Women of Achievement
for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:
Anne Stone Carriere
We honor the Rev. Anne Stone Carriere as the first woman to be ordained a priest in the West Tennessee Diocese of the Episcopal Church. During a time of doctrinal upheaval, she pursued her calling in life with quiet courage and broke ground for women in the clergy for generations to come.
Anne was raised Catholic but at 16 she left to seek a new church for herself. A year later she found her home at Grace St. Luke’s.
Anne began her adult life as many women do. First, education. She earned a degree from Vanderbilt University and began teaching. After marriage and the birth of two daughters, she became a full-time mother and active volunteer. But she realized something was missing.
In 1976, with friends, she attended a workshop on “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Aptitude tests showed that Anne would make a great bartender or house mother. Clearly not right, but the process got her thinking. What might give her life meaning? She realized the answer had been there all along: her church.
Her timing seemed ideal. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church had approved the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1976 and began ordaining women in 1977.
When Anne spoke to her rector, no Episcopalian woman had ever been ordained a parish priest in the state of Tennessee. “If you want to be a priest, you’ll have to talk to the bishop,” he said. Anne did just that and the bishop approved.
So Anne’s trailblazing road to the priesthood began. Despite the opportunity there were familiar roadblocks ahead and the process took five years.
Anne wanted to attend the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. But while the bishop was progressive, he was also paternalistic and told her to remain in Memphis to support her husband’s career and not disrupt her family. Initially her husband wasn’t so sure either. How would he feel in a business suit with a wife in a collar? He got over it. But as Anne points out, had she been a man, it would be assumed that the family would move.
Instead of going to Sewanee, she read for the orders under tutors while earning a Masters of Divinity from Memphis Theological Seminary. In that wonderful diverse environment, the few women students created their own long-lasting support system.
Anne was ordained deacon in 1981 by West Tennessee Bishop Fred Gates. Grace-St. Luke’s was packed with Memphis clergy, friends and people who read about it in the paper.
The Episcopal Church had gone centuries without ordaining women and there were plenty who still didn’t approve. To lessen controversy, Anne was assigned to her home church.
In 1982, Anne was ready for ordination to the priesthood. Three weeks before, with invitations printed, Bishop of Tennessee William Sanders phoned. He had heard a rumor that if ordained, her husband would divorce her. Hold the invitations! Sanders came to Memphis to meet with the couple and again, the ordination was on. Bishop Gates refused to officiate so Bishop Sanders returned for the service.
Anne served at Grace-St. Luke’s for nine years in a variety of supporting roles.
Ready for more responsibility, she asked that her name be put in for consideration as rector. She heard later the approving bishop thought she would never be called, but he was wrong. Anne answered the call of The Church of the Holy Apostles in Hickory Hills, becoming the first female priest to serve as rector in the Diocese of West Tennessee.
The parish was struggling financially and with shrinking membership. Anne brought in young families and expanded membership. She stayed seven years. That last year Anne worked to create an open affirming environment, knowing that small acts are the beginning of big changes.
In 1996, Anne resigned, her husband retired and they moved to Arkansas where she assisted at St. Andrews Episcopal in Mountain Home. She became their rector in 1998. She retired in 2003 to travel the country in an RV with her husband.
After his death in 2016, she returned to Memphis and to Grace-St. Luke’s, the church that supported her on her journey to the priesthood.
Anne has mentored many women. While more are enrolled in seminary than when Anne was attending, she notes there is still a very real glass ceiling; that women graduates are much more likely to be in associate roles than leading congregations. More barriers remain to be broken and Anne’s courage lights the way.