There were clergy behind me and in front of me’

Published November 1, 2006

Rev. Mary Mills, pictured with grandchildren David and Wanda Wright, was one of the first women ordained in the Canadian church in 1976.

Rev. Mary Mills, who is retired and currently serves as honorary assistant priest at St. John’s church in Glencoe, Ont., was among the first six women who were ordained as priests (women had previously been ordained as deacons) in the Anglican Church of Canada on Nov. 30, 1976. To mark the 30th anniversary of that historic event, the Anglican Journal asked Ms. Mills to reflect upon her life and career of service in the church.  

I grew up in the church when girls did not serve as servers. I used to watch the choirboys put up the hymns on the hymn board and wish I could do that! And now, at 88 years of age, I am about to celebrate 30 years as a priest.

What has it been like? When I was 12 years old, a deaconess came on the staff of my parish church in Hamilton, Ont., and life began for me. I worked closely with her in Canadian Girls in Training, vacation Bible school, visiting in the parish and teaching Sunday school, for six years. When she left, I continued in the lay ministry, while working in an office, acquiring my high school diploma at night school. In 1943, under the auspices of the Women’s Auxiliary, I entered the Deaconess and Missionary Training House in Toronto.

Briefly, I served as a bishop’s messenger in the diocese of Athabasca, in my own parish church of St. Thomas, in Hamilton; and for five years, deaconess in Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton.

As a deaconess, my ministry was chiefly in Christian education and social work with women and children.

I came to the diocese of Huron in 1953 as director of Huron Church Book Room, serving there for four years, when I left to get married. When I came out of the church, I was a wife, a mother and a grandmother. The grandchildren now number 10, great grandchildren 20 and one great-great grandchild. I like to think of them as part of my ministry. My son, Walter, went into the ministry and was part of the laying on of hands at my ordination.

When I married, I came to Glencoe to live and continued to serve in the parish as a layperson, but always my calling as a deaconess was observed. The parish approached Bishop George Luxton to license me as a deaconess to them. He chose to ordain me as a deacon in 1969. As I was now widowed and the children grown, I was sent around the diocese, speaking at meetings on the history and rationale of the ministry of women. I was also put into parishes during vacancies, and I know that these parishes were asked for their feelings about it. These appointments were for Sunday duty only, and I was teaching in the high school in Glencoe. In 1975, having resigned from my teaching post, I was appointed to the parish of Kirton with Granton and Saintsbury.

On Nov. 30, 1976, I was ordained at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ont. I remember being in the clergy queue before we went into the church. There were clergy behind me and in front of me and I felt wrapped in security and love. One man said, “Mary, if anybody stands up and objects (to your ordination), we are ready to throw them in the Thames (a river in London, Ont.)!” The chancellor also told me, “I’m here if there are any objections,” but there were none. I had a sense of peace and friends and family.

Throughout the years of ministry, I have experienced acceptance, warmth, co-operation, understanding and pride from those I have been called to serve.

Whatever I have brought to the ministry has been the result of a call of evolution, one step at a time, of education, of life’s experiences.

I thank God, who has given me a ministry; and the people I have served in the dioceses of Athabasca (very briefly), Niagara and Huron and especially the parish of Glencoe, with Newbury, (one time, Alvinston) and Mt. Brydges.

Here I continue to serve, day by day, and Sunday by Sunday.


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