Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosiland Rosenberg is published by Oxford U. Press. Amazon’s record describes her contribution: “Throughout her prodigious life, activist and lawyer Pauli Murray systematically fought against all arbitrary distinctions in society, channeling her outrage at the discrimination she faced to make America a more democratic country.”
Its last chapter deals with Pauli’s call to ordained ministry. On p. 356, Rosenblatt notes that in 1967 Pauli began to attend Emmanuel, where then rector Alvin Kershaw advised her and referred her to The Rt. Rev. John W. Burgess, who was our diocesan bishop and the first African American episcopal bishop.
April 4. The New York Times reported that Pauli Murray’s family home in Raleigh NC had been named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
As part of the Pauli Murray Project a memorial mural painted on the brick wall of a former tobacco warehouse in Durham NC shows her flanked by panels that read:
As an Episcopal priest, Pauli Murray used the pulpit to find the “spirit of love and reconciliation” as expressed in her ministry as the “goal of human wholeness”. — Karla Holloway
It may be that when historians look back on 20th century America, all roads will lead to Pauli Murray. Civil rights, feminism, religion, literature, law, sexuality — no matter what the subject, there is Pauli. — Historian Susan Ware
Pauli Murray taught us that our lives are not defined by our race or our gender but by our striving to make the world a better place than when we found it. — Elnora J. Shields, Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project
Pauli Murray mural (detail) on tobacco warehouse in Durham NC
In her “Peace Pentecost” sermon at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul, poet Denise Levertov (1923-97) emphasized the connection between contemplation and action: “If we neglect our inner lives, we destroy the sources of fruitful outer action. But if we do not act, our inner lives become mere monuments to egotism.” At Emmanuel she founded a Peace Group to foster the links between spiritual thought and action among her fellow parishioners.
Earlier in the decade she had been attracted to Emmanuel by our social-justice activities, beautiful music and liturgy, and rector Al Kershaw, who counseled her. “He assured her that doubt was part of spiritual growth and the darkness she encountered might increase her sense of dependence and lead her to God,” says her biographer Dana Greene citing Denise’s diary entry for June 13, 1988.
The Rev. Paul Philip Levertoff
Denise’s father, Paul Philip Levertoff (1878–1954), an early proponent of Messianic Judaism, took holy orders in the Anglican Church and preached wearing an alb with a tallit and kippa. In 1922 he become director of what is now the London Diocesan Council for Work among the Jews and edited its quarterly journal, The Church and the Jews. He was a prolific writer on theological subjects in Hebrew, German, and English and translated into English the Midrash Sifre on Numbers (1926) and the Zohar (1933).
Dana Greene. Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life. Urbana IL: U. of Illinois Press, 2012.
Denise Levertov. Making Peace. Breathing the Water. NY:New Directions, 1987.
Donna Hollenberg. A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2013.
Paul A. Lacey and Anne Dewey, eds. The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov. NY: New Directions, 2013.
January 8. Pauli Murray was ordained a priest at the Washington National Cathedral by the Rt. Rev. William F. Creighton, bishop of the (Episcopal) Diocese of Washington. She was the first African American woman, and one of the first women, to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church.
February 13. At the invitation of the rector of The Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill NC, the Rev. James Peter Lee, The Rev. Dr. Murray celebrated her first Eucharist. She read from her grandmother Cornelia Smith’s Bible, from a lectern that had been given in memory of the woman who had owned Cornelia, Mary Ruffin Smith. This was the first time a woman celebrated the Eucharist at an Episcopal church in North Carolina. In her autobiography (1987), p. 435) Pauli described her thoughts about the service, which our Parish Historian Mary Chitty attended:
Whatever future ministry I might have as a priest, it was given to me that day to be a symbol of healing. All the strands of my life had come together. Descendant of slave and of slave owner, I had already been called poet, lawyer, teacher, and friend. Now I was empowered to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south, no black or white, no male or female – only the spirit of love and reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness.
March 3. As our sponsored seminarian, Pauli Murray preached from our pulpit her inaugural sermon on a passage she had selected (Isaiah 61: 1-4), entitled ” Women Seeking Admission to Holy Orders: As Crucifers Carrying the Cross”.* She asked:
Why in the face of the devastating rejection at the Louisville General Convention of last October, 1973–a rejection which Bishop Paul Moore of NY has called the violation of the very core of their personhood–[have the women seeking ordination to the priesthood] only increased their determination to enter the higher levels of the clergy?
I believe that these women are in truth the Suffering Servants of Christ, “despised and rejected,” women of sorrows and acquainted with grief. They are answering to a higher authority than that of the political structures of our Church, and in the fullness of time God will sweep away those barriers and free the Church to carry forward its mission of renewal as a living force and God’s witness in our society.
* Reprinted in Daughters of Thunder: Black women preachers and their sermons, 1850-1979, Bettye Collier-Thomas (NY: Jossey Bass, 1998), pp. 240-44.
Pauli Murray, who was a vestry member, entered the General Theological Seminary. She considered Emmanuel to be her sponsoring parish, which “sent me forth as a member of your congregation with your blessings and prayers to begin my training for the Sacred Ministry”.* The Rev. Alvin L. Kershaw had helped her discern a call to ordination.
Once I admitted the call of total commitment to service in the church, it seemed that I had been pointed in this direction all my life and that my experiences were merely preparation for this calling. In spite of my own intellectual doubts and the opposition to women’s ordination which was widespread within the Episcopal Church at the time, I took the fateful step of applying to the Right Reverend John Melville Burgess, bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, for admission to holy orders. (Autobiography, 1989, p. 427)
*From her sermon preached at Emmanuel on March 3, 1974.
Memorial bronze bust of The Rev. Dr. Alexander Hamilton Vinton by Augustus St. Gaudens was installed in the nave. It was finally dedicated in 1894. For details please see an article in the Boston Daily Globe.