Notable Church Women

Nov 19, 2011 – During the Oyster Roast five docent women of the church, dressed in colonial costumes, provide tours of the historic church (from left to right – Judy Pravecek, Betts Werbiskis, Brenda New, Megan Wilson, and Jackie Murray).

The evolution of equal rights for all sexes and colors in the Episcopal Church has influenced other denominations, and the women of the church have been the ones who pushed the hardest for change. While women worked hard for the rights of others, they also had to work for their own rights. Their most significant and longest struggle was for their right to be ordained as priests in the American Episcopal Church, a struggle that began in the mid-1850s and lasted for almost 125 years. It ended in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 16, 1976, when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to approve women's ordination to the priesthood and the episcopate. But not until 1989 did the Episcopal Church have a female Bishop when the Right Reverend Barbara Harris was consecrated as Bishop Suffragan (assistant) of Massachusetts in the midst of unprecedented security, as she had received serious threats from those who opposed women's ordination. Bishop Harris, an African American, was known for her prophetic voice and strong advocacy for social justice. A few years after the 1976 landmark decision, Old Donation congregant Kathleen Awbrey had her own personal battle to become a minister. 

The struggle for women’s rights and recognition is reflected in Old Donation’s history by the women mentioned here. Into the 20th and 21st centuries Old Donation's women have continued that tradition, inspiring and helping others lead a rich and rewarding Christian life. They have worked tirelessly in church groups such as the KnitWits and First Circle of Women. These women were ahead of their time, but there must have been others who made significant contributions. 

Rev. John Emmert wrote in 1990, “How could the congregation be here without Adam Thoroughgood, Robert Dickson, the Hoggard family, Richard Alfriend and a host of others, known and unknown?” Women of Old Donation, working in many instances behind the scenes,  must be among the unknowns. Beside the ones featured here there are many in past times we simply don’t know about, known and unknown. Even today we fail to recognize some who work behind the scenes.  Our congregation could not be here without their dedication to Old Donation.

What did Sarah Thoroughgood look like?  No one knows, but from descriptions, 
here is a portrait of a likeness showing a 1650 Virginia woman.
Sarah Thoroughgood-Gookin-Yeardley (1609 – 1657).  Together with her husband Captain Adam Thoroughgood Sarah founded our church in 1637.  She was way ahead of her time, in having power that few women during that period wielded.  She exercised her wealth and position in this budding Lynnhaven Parish colony in a strong and forceful manner over both men and women.  On one occasion a woman made insinuations against her recently deceased husband, Captain Adam Thoroughgood.  She made the woman ask forgiveness on her knees, both in court and the following Sunday in the Lynnhaven Parish Church.  
Four years later, as a widow for the second time, two young men made insulting remarks against her daughter. Sarah had them sentenced to receive fifty lashes on their bare backs. During the time Sarah was a widow she used her old wood house in today’s Baylake Pines for an ordinary or tavern.  It was a place where men could stop along the Lynnhaven River and discuss the politics of the day. Women were not allowed inside, except Sarah, adding to her reputation as being on an equal or even superior footing with the elite male gentry.
In 1654 Sarah escorted 45 Indians into our first church at Church Point despite congregational protests and fears. The Indians were there to witness the baptism of their chief’s son at the same baptismal font we have in our church today.  After the service the Chief’s child stayed with Sarah to be brought up a Christian.
Sarah was responsible for a real rags-to-riches story.  William Moseley I and his family escaped from English Oliver Cromwell with nothing except their valuables, one might say family jewels. Sarah traded them for livestock enabling Moseley and his family to gain prominence. Each generation of Mosley’s became more wealthy and influential at Lynnhaven Parish Church, all made possible from the livestock Sarah traded. 

Grace Sherwood - the Witch of Pungo (1660 – 1740).
Grace Sherwood, the Witch of Pungo (1660 – 1740).  Three years after Grace’s husband died, Elizabeth Hill assaulted her. Grace sued, winning fifty pounds sterling.  After that verdict the Hills resolved that she “should pay dearly.”  They spread accusation of witchcraft against Grace, a woman who cured the sick and delivered babies, but the accusations were too strong to stop the church from ducking her in the river and then incarcerating her for over seven years.  


Diana Talbot Walke Parks, (1887 – 1975)

Diana Talbot Walke Parks (1887 – 1975) worked tirelessly to keep a struggling church alive in the early 20th century by establishing the church Christmas Pageant in 1926 and our annual Oyster Roast in 1934, both of which drew people from far and wide. Among various other contributions to the church, she served as chairman of the Altar Guild for many years until 1971.

Diana and her husband Rufus joined the church just after the 1916 reconstruction, not knowing Diana’s direct lineage went back over two centuries to Sarah Thoroughgood (1609 – 1657) and also to our famous Reverend Anthony Walke’s brother William Walke (1762-1795).  
Young Ann Parks
Ann Parks (1917 - 2002), daughter of Rufus and Diana Parks, dedicated herself to service at Old Donation for over 70 years.  In the 1930’s, in addition to her long hours at fund raisers, she was active in rehabilitating the neglected historical Old Donation Cemetery by establishing a burial plot book and moving several historic tomb stones to the church cemetery that had been left neglected in other locations.  Ann graduated from Sweet Briar College in 1939 and joined the Naval Reserve during World War II.  She retired as a lieutenant commander and continued her service to the church, and in the 1960’s, along with Ethel Howren (1905 - 1983), was among the first women to serve on the vestry.
Ann recounted in an Oct 4, 1987 Virginian Pilot’s Beacon article “Old Donation Church Still a Quiet Island of Beauty” her memory of growing up in the church in the 1920’s.  “There wasn’t any electricity or running water. But they had a Christmas pageant that drew people from far and wide the week before Christmas.” Ann recalled that the church was heated by coal stoves, two in the church and one in the Sunday school. “Sexton John Wilson would go over there and spend Saturday night and fire up the stoves so they would be warm in the morning.  There were only country roads and all down Independence Boulevard. There were only farms – six, I believe. We were lucky if we had 25 in the congregation. And if we didn’t go every Sunday we’d get a call to see if we were sick. The church was very poor and women would meet every month and pickle and preserve to raise money.
Because Diana and daughter Ann dedicated much of their time to Old Donation helping to revive a struggling church, in 2003 Reverend Win Lewis christened the Parks Memorial Fine Arts Series in honor of all their hard work for the church.

Ethel V. Hudgins Howren (1905 - 1983) was a dynamic woman, cut in the same mold as Sarah Thoroughgood. She served in all facets of church life, except for the vestry, which was reserved for men only. In the mid 1960’s Ethel put herself in nomination. There were quite a few eyebrows raised since no woman had served on the vestry. But her energetic and forceful character won the day, and she was voted in, becoming the first woman elected to the Vestry. Ethel was a very giving person making a substantial contribution to the church for the construction of the church rectory, Alfriends House, built in 1957, where Reverend Beverley D. Tucker, Jr. was the first to reside there. In need of housing Rev. Tucker is noted for giving away any money he had in his pocket.  Ethel established one of the first endowments by bequeathing a triangular piece of land southwest of the church bordering Pembroke Meadows Elementary School to the church. She stipulated the land could only be used by the church for its requirements and could not be sold or used for any other purpose.  In 2015 a beautiful Donazione Labyrinth pathway was built on the land by Sentara Independence Hospital as part of an agreement when they bought land from the church on the other side of Witchduck Road from the church where the Labyrinth was first built by 17 year old church member Matthew Improta as an Eagle Scout project.

Ethel is  the daughter of James Carey Hudgins, wife of Walker Albert Howren, mother of James Hudgins Howren of Alexandria, Virginia, and sister of William F Hudgins Sr.  Ethel was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.


Winifred (Winn) Lamar Haines (1916 – 2008)

Wynn Haines (1916 - 2008). The 50’s and 60’s were a volatile period in public schools all over the south. With the winds of change set in motion by the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of  Education decision declaring racial segregation unconstitutional, Wynn and a small group of women fought to integrate the Day School. The Senior Warden, as well as a few disgruntled church members quit, but the Vestry finally approved.  Initially no blacks attended because of the cost, so Wynn created a scholarship and by offering free enrollment was able to get one black five year-old girl enrolled in 1965.  This little girl would become the first black to attend Old Donation since slaves last sat in the balcony in 1731. 


Alice Granbery Walter (1909 – 2003) 

Alice Granbery Walter (1909 – 2003) was a conservationist and historical preservationist. Alice made many contributions to Old Donation and to Virginia Beach. Her most successful crusade was her fight to save the Old Coast Guard Station and then the land next to it from developers and creating the 24th St. Ocean Front Park and the Maritime Museum, Virginia Beach’s, first museum.
Alice was an artist, award-winning flower arranger, historian, genealogist, and book publisher. Her published works included eight books, historical records, several maps, and 50 genealogical charts of colonial families (including hers) of Tidewater that date back to the 1600’s. Her genealogical charts are now kept in the Sargeant Memorial Collection in Norfolk's Slover Library, part of a 39 volume collection of her papers.

Alice was a descendant of Thurmer Hoggard IV who saved our church by holding annual pilgrimages to the burned out ruins of Old Donation for 20 years. Her two great aunts, Henrietta and Virginia Granbery, were famous artists.  Thanks to a donation from Alice Walter’s granddaughter Christina Brown, we have three of their original sketches hanging in our Parish office hallway.

Kris McTague - 1986

Kris McTague – Kris was the first female docent (leader of guided tours). In the spring of 1980, at the suggestion of assistant rector Gary Sawtelle, she began to show school children around the historical church. This quickly developed into a regular schedule of providing guided tours three days a week for school children, and by 1986 Kris was showing hundreds of students through the church and historical cemetery. She also provided tours for adults. Kris set the pattern for Docents by dressing in colonial period attire. Kris retired as the lead Docent in 2000. In November 2010 Kris was officially commended for her services to the church with a handsome plaque at a Sunday morning service.

Elaine Orne, Husband Raymond Stanley, and Daughter Beth Elaine - 1976

Elaine Orne – First Female Lay Reader and Eucharist Provider. Sometime in the 1970’s Elaine asked to be a Lay Reader after hearing about a woman in another church reading from the Bible to the congregation. Realizing she would be the first at Old Donation, Elaine prayed for guidance before asking Reverend Beverley D. Tucker, Jr. After receiving Vestry approval, Reverend Tucker told her she could read, but only after being licensed by the Bishop. Elaine’s primary requirement was to be able to project her voice so that even the people in the balcony could hear as there was no sound system at that time. Later Reverend Tucker asked Elaine if she wanted to administer the Eucharist. Knowing she would be the first female to provide this sacred service, she again prayed for guidance. Not wanting to cause any problems she told Reverend Tucker that she could administer the Eucharist on one side of the rail, and if parishioners objected they could politely step to the other side. During this period only one female was allowed to perform these duties, and when she stepped down another woman was commissioned to carry on these duties.

March 14, 1976, baptism of Baby Marguerite Nguyen – (left to right) Barbara Blakemore, Joyce Pettet, Nga Nguyen (mother), Luc Nguyen (father), Mary Anne Gibboney, Donald Gibboney, and Reverend Beverley Tucker.
                     Joyce Pettet        Mary Anne Gibboney (1938 - 2010)  
                                             and husband Don      
                   (2005)  From the Church Album  (2001)   

Mary Anne Gibboney (Nov 25, 1938 - Dec 30, 2010) and Joyce Pettet.  In 1975 soon after the fall of Saigon, a Vietnamese family who had worked for the Americans fled the country.  Arriving in America they needed a sponsor. Mary Anne and Joyce immediately answered the call from the Lutheran Immigration Service. They found a few who volunteered to help despite an initial negative response from the church. With only days before their arrival, the small church group worked around the clock to prepare for the family, finding an apartment and a job for the father driving a delivery truck. Finally people in the church came around to the projects with an outpouring of gifts, time, energy, and money. For many years the family flourished in the church and in the community. The lives of the Nguyen Family and those who knew them were richly rewarded, and for the church, the Nguyen’s left a profound understanding of why we fought in Vietnam, with the relocation of a family made possible by Mary Anne Gibboney and Joyce Pettet.            


Lauryn Awbrey - 1976

Lauryn Awbrey, first girl acolyte. An acolyte is a person who performs ceremonial duties such as lighting altar candles and carrying the flag or crucifix. In the early 1970’s Lauryn aspired to be like her mother, the Rev Kathleen Awbrey (see next story) as one the women ordained into the ministry. Because Lauryn always did everything her brothers did, she just assumed that she would become an acolyte, but she was astonished when she was told she couldn't because she was a girl. The Vestry debated the issue, and it was finally referred to the diocesan convention. After much debate, Lauryn was allowed to don robes and serve as an acolyte, joining her brothers Dale and David and friends Buddy Fremd and Tom Crockett. When she went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, she was supported by an endowment from Old Donation Church. Lauryn became a lay minister in 1999 and is currently serving at the Anglican St John's, Harpenden in Hertfordshire, England where she trains ordinands, curates, and lay ministers for the St. Albans Diocese.

Reverend Kathleen Awbrey - June 1993

The Reverend Kathleen Awbrey (1936 - 2008) was a trailblazer in the struggle for ordination. Kathleen sought ordination after graduating summa cum laude from Virginia Wesleyan College in 1980, but a huge roadblock stood in her way.  Bishop C. Charles Vache (Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia) was adamantly opposed to the ordination of women. Despite Bishop Vache’s intransigence, Kathleen attended Harvard Divinity School where she earned a Masters of Divinity, and in 1985, through the help of Reverend Gary Sawtelle, Old Donation’s Assistant Rector from 1976 to 1981; she was ordained in the Diocese of Rochester. She went on to serve in New York and North Carolina. Kathleen was a human rights advocate, working with the "Witness for Peace" missionaries in Central America and working for justice for farm workers in North Carolina.

Belinda Nash, left, and daughter Danielle Sheets co-authored "A Place in Time: The Age of the Witch of Pungo," sales of which will benefit Ferry Plantation House in Virginia Beach. 

Belinda contributed most of her own funds for an eight thousand dollar “Brick Church 1692” plaque just outside of the church’s Parish Hall Library commemorating Church No 2.  

Belinda Tomsett Nash (1946 – 2016).  When Belinda arrived from Canada in the 1980s, she became interested in the church’s history, fixing her sights on many aspects of past famous families. One person of interest was not famous but rather infamous.  She found that the only local information on Grace Sherwood was a road sign and a few articles in the Virginia Beach library. Her research led to the exoneration of Virginia's only convicted witch, Grace Sherwood, which left Belinda's mark on our local history.  In her final days she said, "All the work put into making Grace Sherwood's story known has been my 'thank you' to America for giving me a home." Belinda was a very giving person to both people and causes. As one example, she contributed most of her own funds for an eight thousand dollar “Brick Church 1692” plaque just outside of the church’s Parish Hall Library commemorating Church No 2.  Besides preserving our church history, Belinda devoted a large part of her life caring for animals and running the Ferry Plantation House, which relies completely on volunteers. She led tours and spent $6,000 of her own money to install a historically accurate brick oven. Belinda, know by many, was a shining ambassador for our church. In her passing, a person who had never met her said, she was “someone who stood up for what she believed in! Both in word and deed she was an example of the kind of person we should all strive to be.”

In 2013 the Historic Traditions Committee voted to place the above stone in the Herb Garden. Through generous donations, the stone was made and delivered on June 26th, 2014 by the Norfolk Monument Company.  A dedication ceremony was held July 10th at 10 a.m. the time 308 years ago Grace Sherwood was marched down Witchduck Road to be ducked in the Lynnhaven River. 
Witch of Pungo's Church Dedicates Marker to Her,” by Mary Beth Cleavelin, the Virginian-Pilot, © July 11, 2014  

The Reverend Joy E. Walton, Associate Rector from 1994 to 1997 was the first woman and also the first black to serve on our clergy becoming a pioneer in both the broader Episcopal Church USA and at Old Donation.. Some folks did not accept her with open arms and even some left the church, but her warmth and loving manner won over most of our members. During her ordination to the priesthood in March 1995 at an Old Donation service, the Reverend Catherine (Kaki) Swann wrote, “It was quite an event in that historic church when she was ordained priest! I sang in the choir and the Holy Spirit was definitely present and filling many hearts that night!

Rev. Walton was called in 1994 by the Vestry under Rev. John Emmert.  She quickly became a tremendous blessing to the church with her soft but dignified personality and preaching. When Rev. Emmert left the church in 1996, Rev.Walton carried the load mostly alone until 1997 when Rev. C. Thomas Holliday was called to assist as an interim.  Rev. Walton stayed on until Rev. Win Lewis was called in 1998.  

The Rev. Elizabeth Felicetti, began her ministry as Associate Rector at Old Donation in 2007. She was vibrant and energetic starting several new programs. In 2011 she moved to Richmond to become Rector of St. David's Episcopal Church. 

Elizabeth earned a master’s degree in Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2007, concentrating on ecumenism (Christian unity), biblical languages and Old Testament. Prior to her ministry and prior to ordained life, Elizabeth had careers in editing and antiquarian bookselling. Elizabeth loves books and had over a thousand on her office shelf at Old Donation.

Pat Wilson (1935 – 2017) - A cradle Episcopalian worked and taught in churches in Key West, Maryland, and locally from the age of 11 before coming to Old Donation in 1973. She served on the altar guild for decades, was in charge of funerals and weddings, helped start the flower guild, was on the vestry and on many commissions including Parish Life and Outreach. She taught Bible School, helped out as an office angel, and visited the sick and infirm for many years. She was also the Bishops altar guild for several years, a member of the Order of St. Luke, and a Cursillo graduate.  The Annual Oyster Roast featured Pat and her famous oyster stew. She was a mother and a friend to everyone at Old Donation.

Assistant Rector Reverend Ashley Urquidi. As a new woman to Old Donation, she will most likely go down as a trail blazer.  Already she has jumped in becoming active in various programs taking on an early reputation as a "self starter." Many say they cannot help but be moved by her sermons. Perhaps a congregation a hundred years from now will again remove the time capsule in the corner of the church and find sermons from Rev. Urquidi; in particular her Parish Sermon titled “Paris, Hope and Faith.” On Nov 13, 2015, Friday night, terrorist attacked Paris killing 130 and injuring over 300. Just 2 days later Rev. Urquidi preached about that horrible night and urged us to be united with those suffering from the loss of their loved ones. Listen to her entire sermon, but certainly the last one and a half minutes starting at 8:30.

Note: "Women of Old Donation" was a presentation by Bob Perrine at Men's Breakfast 23 Feb 2016.