture on the wall in our meeting room was of Barbara being ordained.

L-R: Matilda Dunn, Susan Johnson, Barbara Schlachter, Mary Donovan, Mary Robison, Lynn Hoke, Johanna Gillespie, Nancy Radloff.

Each woman there carried the concern for the future of the group and its relationship to the work of the Church of today.   This was re-emphasized by the presence in the afternoon of Mary Donovan and Joanna Gillespie, co-founders of the Project, and their graciousness in recognizing that their work will be constantly changing its emphasis as the future unfolds.

Their remarks added the continuity needed and later, at a lovely dinner at the Donovans’ home overlooking historic sites along the Hudson, we had the chance to talk in an informal way about our common concerns.  The following morning gave a quick finale to our sessions and we scattered to cars and also a brave drive by Matilda Dunn through the traffic heading for LaGuardia for those of us flying back home.

And what was the take-away for this new member of the board?

  1. Wonderful sense of inclusion in a common mission and passion.
  2. Mentorship assignments for each of us as we look to the future. (working with a board member of experience)
  3. A desire to get to work on home diocese grounds to further the goals of this group.
  4. Real eagerness to attend the next meeting with the other national groups focused on history at the Tri-History Conference, the big San Antonio meeting in June 2013.
  5. Also applause for the leadership of the current board president, Nancy Radloff, navigating personalities, lots of paper work and reporting, and a tight schedule with her signature “grace and charm.”

Susan R. Guise has had a long and distinguished career in overseas and home mission work (read all about it in her bio here), and was elected to the EWHP Board in July 2012.  She recently served on the NGO of the Anglican Communion at the UN Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations and has made several trips to the Dominican Republic as part of the Diocese of Southwest Florida’s Companion Diocese Committee. Ms. Guise is mother of five children and a former clergy wife.

So, what do you think?