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Saturday, November 04, 2006

First Woman Leader of Episcopal Church

Writer, The Associated Press

November 02, 2006

I'm clear about this role involving the entire breadth of The Episcopal Church Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori thought the odds she would be elected to lead The Episcopal Church were 'ridiculous' _ absolutely against her.

'I was a woman, fairly young, I hadn't been a bishop all that long, and I was serving a diocese that's not part of the Eastern establishment,' Jefferts Schori said.

The surprise? She won anyway, in balloting at the Episcopal General Convention this June.

On Saturday, Jefferts Schori will be installed as presiding bishop at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., becoming the first woman priest to lead a national church in the nearly 500-year-old Anglican Communion.

'The Bible is full of stories of the younger son being called and the outsider being called,' by God to serve, Jefferts Schori said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. 'I think courage is a central characteristic of leadership. If you're not willing to go into dangerous places, you have no business doing this work.'

The perils for anyone leading The Episcopal Church right now are considerable.

The 2.3 million-member denomination is at the center of a worldwide Anglican feud over how to interpret what the Bible says about sexuality. Jefferts Schori unapologetically supports ordaining gays and allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. In 2003, she voted to confirm New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. The uproar over his consecration is threatening to split the Anglican family, which The Episcopal Church represents in the United States.

'I'm clear about this role involving the entire breadth of The Episcopal Church,' Jefferts Schori said. 'But at some level, I don't think it's appropriate for me to disguise what my own theological understanding is. I'm someone who believes transparency is incredibly important. It's part of integrity.'

Many Episcopalians are celebrating that openness. But it also has drawn protests, and her pioneering role as the church's first woman leader also has upset some.

Seven U.S. conservative dioceses have rejected Jefferts Schori's authority and asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, to assign them another national leader. Three of the dioceses do not support ordaining women.

Overseas, some tradition-minded Anglican leaders, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, said they would snub her at the next global Anglican meeting in February.

Asked what she wanted to say to those Anglican leaders, she shrugged and said, 'Get over it.' On Wednesday, she asked four conservative Anglican archbishops who are meeting this month with Episcopalians challenging her authority to also make time for a session with her.

'I think the reality is clear that the archbishop of Canterbury isn't going to assign somebody to be an alternate primate' _ the Anglican term for a national church leader, said Jefferts Schori, who traveled to London last month to speak privately with Williams.

But she insisted she would not impose her views on anyone in the church.

Having served just five years as a bishop, Jefferts Schori knows her experience may seem all too brief for such an important job. But she has spent her life tackling outsized challenges.

She is an oceanographer who graduated from Stanford University and earned a doctorate at Oregon State, working at sea with boat captains more accustomed to all-male research crews.

A pilot with more than 500 hours logged, she flew her plane to visit parishes in the sprawling Nevada Diocese. She also rock climbs with her husband of more than 25 years, Richard Schori, a theoretical mathematician. Their daughter, 25-year-old Katharine Johanna, is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Jefferts Schori decided to pursue full-time ministry after federal funding for her scientific research dried up. She earned a master's from Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., and was ordained in 1994.

As she begins work at church headquarters in Manhattan, where her predecessor Bishop Frank Griswold just finished his nine-year term, she hopes to find a way to reconcile with conservatives overseas and at home.

She believes Episcopalians should fulfill the request from Anglican archbishops that the American church stop consecrating any more gay bishops for now, and temporarily refrain from developing an official prayer service to bless same-gender couples.

'At some level if it becomes clear that the relationship is broken, that there's no possibility for a new life in that relationship, then the pastoral thing to do is to find a creative way to separate, a gracious way to separate,' Jefferts Schori said. 'I hope we don't have to go there. My hope is for finding life that is still present in relationships, and if we go the separation route, the door is left open and the lights on.'


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