Episcopal Church elects first woman as presiding bishop

Published June 18, 2006

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Columbus, Ohio
American Episcopalians, meeting at their triennial governing convention, elected Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the diocese of Nevada, as presiding bishop, or national leader, of the 2.4 million-member denomination.

Bishop Jefferts Schori is the first woman to lead the church and the first female primate (national bishop) in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion of churches in fellowship with the Church of England.

She was elected on the fifth ballot in a closed session of the house of bishops. Out of a total of 188 bishops present, she received 95 votes on the last ballot, sufficient for election. She led in the voting on the first ballot, was tied with Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama on the second ballot and led in the next three ballots, according to an announcement on the convention floor.

A huge cheer arose from the floor of the convention and among several hundred observers as Bishop Jefferts Schori’s name was announced, despite a previous warning from the chair, Rev. George Werner, that there should be no demonstrations.

The 800 clergy and lay delegates voted to confirm her election and delegates rose from the floor to voice their approval of the historic move.

“It is very moving to be here and have a woman elected as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. This is a powerful moment,” John Baldwin of the diocese of Southern Virginia told the convention.

Barbara Cheney of Connecticut asked the gathering to excuse her “tears of joy” and noted that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women in the American church.

Other speakers said Bishop Jefferts Schori is a “visionary,” speaks Spanish and has gifts the church needs at this time. Youth delegate Sam Gould said, “We are ready for women and our bishops are ready.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori, 52, was consecrated bishop of Nevada in 2001 and was ordained deacon and priest in 1994. She has served the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis, Ore., and been a visiting assistant professor at Oregon State University. She earned a bachelor degree in biology from Stanford University in 1974, a master’s degree in oceanography from Oregon State University in 1977, a doctorate from Oregon State in 1983 and a master of divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

She is also a licensed pilot. She was born in Pensacola, Fla., and is married with one daughter.

She will lead a church where moves toward greater acceptance of homosexuality have caused a conservative minority to threaten schism. In addition, the U.S. church has been subject to criticism from Anglican churches worldwide.

She will also work with primates of churches that do not ordain women, much less have female bishops.

The presiding bishop represents the Episcopal church at home and abroad, leads the church’s national office in New York City and presides at meetings of the house of bishops, among other duties.

Bishop Jefferts Schori will be installed as presiding bishop on Nov. 4 at Washington D.C.’s National Cathedral.

Editor’s note: In the coming days, the Anglican Journal’s Web site, anglicanjournal.com, will feature reaction to the election of the first woman primate in the Anglican Communion.


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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