On Wednesday evening Dr. Pamela Chinnis died. I fear that many Episcopalians do not know who she is, which is a tragedy. She was one of the great shapers of the Episcopal Church in the late 20th century.
Pam was the first woman elected as President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. She served the Conventions of 1991, 1994 and 1997. This may seem like not a very big accomplishment in the 1990's, but remember that women were not seated as deputies to General Convention until 1967. That means six Conventions later, one of them is elected President (she was elected at the end of the Convention in 1988). She had served as Vice-president of the House in 1985 and 1988.
In the late 1960's, Pam and others emerged as strong voices promoting the ordination of women. Several of these came out of the Diocese of Washington, where Pam was a member of the Church of the Epiphany (To prove it's a small church, her rector of many years was Edgar Romig, who was best-buddy to John Harmon in World War II. Edgar's brother, David, was pastor of Downtown Presbyterian for many years). I was fortunate to know many of these women: besides Pam, Verna Dozier, and Sally Buckley (there were others--my apologies for not remembering names well this morning). Pam was President of the Episcopal Church Women in 1976 when the ordination vote occurred and insured that organization's strong support.
To say Pam was a faithful Christian and Episcopalian is to make a vast understatement. She was gracious beyond the telling, but she also had a backbone of steel. She was supportive of lesbian and gay people in the church long before that was popular, and her commitment to our full inclusion never wavered. She was extraordinarily well thought of among African-American Episcopalians and was one of the primary encouragers of the House of Bishops to do its work on racism that resulted in the Pastoral Letter of 1994, "The Sin of Racism."
I submit that when the history is properly told on the late 20th century Episcopal Church, which may take yet another twenty years or so, Pam Chinnis will be found to have been one of the guiding lights, equal to any bishop or other ordained person who might be named, including her beloved friend and colleague, Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning (with whom she is pictured above). I pray that the remembrance of her life and deeds will not fade away, so that she may be for generations to come one of whom it is said and sung, "They were all of them saints of God--and I mean, God helping, to be one to."