Carolyn Woodall, an attorney with the Tuolumne County Public Defender’s Office, was conferred the title in a ceremony at the Episcopal Church of St. Anne in Stockton, joined by dozens of church leaders, family members and friends.
She will serve at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown, comprised mainly of local Episcopalians who stayed with the faith following a 2007 rift in the San Joaquin Diocese, which saw more-conservative members leave and join the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America.
Woodall called the ceremony “wonderful” and said she was “very relieved.”
“I’ve finally gotten past it,” she said.
The Rev. George Cano of St. Anne’s, who led Saturday’s sermon, said, “We know what it is being Christians in a prejudiced world,” adding that it took the division of the church to make the Episcopalian faith “truly inclusive.”
A long applause followed Saturday’s ceremony, and those in attendance rushed to hug and congratulate her and another newly ordained deacon, Eldon Wayne Anderson.
Woodall’s daughter, Shawna Woodall, traveled from Louisville, Ky., to see the ordination.
“I’ve been crying a lot,” she said. “She’s been working for this for a very long time. I’m really proud of her.”
“This is a glorious day,” added Jan Potter, of Sonora, who left St. James’ Episcopalian Church in Sonora when its leadership split and joined the Anglican Church.
“Carolyn is a backbone of our church,” said Potter, now a member of St. Mary’s.
Woodall moved to Tuolumne County in 2001 and joined the county Public Defender’s office as Clifford Lawson Woodall, a man.
Woodall, diagnosed with a gender-identity disorder, began appearing in court and openly dressing as a woman in 2004, and had surgery to complete the transition from man to woman in 2005.
Her faith never wavered, but at one time she began to feel unwelcome in the church she was raised in.
She had started the three-year course of study at the Episcopal School for Deacons in Berkeley in 1993. After one semester, John-David Schofield, then bishop of the diocese, asked her not to go there so she wouldn’t be contaminated by the liberal attitude at Berkeley, she said.
Schofield was among the church leaders voting to leave the Episcopal church in 2007.
Woodall completed 75 percent of a local education course.
“It was quite good as far as education went,” she said, “but when I began to have questions about myself and gender identity issues, I realized I couldn’t be ordained by him, so I dropped out of the process.”
She left the church temporarily, moving to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Modesto. She was a member of the Modesto church while undergoing her transition from Clifford to Carolyn in 2004 and 2005.
“I think it was a move God had me make to put me in an environment where I would be supported,” she said.
After a special convention was held on March 29, 2008, reforming the San Joaquin Diocese of the Episcopal Church, Woodall said, “I felt it was safe to come home to my church.”
“I went to St. Mary’s the next day,” she said. “They were meeting in the Senior Center at the time, and they enthusiastically greeted and welcomed me.”
She became active in the diocese and was part of a Bishop’s Commission on Equality, working to include marginalized and disenfranchised women, Hispanics and blacks, as well as gays, lesbians and transgender people.
She went back to the Episcopal School for Deacons in Berkeley in 2008, took some refresher courses and met other requirements, including being part of a community of deacons in training.
The Rev. Lloyd Schneider, of Tuolumne, the minister at Angels Camp Union Congregational Church United Church of Christ, was among those celebrating Saturday’s milestone.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything in the world,” he said. “I’ve known Carolyn since she moved to Tuolumne County, and I’ve always known her as a person of great integrity. I am very happy for her. Other parts of her life that have been a challenge melted away today.”