From Columbus: Episcopal Church elects first woman Presiding Bishop

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June 18, 2006

The Episcopal Church, 30 years after it allowed women to become priests and bishops, has elected a woman as its Presiding Bishop.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, bishop of Nevada, was elected from a slate of seven nominees, on the fifth ballot June 18, as the 26th Presiding Bishop. She is the first woman to hold the top post in the church's nearly 400-year history. Her nine-year term officially begins November 1; she will be invested and seated November 4 during a liturgy at Washington National Cathedral.


Jefferts Schori breaks tradition in other ways. The airplane pilot and former oceanographer addressed deputies and visitors who gathered in the Columbus Convention Center in both Spanish and English. She thanked the other nominees and reassured the church of her passion for mission. She also offered a vision of reconciliation and actualization of the reign of God.


The other nominees were bishops J. Neil Alexander of Atlanta; Edwin F. Gulick Jr., of Kentucky; Henry N. Parsley, Jr. of Alabama; Stacy F. Sauls of Lexington; Charles E. Jenkins III, of Louisiana, and Francisco Duque-Gomez of Colombia.


"I give deep and abiding thanks for the ministry of the current Presiding Bishop," she said after an introduction by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. She added that she hoped his "gifts continue to be shared within the church and the world in years to come because he has very much to give us all."


Griswold, in a statement issued later, said "The decision today is the fruit of the witness and ministry of women bishops, priest, and deacons in the life of our church."


Enthusiastic applause, cheers and shouts of joy erupted in the House of Deputies as Arizona Deputy Matthew Chew, chair of the Consecration of Bishops committee, read Special Order E017, the committee’s resolution asking the Deputies to confirm Jefferts Schori's election. A two-thirds majority of both clergy and lay deputies then confirmed her election.


Among the deputies who spoke in support of Jefferts Schori was Blanca Echeverry, wife of nominee Bishop Francisco Duque-Gomez of Colombia. "I stand before you to urge you to support her election," Echeverry told the gathering in Spanish, through an interpreter, before the vote was taken. She praised Jefferts Schori as someone who understands the church in Latin America with the assistance of the Rev. Yamily Bass-Choate, rector of La Iglesia Memorial de San Adreas, New York, former Province IV Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries, and a native of Colombia.


Sergio Carranza, bishop assistant in Los Angeles, agreed, adding: "Women and Latino bishops helped carry her election."


Ten of the 12 women bishops in the church joined Jefferts Schori in the House of Deputies. "This is an historic moment before the church, a wonderful moment before our church," Bishop Cate Waynick of Indianapolis said from the dais. She praised Jefferts Schori's leadership as "faithful and articulate. She has the ability to carry the vision and mission and to share it with the church and the world beyond us. My heart is bursting; I hope yours is, too."


However, Deputy Eddie Blue of Maryland, said he would not support Jefferts Schori's election. "I am shocked, dismayed and saddened by the choice of the House of Bishops," he told the House. Citing strains within the Anglican Communion concerning issues of gender and sexuality, he added: "We are acting as imperialists, as we often do."


Blue was the only deputy who spoke against Jefferts Schori, despite three invitations from the president of the Deputies for dissenters to add their voices to the discussion.


Similarly, the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council (AAC), former rector of St. James, Newport Beach (a Los Angeles-area congregation now affiliated with the Anglican Church in Uganda), said he opposed the choice of Jefferts Schori during an AAC news conference at the Nationwide Arena. When asked if any of the nominees would have been acceptable to the AAC, Anderson said, "…all of them, for different reasons in each case, would not have been ones we would have preferred."

Anderson struck a more conciliatory note later in the briefing. "Yes, we will have to work with her; we will wish to work with her," he said. "However, this is a two-way street. She will undoubtedly need to work with us."


Jefferts Schori said, in a pre-Convention interview, the priorities for the next Presiding Bishop include bridge-building and boundary-crossing as well as "moving our sanctuaries into the streets to encounter and transform the bad news of this world." She added that implementing the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of embracing and celebrating diversity, eradicating poverty and hunger, and creating an environmentally sustainable world are also priorities.


As the 26th Presiding Bishop, she will also face such challenges as boosting declining membership and reconciling the church nationally and globally over issues of human sexuality and mission.


The Rev. Margaret Rose, director of women's ministries for the Episcopal Church said, "The Holy Spirit works in ways that we cannot ask or imagine. We have to trust God that the work of reconciliation that is happening with women in the Anglican Communion will continue with our new primate.


"She is a woman of depth, a woman of inclusion, a woman of fairness, a woman of prayer, a woman who knows what it is to gather God's people together, and we will trust that God will help us to walk together in every way possible.


"Our men in the House of Bishops made this happen, so we have to thank those men and those prophetic voices that were helping that to happen. Around the Communion this is statement that we in fact can have more women in those positions and that will be true for women in Asia, in Africa, Latin American, and all around the world."


Jefferts Schori, who voted in 2003 to consent to the consecration of New Hampshire's Bishop Gene Robinson, has said she brings "different life experience" to the top job of the church, and also expressed a desire "to embrace and celebrate all the diverse cultures, languages, and origins of the many parts of the Episcopal Church—Haiti, Taiwan, Province IX, the churches in Europe, Virgin Islands, as well as the many cultures within the U.S.—First Nations, African-American, Spanish-speaking, Asian, and all Anglo varieties. None is more important than another; all are essential to the transforming work of the body of Christ."


Jefferts Schori was consecrated the ninth Bishop of Nevada on February 24, 2001. She serves a diocese of some 6,000 members in 35 congregations. In the House of Deputies she spoke of needing time to "leave Nevada well," and thanked her diocese for the wonderful ministries in which they engaged.


Her service to the wider church includes current membership on the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion; the Board of Trustees, Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California; the CREDO Advisory Board; the House of Bishops peer coaching program; the General Board of Examining Chaplains; the Board for Church Deployment; the House of Bishops' Pastoral Development, Racism, and Planning Committees; the Court for Review of a Trial of a Bishop; the Episcopal visitor team for the Community of the Holy Spirit; and the Bishops of Small Dioceses group. From 2001-2003 she was a member of the 20/20 Strategy Group and served as secretary of the House of Bishops Ministry Committee at the 2003 General Convention.


She is the author of "When Conflict and Hope Abound," in "Vestry Papers" (March-April 2005); "Building Bridges/Widening Circles" in "Preaching Through Holy Days and Holidays: Sermons that Work XI," (Roger Alling and David J. Schlafer, eds., Morehouse, 2003); "Multicultural Issues in Preaching" in "Preaching Through the Year of Matthew: Sermons That Work X," (Roger Alling and David J. Schlafer, eds. Morehouse 2001); and "The Nag" in "Preaching Through the Year of Luke: Sermons That Work IX," (Roger Alling and David J. Schlafer, eds. Morehouse 2000). One of her Maundy Thursday sermons was included in "What Makes This Day Different?" (David Schlafer, Cowley 1998).


At the time of her election in Nevada, Jefferts Schori was assistant rector at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis, Oregon, where she also served as pastoral associate, dean of the Good Samaritan School of Theology, and priest-in-charge, El Buen Samaritano, Corvallis. She was ordained deacon and priest in 1994. Prior to ordination, she was a visiting assistant professor in the Oregon State University Department of Religious Studies; a visiting scientist at the Oregon State University Department of Oceanography; and an oceanographer with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. She is also an active, instrument-rated pilot, who has logged more than 500 flight-hours.


She received a B.S. in biology from Stanford University, 1974; an M.S. in Oceanography from Oregon State University, 1977; a Ph.D. from Oregon State University, 1983; an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, 1994; and a D.D. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, 2001.


Jefferts Schori was born March 26, 1954, in Pensacola, Florida. She has been married to Richard Miles Schori, a retired theoretical mathematician (topologist), since 1979. They have one child, Katharine Johanna, 24, who is a second lieutenant and pilot in the U.S. Air Force.


The Presiding Bishop serves as spiritual leader to more than 2.4 million Episcopalians, is responsible for leading the church, and must oversee the planning, development, implementation and assessment of its programs.


The Presiding Bishop is elected every nine years to serve as the chief pastor and Primate of the church. Canon law (Title I Canon 1.2.4(a)(1)), charges the Presiding Bishop with responsibility for leadership in initiating and developing church policy and strategy, and for representing church policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention.


The Presiding Bishop is also charged to speak God's word to the church and to the world, as the representative of this church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity (Title I, Canon 1.2.4(a)(2)). In addition to these key roles, the Presiding Bishop oversees and presides at meetings of the House of Bishops, provides for episcopal ministry in cases of vacancies and visits the dioceses of the church (Title I, Canon 1.2.4(a)(3-6)).


The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, in its job description, "A Call for Discernment," noted the symbolic power in the office.
Bishop Duncan Gray, III, of Mississippi and a committee member, said the group sought "a Presiding Bishop who could clearly expand our mission into the domestic and wider culture, and address the reality of an increasingly diverse church as well as our Anglican Communion brothers and sisters."


The 29-member committee was elected by General Convention 2003 and included nine bishops, nine clergy and nine lay members representing each of the regional provinces of the church. Two youth members were appointed by the president of the House of Deputies.


Historically, the office of the Presiding Bishop was filled automatically by the most senior bishop in the House of Bishops, measured by date of consecration, beginning with the presidency of William White at the first session of the 1789 General Convention. That process changed in 1925 when the church elected the Rt. Rev. John Gardner Murray as the 16th Presiding Bishop. The process, considered costly, is under review by this convention.


Resolution A112, recommended by the Standing Commission on Structure asks the Convention to charge it to "review, study, and recommend to a future meeting of the General Convention resolutions concerning changes to the process by which the Presiding Bishop would be elected by both Houses of General Convention." Such a study, the explanation says, would begin considering an election process which would be "more inclusive of both Houses."


"As we elect a new Presiding Bishop, now is the time to examine the current process and make recommendations for the next election, nine years hence," the report of the Standing Commission said.


A total of seven nominees were formally entered into nomination at a 2:30 p.m. joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies June 17 in the House of Deputies. The committee had selected its four candidates from an initial pool of 24 nominees. The candidates underwent a process of discernment, interviews and scrutiny, including medical and psychological screening, as well as background checks, according to committee co-chair Diane Pollard. The three additional candidates were subsequently nominated by petition, bringing the total slate to seven.


The Rt. Rev. Ken Price, Bishop of Southern Ohio, said the bishops agreed to accept no additional names after April 1, to allow adequate time for the same medical and psychological screening and background checks undergone by the other candidates.


The House of Bishops convened at 10:30 a.m. June 18 in executive session at Trinity Episcopal Church, near the Ohio state capital. After the election, bishops remained in session until the House of Deputies confirmed the election. The bishops certified the election and the Presiding Bishop-elect was formally announced.

Price said office space and administrative support will be provided for the Presiding Bishop-elect at the convention center, and she will be invited to preach at the closing eucharist for Convention June 21.


Additionally, a transition committee has been formed to offer support to other nominees and their families, said Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia, a co-chair of the Joint Nominating Committee.


"The Transition Committee has a particular interest in the pastoral care and support of nominees and spouses," added Gray. "Each nominee has been assigned two shepherds to connect with them throughout the transition, whatever that might look like, to take seriously those who were not elected."