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'Lady Father' tells local female priest's tale

The Rev. Susan Bowman discusses how she persevered in a profession only recently opened to women

A local woman is turning her unique story about breaking ground in the theological world into what she hopes will be a secular hit.

Susan Bowman's Lady Father is the tale of the Delmar resident's more than 20 years as a priest in the Episcopal Church and the difficulties she faced being one of that denomination's first ordained female clergy.

Bowman was born and raised in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. When she was a child, women were still barred from the priesthood, but she remembers wanting to be able to walk down the aisle of her church holding a cross.

That path was opened in 1976, when the ordination of women was approved, but like many women in the following years, Bowman found reality takes time to catch up with policy when she joined the seminary.

"There were a lot of angry people, a lot of surprised people," she said.

Part of that surprise was that her Bishop, the Rev. C. Charles VachE, a staunch opponent of women in the clergy, signed off on her being the first woman to enter the diocese's ordination process in 1981.

"Most people who were against women ordination didn't have anything against the woman herself," Bowman said. "He just could not picture himself laying his hands on a woman's head and saying those words."

His approval came from Bowman's involvement in the church community, and her deep dedication to youth programming. On top of working for the City of Petersberg, Bowman knew she wanted to devote herself full time to the church, but despite her faith, character and devotion, many told her not to pursue priesthood.

But others encouraged her and in the end, though it was a difficult decision, she said she was "inexorably pulled" to the seminary. She decided to quit her day job and pursue her passion.

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