The Rev. Ann Coburn

0:00 The Rev. Ann Coburn, who op ened doors for women clergy in The Episcopal Church, and was a lifelong advocate for social justice, died […]

Published June 26, 2023 6:38 PM
3 min read

0:00

The Rev. Ann Coburn, who op

ened doors for women clergy in The Episcopal Church, and was a lifelong advocate for social justice, died on June 7, 2023, in Oakland, California. She was 74. 

Coburn grew up in Rye, N.Y., attended Rye Country Day School, and was a graduate of Ethel Walker School, Pine Manor College, and Georgian Court College in Lakewood, N.J. She went to seminary at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif.

She was ordained at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Danbury, Conn., in December 1977, just a year after the church formally began recognizing women priests.  She was the first woman priest in Connecticut and one-half of the first married couple ordained together. Coburn confronted sexism in the church with a forceful grace, including working with ecumenical groups in Danbury to encourage churches to open their altars to women, spending time as the only woman priest in the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, and serving as a part of the Task Force authorized under resolution A045, passed by the Denver General Convention in 2000, to visit dioceses not ordaining women to “monitor progress toward full access of women to the ordination process.”

At St. James’, she served as a curate from 1977 to 1979 and rector from 1982 to 1998. She mobilized ecumenical groups in Danbury around a variety of causes, including the founding of the Daily Bread Food pantry that continues to serve residents of Danbury to this day. In addition to her time at St James’, Coburn served as a canon at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Conn., as rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Providence, R. I., and as interim rector of Grace Church in New Bedford, Mass.

She served six terms in the Episcopal House of Deputies, and from 2000 to 2005 on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, where she advocated for initiatives supporting women in the priesthood and a variety of other social justice issues. As a member of the Planning, Budget, and Finance Committee for many years, she worked to address the ways in which the church supported a greater range of voices in the church structurally. In these roles, Coburn became a mentor to and an advocate for women in the priesthood. 

As the Rev. Marilyn Anderson recalled: “I will always be grateful to Ann and others who were our trailblazers. Ushering in huge changes within an institution is very difficult. There’s a lot of resistance to change and a lot of adapting to do. These first women priests absorbed a lot of push back, and they made the way a lot easier for those of us ordained in the next generation.”

Coburn was also a fierce advocate for Palestinian rights. She spent several years attending and organizing Sabeel Conferences, which strive “towards theological liberation through instilling the Christian faith in the daily lives of those who suffer under occupation, violence, injustice, and discrimination.” Later, she fought for “responsible travel” to the Holy Land, including leading four trips to Palestine to bear witness to and build awareness of the oppressive conditions there.

She was director of fundraising and financial oversight for the Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network, which earlier this year presented her with the Cotton Fite Award in recognition of her work.

In 2005, she returned to the Bay Area to work as Alumni Relations Director of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. But she remained firmly connected to the East Coast, especially Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where every summer she listened to the Red Sox on the radio, did jigsaw puzzles, and swam in the ponds with her grandchildren.

Coburn is survived by her son Noah (Elizabeth Ruane-Coburn), daughter Abigail (Harris Epstein), and five grandchildren: Nathaniel, Ruthie, William, Atticus, and Azariah.

A funeral service was held June 24 at All Souls Parish in Berkeley. A memorial service is scheduled tentatively for September 9 at St. James the Fisherman in Wellfleet.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has established the Rev. Ann Coburn Fund for Women in the Ministry, and donations can be made to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, 138 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02111 or by going to www.diomass.org/give-now. Donations can also be made to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network.

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