b. February 10, 1946
If the Church is to be a house of prayer for all people, then gay people belong in it, too. And if love is what the church is all about – and it says it is – then indisputably I belong in there, too, because my way of living is a way of loving,
The Rev. Ellen M. Barrett, an Episcopal priest and monastic, was the first openly gay person and one of the earliest women to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. She was born on February 10, 1946 in Lawrence, Kansas where she was baptized at Trinity Episcopal Church in September of that year. Barrett was confirmed in the R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia. She began school at the Colegio Americano de Quito at age 5, while her father was attaché to the U.S. embassy in Ecuador from 1951 to 1953. Her secondary schooling began in Stuart Hall, an Episcopal school for girls in Staunton, Virginia.
She later graduated from Lexington High School in Virginia. Her undergraduate career had two stages: she first attended Southern Seminary Jr. College in Buena Vista, Virginia, graduating in 1967; from there she went to Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut, graduating in 1970 with a BA in English literature.
In 1965, Barrett converted to Roman Catholicism. Four years later, in the fall of 1969, she worked with a community of Roman Catholic missionary sisters in New Mexico, hoping to discern whether she had any vocation for the life of a mission sister. She graduated from New York University with an MA in 1972, and reverted back to Episcopalianism, rediscovering its catholicity and the overall flexibility of its church polity. She was formally received back into the Episcopal Church in April of 1972.
From 1974-1975, Barrett served with Jim Wickliff as one of the first co-presidents of Integrity, a non-profit organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Episcopalians. She was an associate with the Ecclesiastical History Society of Great Britain and served as Chaplain to the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and the Order of Colonial Lords of Manors in America.
Barrett is an associate of St. John the Evangelist. Her interests include singing, drawing, reading and traveling. Her trips to Israel in 2000 and Russia in 2001 reveal her ongoing interest in various spiritual traditions, including Russian Orthodoxy and the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.
In the spring of 2002, Barrett entered the Community of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopal religious order for women in New York, as a postulant. She left the order in the summer of 2003 and resumed her career as an Episcopal priest. Two years later, in July 2005, she entered the Community of St. Mary the Virgin, an Anglican religious order for women in Wantage, England, as an aspirant.
Barrett was ordained in the Episcopal Church in the diocese of New York by the Right. Rev. Paul. Moore, Jr., first as deacon in 1975 and then as priest in 1977. From approximately 1975 to 2005 she served as Episcopal cleric in a variety of city and suburban parishes, beginning her career in Berkeley, California and eventually settling in dioceses in the New York and New Jersey areas.
At the altar of her ordination, Episcopal priest James Wattley spoke out during the service and called it, “… a travesty and a scandal.” Rev. Ellen Marie Barrett: “The changes in the Church have always been to broaden and include — not cut off and turn away …. I care less about the Church as a structure than as a community of Christians. I think that community is founded on love, and I think that love belongs in everyone – including women and lesbians.”