Bishop’s widow ordained priest in Navajoland

by Dick Snyder
Amidst the historic beauty of Monument Valley, Catherine B. Plummer was ordained priest in the Episcopal Church on May 11.
A couple of factors made the ordination unusual.
She is the widow of the late Rt. Rev. Steven Plummer, who died in 2005 and who was the first Navajo to serve as Bishop of Navajoland.
The ordination took place at St. Mary of the Moonlight Church, which was built by the late Rev. Baxter Liebler, a missionary priest who served in Navajoland and started missions at Bluff and Monument Valley before he died at St. Mary’s in 1982 at the age of 93.
Cathy Plummer grew up near the mission at Bluff and remembers Liebler as a teacher and priest.
Bishop David Bailey of Navajoland, presided at the ordination service. He said he believed it was the first ordination service ever held at the church.
Plummer becomes the second Navajo woman to serve as priest in Navajoland. She said she is looking forward “to serving my people; to visiting them in their homes” and to leading worship for them.
Bailey said there are eight more Navajo, or Diné, currently in the ordination process.
Since being elected the eighth bishop of Navajoland in 2010, Bailey has worked to increase the number of Diné involved in lay and ordained leadership within the Navajoland Area Mission.
He noted that he has had strong support in that effort from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Navajoland, the Episcopal Church’s only area mission, was created by General Convention in 1978 from the Dioceses of Rio Grande, Utah and Arizona. Its boundary is contiguous with that of the Navajo Nation.
The ordination service began with the Navajo tradition of smudging, the burning of sage to purify and bless the congregation and the participants.
The Gospel, the sermon, the Lord’s Prayer and the Blessing Way Prayer were offered in English and Navajo. Two of the hymns were in English, two in Navajo.
The church was full of both Navajo and Anglo congregants. The church is located approximately eight miles from the end of the paved road at Monument Valley, Utah.
The property contains the rock church, a retreat center for partner groups, and a residence.
Plummer has served as a lay pastor at churches in the Utah region of Navajoland. As a lay pastor, she was able to participate in training at the Cook School in Arizona.
She also participated in training coordinated by Bishop Carol Gallagher, assisting bishop of North Dakota, who is working with Navajoland and other dioceses with Native American ministry as Bishop Missioner for the Bishops’ Native Collaborative.
Additional training for Plummer to meet canonical requirements was provided through the Hogan Learning Circle by the Rev. Jerry Drino and the Rev. Kerry Kneuhart.
Another former Navajo lay pastor, Rev. Inez Velarde, served as deacon for the service. She is scheduled to be ordained priest in July.
One of the lessons was read by Cathlena Plummer, daughter of the new priest and herself a postulant and student at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
Bailey, who is 72, noted that he is “cognizant of my age. I am building the foundation” for Navajoland, he said. “Whoever does follow me will have something to build on.”
He said he is also involved at working to build an economic base for Navajoland as well. The Episcopal Church’s 2013-15 budget designates $333,333 annually for Navajoland, or about $300,000 short of the $600,000 annual budget.
The Rev. Dick Snyder is senior correspondent for Episcopal Journal. He served as ministry developer and administrator for the Episcopal Church in Navajoland and is now a prison chaplain in Nevada. He was preacher for the ordination.

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