“Building relationships” a priority for new U.S. presiding bishop

Published June 19, 2006

Columbus, Ohio The new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA), Katharine Jefferts Schori, on June 18 called her historic election “a grand adventure” and said she has found that being a female pioneer is “less of an issue” once person-to-person relationships are developed. “On my first trip as a scientist on a research ship, the captain would not talk to me because I was a woman. That lasted 15 minutes. We got over it,” she told a news conference after briefly addressing the church’s General Convention, meeting here June 13-21. Bishop Jefferts Schori, 52, is the first woman to lead the American church and the first female Anglican primate, or national bishop, in the world. Tall, slim, with a shock of short, dark hair, Bishop Jefferts Schori calmly articulated her positions on various issues at her first media grilling. Her husband, daughter and son-in-law also attended the news conference. When asked how she would anticipate relating to primates in the Anglican Communion whose churches do not ordain women, she answered, “face to face, human beings build relationships and gender becomes less of an issue than in the abstract.” Bishops in three of the U.S. church’s 100 dioceses also oppose ordaining women to the priesthood, which the national convention approved in 1976. Although Bishop Jefferts Schori had enthusiastic support at the 2006 convention, some Episcopalians who hold conservative views on female ordination and other hot-button issues such as homosexuality, criticized her election. Canon Martyn Minns of Fairfax, Va., an outspoken conservative and member of the American Anglican Council, a conservative group, issued a statement saying that Bishop Jefferts Schori “will bring into sharp relief the difference between being an Episcopalian and being an Anglican. It is not clear how she can do anything other than lead the Episcopal Church in walking apart from the rest of the Communion.” American Anglican Council president Canon David Anderson had earlier said none of the seven candidates were acceptable to conservatives. Bishop Jefferts Schori voted to approve the consecration of openly-gay bishop Gene Robinson at the 2003 convention. When asked about the work of a committee considering whether to recommend a ban on blessing ceremonies for gay couples, she said that “it needs to work through the processes of the church, but pastorally, it is happening in many dioceses and I certainly support that.” She was a member of a special commission that drafted proposed responses to the Windsor Report, an international statement that asked the U.S. church to impose a moratorium on electing further gay candidates to the episcopate and on same-sex blessings. Currently, a legislative committee is considering the resolutions, which it will send to the general convention for a vote. Further, she said, “I believe God welcomes all to his table, people who agree and disagree. The Episcopal Church has included a variety of opinion. All of the marginalized are welcomed.” She also said that she “will bend over backwards to build relationships with people who disagree with me.” However, she added, “the majority of the church deals with more foundational issues – hunger, unclean water, education for their children,” and said that issues of poverty and development are important to her. She said she looks forward to meeting the members of the Anglican Communion. “I think this is a grand adventure, to meet people across the reach of this world. It’s an opportunity for learning,” she commented. On the continuing conflict in the Middle East, she noted that the church’s executive council has endorsed a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories and declined to comment on the question of divestment in companies that contribute to Israel’s occupation of the territories until she learned more about the church’s investments. The new presiding bishop, who will take office after her consecration on Nov. 4, also filled in more of her personal background. Before she was ordained in 1994, she was an oceanographer who studied squid and octopus along the coast of Oregon. “I think my training as a scientist gives me the gift of looking at the world carefully. The connection with what I am doing now is a delight in the marvels of creation. I’m still fishing.” She attended a Roman Catholic church until her parents joined the Episcopal Church when she was nine and commented that “I give thanks for my Roman Catholic roots, but that’s not where I am, as might be obvious,” referring to that church’s refusal to ordain women. The man who will be Bishop Jefferts Schori’s predecessor, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, said that “the decision today is the fruit of the witness and ministry of women bishops, priests, and deacons in the life of our church. Bishop Jefferts Schori is a person gifted in mind, heart and spirit, and I am fully confident that the church and the (Anglican) Communion will be blessed by her ministry in the years ahead.” A spokesman for the Anglican Communion News Service said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was sending Bishop Jefferts Schori a private letter and would have a statement later.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

Related Posts

Skip to content