|The 8 interviews included in this collection were conducted for the Old Dominion University History course 495/595: "Recapturing Women's History: Local and National," taught by Dr. Dorothy Johnson in the Fall of 1982. Each interview includes a brief biographical sketch of the person interviewed and a typed transcript.|
Sara "Chip" Mueller and her family settled in Virginia Beach where the Navy moved her husband. She became active in the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. The interview discusses her background, her involvement as Senior Warden in the church, and the introduction of Pat Park, the first ordained woman priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach. Interview includes a biographical sketch of Mueller.
PR: This is a tape of Chip Mueller, Senior Warden at Emmanuel Episcopal Church taped November 5, 1982.
CM: It' s the duty of the warden to take care of the church property; to see that it is duly prepared for every occasion of public worship; to see that the sexton and maintenance staff properly perform their duties; to collect the offerings of the people; to take charge of the font and communion plate; to provide out of the parish funds under the direction of the vestry, a sufficient supply of vestments and books to be used for public worship and also elements for the celebration of the Holy Communion; to attend to the accommodation of the congregation with seats; and, to maintain order and decorum during the time of public worship. Also, in another part of the canon it is the responsibility of the vestry to make sure that the rector has sufficient funds in terms of salary and benefits and basically that the rector and the wardens and the vestry all work together to help him with the spiritual direction of the parish. (1)
PR: So you were working kind of as a liaison. When we are talking about senior wardens, is it safe to say that it's unusual for a woman to be a senior warden?
PR: What kind of preparation did you do here before you became senior warden as becoming involved in the church community here?
CM: Well, I think one of the neat things about Emmanuel is the fact that this has been an ongoing process. We have women in leadership positions in the parish. When we first came to Emmanuel, about seven years ago, Link (2) and I did... we were chairmen of the bazaar...
PR: That's starting at the bottom...
CM: (Laughs) ... which we thoroughly enjoyed and I think it involved us in the parish and in working together on the bazaar and working with the people in the parish, we got a real sense of satisfaction in helping them do what they were able to do... A real accomplishment in terms of money. Then, following that, I was asked to be responsible for the children's chapel, and that involved working with the church school core committee. That has just been a tremendously creative and growth producing process. I just feel like the... that I have benefited from that.
PR: And then you served on the vestry...
CM: Then I served on the vestry for a year and was the adult education committee chairman. Then Bob Neuville (3) approached me and said that he really was excited about Emmanuel in terms of their feelings towards women in the church. He felt like it was really an open community. He felt it would be appropriate for us to have a woman senior warden. Two years ago, we had a woman junior warden and she did an admirable job. She did a wonderful job at that. So after giving it a great deal of prayerful consideration, speaking with the rector, I said yes, I would run for senior warden and I was elected.
PR: Have you had any particular problems as a woman? This is a high visibility job, certainly.
CM: Well, considering that I'm the first senior warden at Emmanuel in 140 years ...
PR: What does that mean exactly?
CM: (Laughs) That means that people were not used to having a woman as senior warden. And it took me a little while to understand that that's what they were reacting to. One parishioner came up to me and said that she really found it difficult to think in terms of a woman as senior warden. She always visualized
a man as senior warden. But, she said, "Chip, if we have to have a woman as senior warden, I'm glad it's you." And I think, for a lot of people, I do not send out a very threatening message. I think that maybe it was easier for them to accept someone who is not very threatening to them.
PR: It's interesting that I think that perhaps your experience, that after thinking about it for a long time, that you could do it. We don't sometimes assume that because we are a woman, that's going to bother somebody else. But you have had experiences, you have had to work through that.
CM: Yes, and that's on an ongoing basis, too. I think probably one of the things that I've experienced is that there were set ways for senior wardens to function, the theory being that unless you functioned in this way you would not be effective. You would not be able to do the job. Well, I like to think that I may not have done the job, or my performance may not have been the same as a man; that doesn't mean that the job was not done effectively and that sometimes, it was hard for me to come to grips with and for other people, that I may have gone about doing things in a little different way. But that doesn't mean that that wasn't the right way to do it particularly for me.
PR: And maybe a better way. I know that the senior warden has a special relationship with the priest in a parish. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship and how you help personally? I know that you report back and forth. What capacity do you serve, other than those that you've read, do you serve to the priest?
CM: I think Mike (4) and I were very fortunate in that because of the church school situation, we were good friends before I became senior warden. I told him after I had been warden for a while, that I couldn't be one of the boys, but I could be something else. So we are very aware that our relationship is not like male warden and the male rector. But Mike has been
able to talk to me personally in a very open way that perhaps is more difficult for men to do in talking to each other. In terms of the parish, what I try to do if I'm aware of anybody that has a particular need, of course I'm sure that he gets that right away. But I'm a little bit of a sounding board and also in terms of his sermon, you know. If I'm feeling that he's in the spiritual center of the parish in terms of his preaching, I am very careful to get that back to him because he needs that kind of feedback. Also, there are a lot of pastoral concerns that are ongoing that he shares with me because its important for someone else to know about that and for him to be able to express his feelings.
PR: Can you in any way tell how many hours a week you spend as senior warden?
PR: Would you rather not?
CM: Well, let's see. That's really a hard question.
PR: Is it close to a full time job?
CM: This summer I was particularly aware that it was a full time job. I'm also involved in other aspects of the parish. I'm still involved in the church school program which is unusual for a senior warden. They normally are not doing those... wearing two hats like that. I'd say on the average, I'm here with the exception of two or three Sundays. I'm here basically from about 8:30 to 1:30 on Sundays. I usually have at least two meetings during the week in the evening and they run three or four hours. Okay, how are we doing on time? Are you adding up the hours? (laughs)
PR: We get the idea. You also meet with Michael regularly, just
the two of you?
CM: Yes, we meet on a regular basis to discuss the parish and particular concerns we both have. I do usually spend at least three hours a week up here during the daytime.
PR: Okay, let's talk a little bit about the process of bringing Pat Park in as supply clergy this summer when Michael was away. First of all, let's talk a little bit about why Emmanuel was ready for a woman clergy? Or were we ready?
CM: I think we were (5) I feel that we've been in touch with an ongoing process for the last few years and enabling women to assume positions of leadership in the parish initially. But I think we also honor the men in enabling men to be in positions that were normally womens roles, teaching the children. We have quite a few men that are involved in the learning centers. We have some men that are working in the nursery this year.
PR: You have fifth and sixth grades whose teachers are men also.
CM: I think we have tried not to assign jobs or have people work in areas that were specifically role model jobs. I think the parish became accustomed to me being senior warden and other women on the vestry and they had positive feelings about that.
PR: And this was the logical...
CM: I think this was the logical next step.
PR: What was your initial personal reactions? I know it is probably hard for you to separate because you kind of represent the parishioners in a way and yet you have your own personal feelings. What was your initial reaction to the idea of hiring a woman? My understanding is that initially that was not a concern when the search first started for a replacement clergyman. Is that right?
CM: Well, what we did was, we decided that we wanted Michael's sabbatical time to not be just marking-time period of time for us. That we should also experience some growth and have a challenge and have a little sense of adventure also. And we felt that just by taking one of the supply priests that...local supply priests that would be available from the pool from the diocese might not necessarily be the way that we would want to experience that. So the first thing we did was we said OK, we will consider anybody regardless of race, and color and sex. And so that was what the vestry recommended to the search committee. We were considering some black priests and in doing this the search committee... I was able to get the names of people from the diocese. Bob Neuville was responsible for obtaining names of women priests. Joy Walton (6) was responsible for obtaining the name of black priests. We thought we would start with a broad base of a lot of people. During one of our first sessions, we established the goals that we thought were the goals of the parish, were the major goals, and our expectations of how a priest would help us meet those goals. That was a part of the profile.
PR: When you finally got to the decision, and I think that at some point you decided that a woman would add a great deal, was there diocesan resistance. I know that we have not had a woman priest in this...
CM: Well, I think the Bishop's feelings about having a woman priest in the diocese over the past few years have been, you know, well publicized. So we were aware of the fact that he was not personally in favor of a woman in the priesthood. But we also were aware that it was our responsibility to call the person that we felt was the appropriate person. That's one of the things we also learned, that you don't hire a priest for a job. What you do is, you and the priest decide if that's what God wants to happen. Which is a little different you know. And you have to use a little different
criteria. I think that we tried to do that.
PR: And the mesh between Pat and the church was important enough and had enough potential to go around...
CM: We were very careful to keep the Bishop informed, as to what we were doing and he was a very gracious individual. And also, he had given the parish the authority to do this. We wanted to keep him aware of where we were in the process all the time.
PR: When Pat was finally hired, would you talk a little bit about the relationship; her job and when she was here and how that affected you as senior warden? Certainly your responsibilities were multiplied this summer because of the situation.
CM: Well, Pat came down to be in the parish before we went through the hiring and met with the search committee, which I heartily recommend any committee that's searching like that. She wanted to experience the parish and the way it functions normally, and I felt that it was important for us to also experience Pat. After that first Sunday, the committee felt that Pat was the right person to come into the parish. So we submitted a resolution to the vestry requesting that the vestry call Pat for this four month period of time. That would involve renegotiating the hours and the pay we had already established. (7) But she was more than willing to compromise with us on the length of the time that she could be here.
PR: She was basically here for a long weekend, is that correct?
CM: She was here for a long weekend. So what we did was, Pat would come on Saturday afternoon. She was here all day Sunday and Monday. She would either go back late Monday evening or late on Monday afternoon, or Tuesday morning. Needless to say while she was here, she was working practically 24 hours a day in order to meet with parishioners. We had quite a few Baptisms. That
involves at least two counseling sessions. We had several marriages this summer. Of course we had some ongoing terminal illnesses that she ministered to. We had people in the hospital continuously. She said (laughter) "Chip, every time you have to tell me someone's in the hospital, you apologize." You know, I just about guaranteed that we are a young parish, you know, we don't get sick, we don't die. Nothing like that happens. So then I was in contact with her during the week. Another thing that we did so that we would have an immediate emergency person is that we had contracted with two local priests to fill in for Pat on an immediate basis when necessary.
PR: So your responsibility... you're being very nice and not saying that your's had been added, but you must have had a tremendous burden without a full time clergy or your job must have been...
CM: I felt very very much a sense of responsibility for the parish while Michael was gone. And it's a lot to carry. I mean in terms of the people; just the spiritual welfare of the parish discounting completely all those people that went to the hospital. And, you know, there are ongoing things in the life of the parish that need to be taken care of and I felt that when Pat was not here, or when she was here, I mean there is no way we could expect her to do a full time job in two and a half days. So I felt it was my responsibility to fill in where it was necessary. Also I think this helped the sharing and caring committee because they were really needed and sometimes when you have the rector around, you feel like, well, its his job, and we don't have to do anything. I mean it was obvious that we had to minister to each other.
PR: Do you think that it heightened our confidence in our own ability to minister to each other?
CM: I think so. I really do. I found people going in and doing
things, making calls, that they were not at all certain about. I felt that particularly in terms of ministry to a parishioner whose wife had died, and I needed to go to him and make... help with the funeral arrangements and arrangements for the parish. I did not feel at all comfortable doing that, certainly not from background. But that was something that needed to be done and it was accomplished in an amazing way. I mean I prayed a lot all summer.
PR: You begin to realize your own strengths. Do you feel that you were in some ways the diplomat between this woman priest and the parish as to smoothing the way for her to make people accept her in anyway?
CM: Well, you know I think... I felt a special ministry to Pat in trying to enable this to be a very positive experience for her. I did everything I possibly could to smooth the way for her, to have the summer be a good experience for the parish and for Pat.
PR: Were you aware that it was important that this be positive for Pat as well as the parish?
CM: Yes. I know that Pat's last experience in a parish was a very painful one and I think that we definitely had a ministry to Pat as well as her ministry to us. It was wonderful to see Pat respond and open up and bloom in the presence of a lot of love we were giving to her and a lot of support. That was really beautiful for me to experience that.
PR: Was your relationship working closer with a woman priest as opposed to a male priest? Is there any kind of difference you can put your finger on?
CM: No. I think Pat is unique and of course with her being out of town, we had to coordinate by telephone quite a bit. I felt
that I had to consult with her perhaps a little bit more often and she would consult with me, making sure that all the bases were covered when she was gone and when she came back, what had happened. I felt a very open relationship with Pat. I was much less reserved... I'm certainly not reserved with Michael, but...
PR: Perhaps it was the personality of Pat as much as...
CM: Yes, and that's hard for me to get in touch with too, whether it's differences in personality versus... but I think because my confidence after this length of time in terms of senior warden, I think I pretty well feel more confident in my relationship with priests in general. So I think that helped in that area.
PR: What do you see as the church's benefits? You said the committee that hired Pat was very concerned before we even knew Pat about looking for a growth experience as opposed to marking time. What do you see as the changes in Emmanuel having had the experience of Pat for four months?
CM: Well, of course the general convention, I believe it was 1977(8) general convention, approved the ordination of women. Now that's about five years not experiencing women priests in this diocese; that also has the effect of blocking ministries of women at Emmanuel and other parishes. So I think in terms of growth and excitement, I feel that experiencing a woman priest authenticates our equality in the body of Christ.
PR: There's a difference between intellectual acceptance and the actual experiencing; what's been going on. Would you say our church is very much in touch with the whole, this particular parish, with that whole argument of whether women should or should not be ordained?
CM: No, I don't think we ever really considered too much about it. I mean, I think before we started, I know my, I speak from my experience, I had never met a woman priest before I met Pat. I knew there were women priests out there, but I just never happened to meet one of them, I never have really given it much thought as to how I felt about it and so during the search, it was important that I decide intellectually and then spiritually how I really felt about women priests. What it boiled down to was, Chip what is your relationship to God? So that was a positive growth-producing experience for me in terms of, is my relationship a whole relationship, or am I just relating to a woman? I think authenticating a female dimension or relationship with God was really important. I have talked to other women in the parish about this, probably not quite to this depth, but I feel that they were able to get in touch with their wholeness in a different way.
PR: Would you say, particularly for the women in the church,that the reaction to Pat was pretty much positive?
CM: I think in most instances, unless they're the type of person that requires an authoritarian figure. If having a strong male authoritarian figure was important to them, as a person, then it was probably a little bit difficult for them to relate to a woman priest in the authoritarian position. I've experienced that too. I think that there are people, men and women, who have a little bit of difficulty with a woman in the senior warden authoritarian position.
PR: Would you say that it basically is that she is a woman more than she is an authoritarian figure? Would you say Pat represents, beyond her being a woman, that she has that quality of authority as a person? Aggressiveness? That the authority is there if you can get past... That she could be a mentor, a female mentor if you can get past the idea of can a female be a mentor? For people who had trouble perhaps needing a male
authority figure, do you see her as a strong person?
CM: You know, in terms of our role model as an authoritarian figure, Pat does not come across in the same way. She does not come across as a power figure. That does not mean she doesn't have the authority. She is not a very powerful person. But I think this is part of Pat being a whole person. I keep going back to whole person. I had an experience this summer with a male priest who informed me that I was the first female senior warden that he had ever met. I told him that I thought of myself as a whole person senior warden who was a woman, He seemed amazed.
PR: Not sure you got through but at least...
CM: I was knocking (laughter) at the door.
PR: What do you see as long term, outside of our parish, benefits of having Pat here? I think we all have personal experiences, personal benefits, but what do you see as the long range benefit?
CM: Well, of course, I'm delighted that (END OF TAPE)
PR: We were talking about long range effects of Pat being here and you were going to tell us what you thought those were.
CM: Well, of course I think that one of the most important is that in terms of consciousness raising for the whole diocese because now we are much more aware of the fact that there are women Episcopal priests, I don't think that awareness was very prevalent before Pat came. One very helpful thing I think was Pat going to Shrinemont (9) because she had exposure to a large number of people from a variety of parishes. One of the workshops that Pat did this summer brought women in from four other parishes in the diocese and their having experienced Pat in this workshop situation.., one of the churches was in the process of looking for a new priest and they gave consideration to calling a
woman priest so they could experience women in the ordained ministry.
PR: I know that.., has your wardenship changed as you have gone back after Pat left and Michael came back? Is there anything you're doing differently now than you were doing before?
CM: You know, its funny you should mention that because one of the things that I did when Michael was gone was I presided over the vestry meetings. The first meeting that Michael was back at, we practically got into a tussle as to who was in charge (laugh) and that made us think, well, perhaps the warden should have an opportunity to be part of the leadership at the vestry meeting. What other things have I experienced?
PR: Are you more comfortable in making decisions, perhaps, without consulting Michael, after having gone through the process this summer? Are you more sure of your own...
CM: There was a real process of me letting go and for a little while having been right in the center of things, there was a little bit of grief in not knowing everything that was going on, not being part of that central coordination. But I think that basically; considering the length of time and responsibility, it was time for me to be free of that.
PR: Would you consider, I know your term as senior warden is up in December, would you consider taking that job for another year?
CM: I'm canonically protected from myself. (laughter) The canons, I will be going off the vestry and the canon states that you have to be off the vestry for one year before you can run again. I really feel that it's important to have shared leadership in a parish. You know, I think we have a variety of gifts and I've offered the gift I have. I think that perhaps it's time for other
gifts to be offered, and used, and another style for leadership. Which does not mean that I'm going to completely fade away. But I'll move into a little different area.
PR: Continue in your Sunday school with the chapel?
CM: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
PR: Well, thank you. I appreciate your time and answers and I think that its important to get the insight of how people like Pat effect people in the parish.
1 These opening remarks were read by Chip from the church canons of the Episcopal Church.
2 Link is Chip's husband.
3 Bob Neuville was a parish member who was on the vestry and also on the search committee for a replacement clergy.
4 Mike is Michael Vermillion who is the full time priest at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
5 Chip asked that a footnote placed here that indicated that she was not in favor of hiring a woman when it was first discussed. She said that she was not sure that the parish was ready, or that it could offer a positive experience for a woman priest.
6 Joy Walton is a parish member and served on the committee to find a replacement clergy.
7 The original contract and salary were based on a full time priest. When Pat agreed to come on a part-time basis, the contract and salary were adjusted accordingly.
8 It was the 1976 general convention that approved the ordination of women.
9 Shrinemont is a convention and meeting center which is owned and operated by the Episcopal Church.