'Christmas Church' ordains first-ever female, Asian American priest

NEW YORK—One of the most recognized churches in New York City has a new priest, and she's making history in taking the helm. St. Peter's Episcopal Church in New York's Chelsea neighborhood will, for the first time ever, have a woman and Asian American as its full-time priest-in-charge. Rev. Christine Lee will become the church's priest in January 2020. She was the first-ever Korean American woman to be ordained as a priest within the Episcopal Church, earning that honor in September 2012.

The church has tasked Rev. Lee with leading its church revitalization program, described by the wardens as "the first of its kinds in The Episcopal Diocese of New York."

The revitalization plan includes plans for a children's Sunday school, leadership training and congregational development initiatives.

Photo credit: St. Peter’s Church Chelsea

Photo credit: St. Peter’s Church Chelsea

Rev. Lee is also expected to work with the church's The Fund for the Restoration of St. Peter's Buildings, a fundraising effort to restore and update the congregation's physical infrastructure.

The new priest previously served as vicar at All Angels Church and is pursuing her Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. Her doctoral pursuit focuses on leading organizational and congregational change, according to a release issued by St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

Rev. Lee was also a community organizer for Habitat for Humanity NYC and was the director of spiritual development and outreach at All Angels Church. She has a Master in Divinity and Master of Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago). Rev. Lee lives in Harlem with her husband.

Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell (1825-1921) is considered the first woman to be ordained in the United States. A brief biography about Blackwell stated she began speaking publicly at her local church when she was nine. Blackwell became ordained in 1853, despite initial efforts to deny her such status because of her gender. She actively spoke on and wrote for women's rights and the abolition of slavery. Her biography, which was published by her alma mater (Oberlin College), stated she preached her last sermon at age 90.

Eleven women made history in the 1970s, when the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia ordained nearly a dozen female priests. The Episcopal Church had not yet allowed for the ordination of women for priesthood until 1976 - two years after the Church of the Advocate ordained The Philadelphia Eleven. Four more women were ordained for priesthood at an Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. on 1975.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church is also known as "Christmas Church," as it was founded by Clement Clarke Moore in 1831. Moore authored A Visit from St. Nicholas, which is considered the most famous Christmas poem ever written. The poem, according to the church, portrayed Santa Claus as he is viewed throughout the world today.

Chelsea is located on Manhattan's West Side. The neighborhood was founded by Moore's grandfather in 1750.