Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward Oral History

Part 1, conducted on October 30, 2017:

→ Transcript of Carter Heyward’s interview.

Part 2, conducted on July 21, 2019:

→ Transcript of Carter Heyward’s interview.


The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward is an Episcopal priest, professor, theologian, activist, and writer. A pioneer in the areas of feminist liberation theology and the theology of sexuality. Carter was born on August 22, 1945, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Robert Clarence Heyward, Jr. and Mary Ann Carter Heyward, the eldest of three children. Two years later, the family moved to Hendersonville where Carter spent her early years in the mountains of North Carolina. It was during these early, formative years that the energy in these ancient hills touched her soul and, decades later, drew her back to live there again. The family moved back to Charlotte in 1955 where Carter spent her teen years. She was elected Chair of Episcopal Young Churchmen (sic) in the Diocese of North Carolina when she was 16 and, along with other teenagers, helped push the Diocese toward the racial integration of its summer camp.  

with pet turtle in Hendersonville Heyward received an undergraduate degree from Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1967. She attended Union Theological Seminary in New York for one year, but moved back to Charlotte in 1968 to work in her home parish, St. Martin’s Church, for the next year and a half as a lay assistant. An activist for racial justice from her teen years--in church, high school and college--she became a young feminist in seminary, working on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment and, of course, women's ordination in the Episcopal Church. She became active for gay and lesbian justice (before either "Bi" or "Trans" were much on the radar) as the 1970's progressed. The key for her, as both theologian and lesbian, was in realizing the fundamental theological, political, historical, and psychological connections between gender and sexual oppressions and justice movements.

In 1971, Heyward returned to New York and earned a Master of Arts in the Comparative Study of Religion from Columbia University (1971), a Master of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary (1973) and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Union (1980),

1977 grad student at Union Seminary sitting at Grant’s Tomb At a time in which neither the Episcopal Church--nor any other part of the world-wide Anglican Communion--would  ordain women as priests, Heyward was ordained on July 29, 1974, along with ten other women: Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield Fleisher, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Martha Swanson, and Nancy Hatch Wittig. Bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. DeWitt, and Edward R. Welles presided at this "extraordinary" ordination service at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, the House of Bishops held an emergency meeting to invalidate these ordinations and sanction the bishops participating.  At the General Convention of 1976, the Episcopal Church officially approved the ordination of women into the priesthood.

1984 10th anniversary of historic ordination service in Philadelphia

2007 with horse Feather In January 1975, Heyward and fellow priest Suzanne Hiatt were hired at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a professor, Heyward’s primary teaching concentrated on 19th century Anglican theology, feminist liberation theology and theology of sexuality. She transformed consciousness, proclaimed the possibilities for women to be priests, for lesbians to be theological, and made way for new approaches to connecting the divine to the erotic, justice, activism. Heyward has authored or edited a dozen books, most recently,  Keep Your Courage: A Radical Christian Voice (Church Publishing Co, 2010). She is currently working on a thirteenth.

In so-called retirement, she is founder and board chair of Free Rein, a therapeutic horseback riding center in mountains of North Carolina, where she lives in an intentional community.  She is also active in the Democratic Party and is a fiddler in a women's old time string band, the Bold Gray Mares.

Information for this biographical statement taken from the finding aid to the Carter Heyward Papers at the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship and information provided by Carter Heyward.)

Biography Date: October, 2004; rev. 2017

Additional Resources


Archival Collections:


Heyward, Carter | Author/editor | Episcopal Church | Harrison, Beverly Wildung | Feminism | Ordination/clergy | Theology | Civil Rights Movement


“Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward | Oral History”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed June 14, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/oral-histories/carter-heyward.