Witness Wagon Tour: Janice Sevre-Duszynkska

Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW)
Second International Conference
Breaking Silence, Breaking Bread: Christ Calls Women to Lead
Ottawa, Canada
July 22 - 24, 2005

Witness Wagon Follows the Vision
by Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Break the bread and lift the cup;
Now God's joy is lifted up;
Fire within, we can begin
Celebrating glory in a woman's story.

Following the vision we will move forward.
Following the vision we won't look back
Following the vision we will move forward
Our resolve will never slack, never, never slack.

Janice Sevre-Duszynkska

Janice Sevre-Duszynkska

In my mind's eye, I can see and hear us singing with fire in our voices this "Song for women's ordination" led by its inspiring English composer, June Boyce-Tillman. I am remembering our journey along the East Coast making our way up to Ottawa for the 2nd Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW) Conference and the first Womenpriests' ordinations on the St. Lawrence. Like Medieval pilgrims, for nine days aboard the "Witness Wagon," we followed the story of American women's struggle for religious equality.

We also lived out our very own, transformative story.

Each evening, we pilgrims from the U.S. and abroad would retreat into our hotel to break bread and lift the cup in Spirited and diverse liturgies.

During the day, on the "Witness Wagon" bus tour we would recall and name and sometimes even touch the places of our foremothers' stories. Our presence becomes both a witness and a celebration to those who have gone before us and, yes, also to those who walk with us today.  Something else happens... something that had little to do with past history, but so much to do with our presence together, now, in these moments of remembering past struggles. As the miles progress, some of our conversations deepen and we laugh and cry together. In our sharing, our hearts open wider and the vision moves forward.

WOC board member Judy Johnson thought up this pilgrimage idea and put it into action. Along the way, travelers from far and wide joined us. At least 18 pilgrims were chauffeured tirelessly from airports by Judy and her husband George. Their granddaughter, Crystal 10, also traveled with us. Kenneth was our patient bus driver who enjoyed listening to jazz. From South Africa to San Diego, from Russia to Canada to Oregon, we all came together. And this is how we began:
July 14th -- After airport pick-ups at Dulles, National, and Baltimore airports, we --the first of the pilgrims -- arrived at the Trinity College dorms in Washington, D.C., got settled in, found a nearby deli, and did some sightseeing and shopping in the District. On campus we discovered a grotto to Mary decorated with flowers.
July 15th --  Bridget Mary Meehan (co-coordinator of Women-Church Convergence, host of the television program "God-Talk, and an administrator of Global Ministries) drove us to the headquarters of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops not far from the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. June brought along a drum, tambourine, and other noisemakers from London for us to use. As she led us in song, the bishops' security force herded us from the premises and onto the public sidewalks. Cheryl Bristol from Michigan, and I wore our albs and everyone donned their purple stoles. (We used the same liturgy that I had prepared for our our vigil in Chicago outside the Holy Name Cathedral as the U.S. bishops were praying inside.) Just as lepers had to ring bells during the Middle Ages, we women who have been excluded from full participation in our Church, took turns ringing our bells as we called out for the bishops to hear us. 

That afternoon we headed for the National Museum of Women in the Arts which was exhibiting Amalia Amaki's "Boxes, Buttons and the Blues and Women In Blues and Jazz." We were delighted to see the film which captured the stories and performances of female blues and jazz legends. The third floor exhibit, "The Library at Wadi ben Dagh," displayed a creative spoof on male literary figures and their portrayal of reality as the only one.
After a much needed downpour to cool off the day, we headed for WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual), where we were graciously welcomed by Diann L. Neu and Mary E. Hunt and their daughter Min Hunt-Neu. Over tea and cookies, we shared feminist ideas and a phone conversation with Mary Daly.
July 16th -- We traveled to St. Mary's City, Maryland's first capital, established in 1634 by Catholic Governor Leonard Calvert for religious and political tolerance. Our first stop was the Freedom of Conscience Monument erected in 1934 to honor the 1649 Act Concerning Religion which demonstrated to a Protestant regime in England that the Catholic Calverts were not creating a colony under control of the Pope in Rome.

During the historic tour in the Information Center we learned the story of Margaret Brent. In January of 1648, she demanded not one but two votes in the Maryland Assembly -- one vote for herself because she owned land and could have a vote if she were a man and the other because she did the work of an attorney. Gov. Calvert denied her request. 
Later, with a picturesque setting of sailboats and St. Mary's River on the West, we strolled through the 17h century village emerging from the archaeological excavations, explored the Protestant Episcopal Church and cemetery, the reconstructed State House, the Gift Store, and then headed down the bluff to board the replica of the "Dove" moored there. Not far away, we stopped to lunch at Spinnaker's Waterfront Restaurant where we enjoyed crabcakes, seafood salad, and oysters while  Rosemary Gravenor of South Africa feasted on the the calamari. On the way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Peter Six of San Diego showed us his book of photos and taught us a thing or two about cameras.  When we arrived, we were ready for a late dinner. Some went swimming first.
July 17th -- On Sunday morning, an Amish Farm that was active until 1955 became our next lesson and adventure, before we were back on the road to Philadelphia. There we met with our SEPA/WOC members of Sisterly Love, Eileen DiFranco, Alice Miller, Regina Bannon and Judy Heffernan. 
July 18th -- With time free, we visited Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, the Quaker House before the Witness Wagon took off for New York City --and a rescue mission. From a distance we viewed the State of Liberty before we rescued Jackie Ferriter, from England, outside her hostel in Lower Manhattan. Then for a few solemn moments, we paused at Ground Zero and Battery Park, imagining the horrors of 9/11.

That evening we arrived in Framingham, Massachusetts where we settled in with an appetite for supper. Sue Williamson, from England, continued her perpetual search for fish and chips. Dina Cormick of South Africa, Jane Via from California, and I trekked around the hotel under the full moon and occasionally howled. 
July 19th -- In the morning: Cambridge and Harvard University Chapel, (used for many purposes, especially as a gathering place for protests.) Austin Winkley, an English architect (and one of our three male pilgrims, all husbands) had designed several Cambridge buildings near Harvard in the early 60s. We passed the MIT campus, the Charles River, Boston University and the lovely gardens where Myra Poole (also from England told us about a nearby "avant garde church" she often frequented. Then on to the inviting Boston Commons. Next to the Capitol we saw the statue of Quaker Mary Dyer who was hanged in Boston in 1660 for bearing witness to her faith.

Then Kenneth, our bus driver, turned the bus toward Gloucester, the oldest seaport in the U.S. It reminded me of Italy. As we stepped off the bus we were welcomed by Marsie Silvestro of Massachusetts Women-Church and members of the 36-year-old Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association. At their statue of a Mother and Child dedicated to the fishermen's families, they introduced us to the stories of the brave women who remained behind while their husbands/fathers went off to sea —many never to return. The Fishermen's Wives treated us to an elegant delicioso Sicilian feast of stuffed eggplant, lasagna, salad, and mineral water at The Trattoria and Pizzeria.  President, Angela Sanfilippo, told of how she and others have prayed litanies for the safety of their husbands and fathers during so many raging storms -- and how they had marched on Congress to change the Maritime Laws to safeguard their husbands and the ocean's fish.  
Jeanne Gallo of Gloucester asked if I'd put some information up on the Memory Wall OF WOW 2005 at Carlton University in Ottawa about Sr. Marie Augusta Neal, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. Jeanne wrote in my journal so that I wouldn't forget. Sr. Augusta was a sociologist who did a Sisters' Study in the 60s and who spoke at the first WOC Conference in 1975. She gave the idea to the U.S. bishops for the Detroit Call to Action Conference in 1976. Writing about Women's Liberation long before it became "common" to do so, this foremother influenced many to work for social justice. (I did not forget to put this notice on the wall.)     
As we were eating tiramisu, our foremother bishops Gisela Forester and Patricia Fresen arrived and we welcomed them. We learned that Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) worked for women's rights and she was a feminist, visionary and community activist. Several local women spoke on their experiences working for justice and peace issues, including GFWA board member Jeanne; Rosaria Salerno, City Clerk of Boston and former City Councilor; and Nichol Richon Schoel who works for Help for Abused Women and their Children (HAWC). Episcopal priest and author, Rev. Lyn Brakeman, shared her journey toward priesthood.

In closing, longtime WOC feminist composer Marsie Silvestro, who lives in Gloucester's Rocky Neck Artists' Colony, the oldest in the U.S., led us in her well-known and moving "Bless You My Sister," where we joined hands and some of us cried for joy. Afterwards, we talked and networked with one another. I didn't want to leave this loving and picturesque community.
It was time, however, to travel to a place known for its dark chapter in our history: Salem. We stayed for about an hour or so. Many, including our two pre-teens, Crystal and Alyssia Monroe of Oregon (daughter of Mary-Lynne), saw the spots where several "witches" had been hung exactly 326 years earlier, to the day. Others went to the museum. Cheryl had her photo taken in front of the warlock.  A popular gift item was the t-shirt "Not all witches live in Salem."
July 20th --After the longest trek of the tour -- from the witches' hanging trees of Salem, passed Harriet Tubman's home in Auburn, to the Women's Rights site in Seneca Falls  -- we emerged as if from a time warp: In hardly more than two hundred miles we had fled through more than two hundred years of American history to find ourselves again, on an anniversary date, in a new space, a new time, entering not into another woman's nightmare, but into the embrace of a thousand women's dreams coming together.

We arrived in Seneca Falls on the anniversary of the first Women's Rights Convention 157 years earlier. The time warp left standing in the ruins of the Wesleyan Chapel, shoulder to shoulder with the spirits of Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B Anthony -- in the very spot where 300 American women had first come together, to hang together, to share their new vision of women's civic and religious equality with men -- to celebrate their divine destiny.

...A few blocks away was the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton who not only helped call the Convention of 1848, but also worked for women's right to vote and wrote The Woman's Bible. Here was the “Independence Hall” of Christian women's freedom.  

July 21st -- The next morning, our final day in the U.S., we watched the movie, "Dreams of Equality" about the first convention at the Women's Rights National Historical Park. We walked again among the statues of Wesleyan Chapel as if greeting old friends. And we caressed the waterfall-wall engraved with their Declaration of Sentiments: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...The history of mankind is the history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of a direct tyranny over her...

and, the part now engraved on my memory: 

...he allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry...He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it is his right to assign to her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.

After lunch our Witness Wagon took us to Rochester, to tour Susan B. Anthony's home. At this time, Bishop Christina Mayr Lumetzburger and her husband Michael arrived along with her mother, sister, and niece. Many of us bought items in the gift shop labeled with Anthony's oft quoted words "Failure is impossible"...  We were now ready to partake in a delightful afternoon tea and pastries put together by Deni Mack and Denise Donato of Spiritus Christi Church.

For the first time in several decades, three of the foremothers of WOC --  Gratia L'Esperence, RSM, Rosalie Muschal-Reinhardt, and Joan Sobala, SSJ, the very women who first envsioned (with Deni Mack and Marsie Silvestro) the first Women's Ordination Conference -- spoke to us. They told us about witnessing years ago to the bishops and at ordinations. I listened with open ears aware of the struggle and hope that went before me. That evening we were invited to supper at Spiritus Christi where Mary Rammerman and Jim Callan spoke and we presented Judy with a gift. At Spiritus Christi we all participated in a memorable Mass celebrated by Mary Rammerman, Denise Donato, Jim Callan and Christina Mayr Lumetzburger.

That evening, back in our hotel, we put together our final liturgy.

July 22nd -- We left early on July 22nd, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, for the last leg of our journey. On the bus, Lala Winkley, of England, led us in our final liturgy. 

After stopping for lunch in the Canadian resort town of Brockville, along the St. Lawrence, we drove into Ottawa.  On Parliament Hill at the Shrine for the Famous Five, we were greeted by the press team for WOW 2005, the Canadian women leaders and the press. We became the first salvo in the opening of the Women's Ordination Worldwide Conference 2005...singing...

Following the vision we will move forward.
Following the vision we won't look back .

But why, you may ask, did the "Witness Wagon" happen at all? 

As The Ottawa Citizen noted (July 17th): "With colorful determination and a flair for the theatrical, the Witness Wagon is rolling toward Ottawa...The Witness Wagon is filled with women who think such outrageous, subversive thoughts as, 'Hmm. What is wrong, exactly, with women being priests?'"  

And, I might add, the Witness Wagon "happened," as WOW 2005 did, and as the ordinations on the St. Lawrence did, because...as June Boyce-Tillman taught us all...Because we women are following the vision...

And our resolve will never slack, never, slack.

Said Sojourner Truth: "Life is a hard battle anyway, and if we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier.”