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Monday, November 13, 2006

Presiding Bishop Begins Her Work in Chicago

Bishop wants to heal church
The first woman to lead the Episcopal Church hopes to end a global rift over gays, women, and she's kicking off her term with work in Chicago.

Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter

November 13, 2006

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrapped up her first week as chief pastor of the Episcopal Church on Sunday in Chicago by celebrating an institution she believes can heal the world.

Jefferts Schori also believes that the fractured U.S. arm of the Anglican Communion can heal itself while eradicating poverty and halting the spread of AIDS.

"Doing the larger work," she says, will enable the 2.4 million-member church to transcend the differences that divide it--including the debates surrounding gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex blessings.

"We need to pay attention to [healing the church]," said Jefferts Schori, who was installed this month as the first female presiding bishop in the Anglican Communion. "But it's not a matter of one before the other. ... I live in hope."

Celebrating mass Sunday in All Saints Episcopal Church on the North Side, Jefferts Schori implored the congregation to give its all to the Episcopal Church's mission. Members of the church's Executive Council, an elected body that conducts national church business, also were in the audience, meeting this week in Chicago.

High on the presiding bishop and council's agenda are the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a blueprint for a better world, which Jefferts Schori sees as an "invitation to see beyond our narrow self-interests." Those goals have been the heart of virtually every sermon and interview she has delivered since her election at the church's triennial convention in June.

Contentious issues

That election has not been unanimously celebrated. Eight American bishops have requested a more conservative leader to oversee their dioceses. Three -- Quincy, Ill., San Joaquin, Calif., and Ft. Worth -- do not ordain women.

Others attribute their discontent to her theology. In 2003, as Nevada's bishop, Jefferts Schori voted with the majority to approve an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire. She also supports the blessing of same-sex couples.

Also, some prelates from Africa, Asia and Latin America have said they cannot treat Jefferts Schori as their equal.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has not acted on the requests, instead instructing the American bishops to work it out internally. A meeting in September approached a resolution, Jefferts Schori said. Another attempt will be made before year's end.

On Sunday at All Saints, 4550 N. Hermitage Ave., congregants erupted into applause and smiles as Jefferts Schori marched into the sanctuary led by nine young acolytes--eight of them girls -- and sat in a wood throne dressed head to toe in regal navy and white vestments.

Although nervous about making a positive impression, Cicely Thom, 10, said the presiding bishop did not intimidate her.

"She didn't feel like a stranger to me," she said. "She was really nice."

Jefferts Schori's sermon called on congregants and church leaders to consider text in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus lauds the poor widow who gives all she has to the temple.

"Beware of the folks who like long robes and respective greetings," she quoted Jesus as saying. Still wearing vestments, her tone garnered gales of laughter.

"Ouch! Surely that cannot have anything to do with us," she said with sarcasm.

`Willing to bet their all'

Speaking of an earlier reading, she referred to another widow who gives her last meal to the prophet Elijah after he promises her that God will not let her die.

"Even today it is widows and mothers of dependent children who are the most desperate both here and across the world," Jefferts Schori said. "Those widows are willing to bet their all in hopes that somebody, even a God they haven't met, will respond.

"You and I have to be willing to be foolish enough to believe that God will feed the hungry and set the prisoners free and open the eyes of the blind. We have to be willing to make that last desperate bet and bet it all if we're going to follow this Jesus."

Ruth Frey, 44, said she was inspired by Jefferts Schori's sermon and hopes the presiding bishop is not distracted during her nine-year term from the mission in her message.

"She's got a lot of work cut out for her," Frey said. "If she can hold that vision up -- to center on the Gospel in ways that everyone can agree on -- it's going to be a huge step forward."



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