Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a former oceanographer who still pilots her own plane, will be consecrated the world’s first female presiding bishop Saturday morning at the Washington National Cathedral.
Since her election June 18 at the Episcopal General Convention in Ohio, an unprecedented seven Episcopal dioceses have declared that they will not accept her leadership because she allowed same-sex blessings during her 2001-06 tenure as bishop of Nevada.
Her 2003 vote in favor of V. Gene Robinson, the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop, and her statement that “our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation” in a sermon three days after her election, elicited protest as well.
But that expression “was thoroughly orthodox,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I was surprised at the reaction. I was simply using an image that seemed most appropriate to the text.”
About 3,200 people will attend the installation ceremony of a woman whom Glamour magazine named one of its 12 “women of the year” for her place as “world’s most prominent female religious leader.”
“The bulk of this church is healthy and vibrant,” the bishop said Tuesday. “A small portion is concerned about issues of sexuality at this instant.”
Bishop Jefferts Schori’s consecration will elevate her to the status of the most senior woman in the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. She will represent the Episcopal Church at international gatherings, including a February meeting in Tanzania of the world’s 38 Anglican archbishops. Twenty of these archbishops have released a statement saying they will not recognize her and suggested the U.S. church appoint an alternate.
Nevertheless, Bishop Jefferts Schori, 52, has “high hopes” for the Tanzania meeting, adding that Kenyan Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi — one of the 20 — received her in his diocese three years ago.
“I imagine we will start by greeting each other and learning about each others’ contexts,” she said. “Unless we can build some kind of human relationship, it’s very difficult to build the trust necessary for real dialogue.
“It’s very easy to characterize someone wherever on the spectrum from what one reads in print and on the Internet. One gets a fuller perspective face to face, an incarnate encounter. I hope we can build three-dimensional pictures of each other.”
However, Archbishop Nzimbi will be one of four Anglican prelates conducting a Nov. 15 meeting in Falls Church for leaders of seven U.S. dioceses refusing to recognize Bishop Jefferts Schori’s leadership. Those dioceses have also asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to name an alternate.
“I think the archbishop of Canterbury is clear that is not his role,” said the presiding bishop-elect, who met with the archbishop last week in London, “and that he expects this church to resolve its own issues.”
She hopes to concentrate on winning the young back to the church, citing Bronx musician Timothy Holder’s “hip-hop Mass” and a Eucharist ceremony based on music by the pop group U2 as examples.
From 1993 to 2003, however, her Nevada diocese only grew 2.3 percent while the state’s population mushroomed by 66.2 percent. Only 2,500 people attend Sunday services in her diocese, she said, because its church planners concentrated their energies on rural parishes instead of the booming suburbs of Reno and Las Vegas.
Also, “it was a place in significant conflict when I arrived,” she said. “There were major challenges in terms of resources and geography.”