By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO March 22, 2002 On Sunday, the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, visited St. Johns Episcopal Church of Monticello.
She was consecrated in 1996 as the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, at the time becoming only the fourth female to be so elevated in the United States. Today, there are 13 female bishops in the faith: 10 in America, two in Canada and one serving in New Zealand.
The Episcopal Diocese of New York, with its seat at The Catherdal Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, is a community of 203 congregations representing 65,000 people living in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and the counties of Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester.
On the 5th Sunday of Lent, Bishop Roskam celebrated Holy Eucharist, preached and administered confirmation to seven local candidates at the early morning service in Monticello. In addition, she presided over the dedication of a pipe organ as the choir sang Psalm 150.
They sing to the tambourine and lyre, and rejoice to the sound of the pipes, was recited in the antiphon.
O Lord, before whose throne trumpets sound, and saints and angels sing the song of Moses and the Lamb: Accept this organ for the worship of your temple, that through the voice of music we may proclaim your praise and tell it abroad; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Following the sermon, Bishop Roskam confirmed the candidates in a solumn yet joyous ceremony: Kerri Marie Benzenberg, Ari Francis DiStefano, Victoria Marie Dunlap, Thomas William Hill, Jacklyn Mary Katzenberger, David Arthur Olson and Anna Marie Tison.
The Rev. Ninon Hutchinson has been the spiritual leader of St. Johns Episcopal Church since 1995. She was ordained in 1984.
It was really wonderful and special to have the bishop here, she said. It was a very exciting time to have her come because it expresses our connection to a much larger church than the local congregation, to a church that is in all times and all places. . . . It is a very powerful thing.
As a woman who was a girl when there couldnt be women priests and wondered why, its a very exciting thing to have full membership in the church and be able to serve as priests and bishops, said Rev. Hutchinson.
Her eyes welled up with tears as she remembered being called to the faith.
Being a Christian is a wonderful thing, and being a servant of the servants of God to be a servant of the royal priesthood [the lay people] is beyond words for me, she said. I never feel adequate for the calling, and yet it is so fulfilling and nurturing, I cant imagine anything else.
Like Rev. Hutchinson, Bishop Roskam grew up in a time when women were not accepted into the priesthood, let alone the church hierarchy. Although she felt a calling to serve the Lord as a priest at an early age, it wasnt possible, so I forgot about it.
During a 16-year career in the theatre, including starting the Joseph Jefferson Theatre Company at NYCs Transfiguration Church (called The Little Church Around the Corner) on 29th Street, she became an Episcopalian.
After answering a call to the faith, in 1989 Bishop Roskam moved with her family to California, where she worked at two parishes, and then advanced to the position of missioner of the diocese, overseeing 24 congregations.
In June 1995, she was elected as a bishop and on Jan. 1996 was consecrated.
Asked about the role of women in the church today, Bishop Roskam replied, Where would the church be without women?
According to the bishop, there is some evidence in early church history that women served as deacons, but for centuries the church has reflected the patriarchal context under which it grew and flourished.
She said St. Paul refers to a woman named Phoebe (Romans 16), but for years translators read back their bias and said, If its a woman, we cant translate deacon.
There is evidence that women celebrated the Eucharist is those early days, she added.
I think weve come to a different understanding, although I think there is still a lot of resistance to women in authority, Roskam continued. I dont think people discriminate intentionally its in the air and in the water.
The Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam said that in her experience, as people get to know women priests, all their objections fall away because their idea of it is different than the actual experience.
My being a woman bishop registers on the faces of little girls, she said. Theres a kind of delight on their faces when they see a woman in the procession.