The Episcopalian women ordained as priests in a groundbreaking 1970s movement featured in the documentary “The Philadelphia 11.” Courtesy of Time Travel Productions LLC.

“The Philadelphia 11″ is the story of a group of Episcopalian women who sought to break through their church’s all-male tradition by being ordained as priests in a groundbreaking 1970s movement. Despite its title, a striking number of the subjects of the documentary worked, lived and worshipped in Maine.

Speaking with Maine Episcopal Bishop the Right Rev. Thomas J. Brown – who was instrumental in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine donating $5,000 to filmmakers Margo Guernsey and Nikki Bramley’s crowdfunding campaign – is to understand how this women-led religious movement illustrated how even relatively progressive institutions have to contend with internalized misogyny and how the example of these defiantly faithful women serves as a much-needed guidance today.

“It’s the story of women,” Brown said of the wide-reaching implications of the film, screening May 14 at the Nickelodeon in Portland. “Women are pioneers in any decade and we need to both hear and take as inspiration how each of us – male, female, non-binary, it doesn’t matter – at every stage of history have been changed for the better by the leadership of women.”


For Brown, his daily duties having taken him all over Maine each Sunday, the lasting effect of the film’s events is evident. “In my role as the chief overseer here in Maine, I’m in a different congregation every week, and I see how the Maine congregations cherish their woman priests.”

The Nickelodeon screening will be followed by a panel discussion with several of the surviving Philadelphia 11 and other Maine-based female clergy who followed in their footsteps, including the Rev. Canon Nancy Moore (Norway), the Rev. Dr. Vicki Lovely Smith (Palmyra), the Rev. Portia Royall Hirschman (Scarborough) and, co-subject of “The Philadelphia 11,” the Rev. Merrill Bittner, who served at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church in Rumford until 2006.



As Bishop Brown puts it, Maine’s unique character is central to the ongoing and never-more-timely fight for women’s equality. “Today, we wake up to news of Florida’s abortion law, which shows that if there aren’t women leading and speaking about their experience, we run the risk of being a society who is not fulfilling these values of liberty and the right to freedom.” Pointing to his own church’s rocky road to recognizing the equal rights of women, Brown is succinct, noting, “In a word – it’s patriarchy.” He’s also convinced that Maine can be a leader thanks to another core trait: common sense.

“There are ways in which Maine, for all its conservatism, actually has been remarkably progressive,” said Brown, pointing to Maine’s election of powerful women from Margaret Chase Smith to Gov. Janet Mills. “We’re blessed with a great deal of common sense, something that is (seriously) lacking right now. When I look at the women in my life, they tend to almost universally exhibit measures of common sense absent or, at least not abundant, in their male counterparts.”

For Brown, “The Philadelphia 11” epitomizes the necessary leadership women bring to cultural change. “This film points to and leads us toward a greater commitment to the common good, but also to common sense.”

Author’s note: Bishop Brown took it without offense that he was the second choice of interview, after the happily retired Rev. Bittner politely noted that appearing on the film’s panel was enough public speaking for her. Sounds like some of that admirable Maine common sense right there.

“The Philadelphia 11,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, Nickelodeon Cinemas, 1 Temple St., Portland, $15.



Filmmaker and Southern Maine Community College professor Corey Norman is once more proud as punch to present Maine Mayhem, an annual showcase of the short films created by students in his communications and new media program.

With eight shorts running the gamut in terms of genre and point of view, this year’s Maine Mayhem continues the tradition of giving Maine’s next generation of filmmakers a big night on the Nick’s big screen, with screenings at 6 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Thursday.

After learning the nuts and bolts of the filmmaking process, Maine Mayhem’s writers, directors, cast and crew are all prepared to impress and inspire Maine audiences – and aspiring filmmakers – once again. Tickets are $12.

This story was updated at 12:55 p.m. May 10 to correct the amount of the donation from the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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