Alison Cheek, Pioneering Episcopal Priest, Is Dead at 92


“I would invite the presiding bishop and the House of Bishops into a new age,” she said in a sermon delivered that August.

In late October 1974 she and two other members of the Philadelphia 11, the Rev. Carter Hayward and the Rev. Jeannette Ridlon Piccard, celebrated the Eucharist at the interdenominational Riverside Church in Manhattan before a crowd of 1,500 people, who burst into applause when they walked to the altar.

In a statement at the time, the three, reacting to a declaration by the House of Bishops that affirmed the ordination of women “in principle” but still did not endorse the Philadelphia ceremony, said: “While we rejoice in this action, we must note that women do not exist merely ‘in principle.’ We are people and we are priests.”

Weeks later Ms. Cheek celebrated the Eucharist at a Washington church, whose website records the event this way:

“On November 10, 1974, the Rev. Alison Cheek stood before the altar of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church, said the words ‘On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ broke bread,’ and thus launched the public ministry of Episcopal women priests in their own church.”

Ms. Cheek was not universally embraced there, however.

“Often there is clear-cut animosity at the Communion services at which I officiate,” she told The Boston Globe in 1975. “Some people — mostly men — won’t come to the rail. And, yes, there are inevitable character assassinations behind your back.”

After her husband died in 1977, Ms. Cheek became co-director of a church fund-raising program in Philadelphia. She earned a doctorate at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1996 and directed its feminist liberation studies program. She later became a teacher at the Greenfire women’s retreat in Tenants Harbor, Me., before retiring in 2013.

In addition to her son Timothy, she is survived by two other sons, Malcolm and Bruce; a daughter, Bronwen Cheek; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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