A Trail Blazer in her Faith: The Rev. Deacon Glenda McDowell
By The Rev. Deacon Clare Barry
Deacon Glenda’s call came out of, “looking at the diocese and not seeing anyone who looked like me.” Specifically, there were not any women of color in the Diaconate at the time. Glenda also said that her calling, “came out of leadership and having a voice.” There were four African American little girls whom she mentored since elementary school. She told them, “you can be anything.” Yet, the glass ceiling for women of color in the Diaconate had yet to be broken in the Diocese of Western North Carolina.
According to Glenda, a life-long Episcopalian, “the Episcopal Church did a great job grooming people for leadership. The church was a part of everyday life.” She was an activist in the community and held various leadership positions such as the President of the Neighborhood Association. Everyone was saying to her, “ you’re a Deacon. You have always been a Deacon.” Glenda refused and said, “no, I don’t think so.” However, Glenda realized,” that being a Deacon would get her to places where normally she wouldn’t have been invited.” Therefore, she said yes to the call, even though no one was coming through the ordination process who looked like her, either as a Priest or as a Deacon. She told the teenage girls, “sometimes you have to be the first.” Glenda attempted the process twice. The first time, “the church wasn’t hearing her call.” The second time a priest said, “you need to do this again”, and she discovered herself with a discernment committee of people who came from a variety of Episcopal churches within the Diocese who knew her. Yet, it took Glenda eight years from the beginning to when the Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor ordained her to the Diaconate at All Souls in 2012.
As part of her career, Glenda worked as a Mediator with a focus on conflict resolution. She went into prisons where she led a fatherhood program. Glenda also developed a program for adjudicated youth which became court mandated. She became an Education for Ministry mentor. Glenda’s ministry focuses on reconciliation, noting that, “reconciliation must occur within yourself before you can be reconciled with God. Reconciliation had to be done within the brokenness of Jesus.” Education for Ministry reinforced her belief that, “until we have an understanding of religion , we will have conflict because of our brokenness with God. We still have to reconcile ourselves with our broken relationship with our faith.” In reference to racial reconciliation , Glenda said, “we are only different in complexion. The things we worry about and care about are the same.”
The Mediation Center grew out of a Task Force at All Souls. Initially, the mediators were retired elders who were community volunteers who practiced and taught restorative justice. All Souls was instrumental in keeping this important dialogue going. Deacon Joan Marshall, the Deacon at All Souls, encouraged Glenda to get involved in mediation. Glenda said that, “ I stumbled into it because of Joan’s encouragement. The American Bar Association trained me.” The Mediation Center experiences formed the basis of Glenda’s prophetic sermons.
When asked how Glenda takes care of herself, she indicated numerous paths which enable her to stay grounded. First, she stays busy having to take care of five grandchildren who range in age from eight to twenty two. Second, her good friends keep her grounded and humbled by inviting her to participate in outdoor activities, for example; hiking and white water rafting. Third, Glenda enjoys the quiet time in the fresh air just before dawn. Fourth, Glenda’s prayer life includes different prayer forms: music, poetry and reading. Among her prayers, Glenda prays for peace on earth, for wisdom prior to taking action and for continued good health.
Deacon Glenda wants to see more women of color in ordained leadership in the Diocese of Western North Carolina. Will you say yes to this trail blazer, this visionary, this prophetic Deacon? The four little girls in elementary school did. They grew up to become very successful women in their own right.