Female bishop becomes leader of Episcopal Church, a 1st for a woman

Saturday, November 4th 2006, 3:09 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) Katharine Jefferts Schori took office Saturday as the first female leader of The Episcopal Church and the first woman priest to head an Anglican province, two landmarks that could quickly be overshadowed by divisions over the Bible and sexuality throughout world Anglicanism.

Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays, acknowledged the rift in an elaborate ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral, urging parishioners to “make peace” with those who oppose the direction of the U.S. church. In 2003, the denomination consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

“If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body, is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness,” Jefferts Schori said during her ceremony.

Jefferts Schori, 52, was bishop of Nevada when she was the surprise winner of the election for presiding bishop at the Episcopal General Convention in June. A former oceanographer who was ordained in 1994, she had served only about five years as a bishop.

Her election was celebrated as a victory for woman clergy and for Episcopalians who support full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the 2.3 million member denomination. It was decried by U.S. traditionalists and many Anglicans overseas who do not want to recognize Jefferts Schori's leadership.

More than 3,000 people filled the church to welcome the new presiding bishop.

Worshippers stood and faced the doors of the cathedral as Jefferts Schori knocked and entered, wearing a multicolored robe and miter. She walked in a procession toward the front of the church, led by people waving streamers and flags, as applause and music filled the sanctuary.

Outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who just completed his nine year term, turned over the symbol of authority, the primatial staff, and Jefferts Schori stood beaming at the altar as onlookers cheered. She received blessings in Hebrew from a rabbi, in Arabic from a Muslim scholar, along with receiving prayers in several other languages.

Jefferts Schori hopes to revitalize Episcopal parishes after years of declining membership, and to advance the church's fight against poverty and other social ills at home and abroad. She urged Episcopalians on Saturday to work for “shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace, by working to heal the world's suffering.

But internal conflicts are likely to consume much of her time.

She will now represent the American denomination to the Anglican world. Her job is complicated by her personal support for Robinson's election and for blessing same-sex couples, though she insists she won't impose her views on others. She said the U.S. church should be willing to compromise “for a season” to stay in the 77 million member Anglican Communion.

That may not be enough to appease other branches of the Anglican family, which take a traditional view that gay relationships are prohibited by Scripture. Some Anglican leaders also reject the idea of women's ordination: Jefferts Schori has said they'll have to “get over it.”

The majority of Anglicans worldwide have conservative views on sexuality, but they are a minority in The Episcopal Church. Still, by withholding money and building alliances with like-minded Anglicans overseas, they have chipped away at the authority of the denomination.

Seven U.S. conservative dioceses have already rejected Jefferts Schori and have 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.

Jefferts Schori has spent her life tackling challenges.

Along with her past career as a scientist, she is a rock climber and a pilot who flew her plane to visit parishes around the sprawling Nevada Diocese.

Her husband of more than 25 years, Richard Schori, is a retired 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.