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Feb 14, 2018 | Paulette E. Martin

Founder of Brigid’s Place Devotes Her Ministry by Nourishing Women’s Spirituality

As Brigid’s Place marks its 20th anniversary, the Rev. Canon Betty Adam admitted to ruffling some feathers in its founding, originally as a women’s ministry of Christ Church Cathedral, Houston.

“I think we have helped change the church, I really do celebrate that,” Adam said. “We brought awareness; we’ve also ruffled feathers because we were bringing about change.”

In a time when few women were ordained and Scripture was most often interpreted by men, Brigid’s Place’s mission was and continues, to highlight the role of women in the Bible as well as providing space for women to talk about spirituality.

Adam holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Rice University and taught at the University of St. Thomas, when her focus began to shift from philosophy to theology. While serving as a lay chaplain at MD Anderson’s Cancer Center in 1984, Adam felt a need to be able to do more for patients. “I wanted to give the Eucharist and bless the people who were suffering terminal illnesses and were dying,” she said. 

It was a trip to New York City that brought about a pivot so ordained ministry and planted the seeds for Brigid’s Place. Curious about the cutting-edge programs offered by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Adam went to see what they had to say about women’s struggle to enter ministry.

“I asked a woman there that question and she gave me a blank look and then said, ‘Well—we have two women priests,’” Adam recalled. “I came back to Houston, and that’s when the gift of the Spirit gave me a vision [and] told me to advocate for women and other marginalized groups.”

She learned that there were few ordained women in the Diocese of Texas and not many mentorship programs offered at that time, so reached out to the Rev. Helen Havens, one of two women clergy in the Diocese of Texas.

“I only knew of two women priests—Helen Havens and Betty Masquelette—they were my only two models,” Adam said. “I was on the vestry at St. John the Divine and they authorized me to [seek ordination]. I decided to go see Helen and ask her to hear my confession—that was sort of my preparation to ordination,” she added.

With support from her husband Ken, the working mother of two young boys, began to attend Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Monday through Thursday.

“Ken stepped in, took on extra responsibilities with the children, and we made it through,” Adam explained. “Both of my boys and Ken have always accepted that I had a calling and have supported me in every way possible.”

Once ordained in 1991, Adam joined Christ Church Cathedral, Houston as a pastoral canon, started a grief group, enlarged the pastoral care ministry and assisted the Cathedral’s ministry to HIV/AIDS patients.

“I would describe the 25 years that I was at the Cathedral as an exciting, innovative and a difficult time—the work I did there, was related to my pastoral work at MD Anderson,” Adam said.

In 1993, Adam founded Brigid’s Place where the Women’s Assembly group met to encourage women whose spiritual needs were not yet met by other offerings at church. In 1998, Brigid’s Place, built on a model of shared, non-hierarchical leadership, received its own non-profit status.

“In the early days, Brigid's Place provided opportunities for women to hear speakers on newly-developing feminist topics and methods of study particularly fit for women's ways of knowing,” said the Rev. Martha Frances, current president of Board of Directors.

“From the get go there was an energy and joy in the room. We would develop together the contours of the ministry; we would choose the issues we wanted to explore and participate in the decision-making process about programs we might offer in the coming years. This model seemed new and highly creative,” Adam said.

St. Brigid is a fifth-century Irish saint who was a pioneer in the Celtic and Christian traditions who practiced radical hospitality, welcoming each and every person as though she were Christ.

“Circles of women discover how better to nourish each other and reach beyond in our increasingly pluralistic city and world,” Frances said.

In 20 years, Adam and Frances have witnessed friendships that have blossomed through prayer. For more than 10 years, Brigid’s Place has supported a ministry to reintegrate women who have been incarcerated through Brigid’s Hope. The former inmates receive housing, a therapist, a mentor, classes for success in the larger world and a supportive community to grow with peers and a large group of volunteers. The program has served 230 women and 145 of them have completed the program.

“During the recent 20th Anniversary Luncheon honoring Adam, many women testified to Brigid’s Place's nourishment of their creative and deepening God-consciousness as a result of their involvement with our unique mixture of personal, community and outreach opportunities,” Frances said.

To learn more about Brigid’s Place, visit: www.brigidsplace.org

To read about former inmates who received help through Brigid's Hope, read this article.

 

 

 

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