Celebrating Pauli Murray At St. Hildegard

Pauli Murray’s Feast Day in the Episcopal Church July 1

We at St. Hildegard’s have been exploring and celebrating Pauli Murray’s Contemporary Saint Day for two Sundays, and July 4 will be the second Sunday we experience together Pauli’s life struggle.
On June 27, we heard of Pauli’s childhood in North Carolina as they grew up in an apartheid world, living with and loving their grandmother who had been born into slavery. We followed their brave journey to achieve an undergraduate degree at Hunter College in New York City, and closed with a journey through Pauli’s decision to pursue a law degree in order to work for freedom for the black people who were suffering under economic hardship and Jim Crow laws.

This Sunday we will hear of Pauli’s struggle to live in a female body when they felt they were a man.

Pauli’s life has many oppressions and triumphs. The Episcopal Church was a refuge for Pauli from the time they were born. In the final chapter of Pauli’s life, while they were in Seminary, they fought within the church to make it possible for women to be ordained as priests.

On the night of September 1977 that the Episcopal Church passed the resolution allowing women to be ordained as priests, Pauli Murray received a call from a priest present at the convention who was Rector at the church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where Pauli’s grandmother Cornelia had been baptized. He asked Pauli to come and preside at the first Holy Eucharist she would give after her ordination. Pauli writes of this experience on the last page of her book, Song in a Weary Throat, which is summarized, and quoted in part in the following:

The first Holy Eucharist at which Pauli Murray presided took place on February 13th in the bodies, hearts and minds of those present in this historic Episcopal Church which had been built by and continued to serve whites who counted slave owners and their descendants in their members. Both slave and slave owner blood was in Pauli and her grandmother Cornelia, who had been baptized in this church and allowed to attend in the balcony.

By February 13, 1978 the work of countless individuals, like Pauli, strong families, like Pauli’s and courageous religious, government and institutional officials made it possible for “a thoroughly interracial congregation” to attend this first Holy Eucharist presided by an African American woman in the Episcopal Church.

Pauli writes, “Whatever future ministry I might have as a priest, it was given to me that day to be a symbol of healing. All of 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.”

offered and composed by Professed Member Margo Stolfo