A 67-year-old woman is set to become the first female native Hawaiian priest in the entire Anglican Communion.
Phyllis Mahilani Beimes was ordained to the transitional diaconate, at a ceremony conducted largely in the native Hawaiian language, on October 23, says the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Naea Chun, associate priest at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu. Ordained at the same ceremony were three other native Hawaiians, bringing the total number of ordained native Hawaiian clergy to seven, Chun says.
“The ordinations in Hawaii were historic. I don’t recall many native Hawaiians being ordained at the same time, and the ordination of the native Hawaiian woman is certainly historic for the community,” says Canon Virginia Doctor, the Anglican Church of Canada’s co-ordinator for indigenous ministry.
That she would hold a special place in history was realized only a short time before Beimes’s ordination.
“I was kind of shocked when Malcolm Chun told me the day of my ordination,” Beimes says. “When he said that, I felt this giant weight on me, this gravitas!” she says.
Beimes was also surprised. She doesn’t believe native Hawaiians face special challenges in becoming priests, and she points out that women have been ordained in The Episcopal Church since the 1970s.
Beimes’s new career comes after 38 years of work at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, where she filled a number of roles, finishing as a project engineering and planning manager. And it wasn’t until about 15 years ago, she says, that she started even remotely considering the priesthood.
“Even though I loved God and I loved being in church and I loved being a Christian, the idea of wearing a collar and being a priest never, ever, ever crossed my mind,” she says.
Her mind began to change, she said, after she was approached about the idea by four different clerics-two priests and two bishops.
“I realized it was something I could do when I retired,” she says. “Once I retired, everything just fell into place really quickly.”
While she was still working at the shipyard, Beimes sat on a commission that helped put together a special formation program to provide training to would-be priests on Hawaii. When she retired in December 2012, the program was set to start two weeks later, in January. She decided to take the course as an auditor.
“When I saw that three native Hawaiian men were going to be in this class, I said, ‘we can’t just have men in there!’ ” she says.
One thing led to another, and Beimes eventually ended up taking the program for credit.
“Once I was in there, the priest advisors and mentors, I think they already figured out that they wanted me to finally put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, and they said, ‘Oh, since you’re auditing you can choose to take the exams or not,’ ” she says.
Having passed the exams and been ordained as a deacon, Beimes is now anticipating becoming a full-fledged priest within a year. Under Episcopal church rules, Beimes will have to retire when she is 72, having served for only four years, but she hopes to continue to serve as a retired priest after that.
The new local formation school, Waiolaihuiia, was established largely to provide priests likely to remain on Hawaii, Beimes says. Until now, she says, priests have come from the U.S. mainland, and have tended to leave after their first few years.
Chun says the program also addresses the financial and personal stresses faced by Hawaiian natives in leaving the islands for three years of seminary study on the mainland. He also says he hopes that as more Hawaiian natives become priests and bring the native language and traditions to services, many native people who have left the church will return.