Monday, June 19, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Episcopal Church has elected the world’s first female presiding bishop, spurring a reaction of shock, delight and some dismay in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, who was an oceanographer and airplane pilot before becoming bishop of the tiny Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, is the church’s new presiding bishop, a post equivalent to that of archbishop.

A gasp and applause broke out from the approximately 820 deputies gathered in the Greater Columbus Convention Center as her name was announced shortly after 3 p.m.

“I am awed and honored and deeply privileged to have been elected,” she told deputies in English and Spanish. “May this great and greatly blessed church of ours be the vehicle to building God’s reign today.”

But others were disappointed, saying the election of Bishop Schori was a bad omen for the Episcopal Church, which is estranged from the rest of worldwide Anglicanism because of its election of the openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003

“I don’t see how she won’t lead the Episcopal Church away from the Anglican Communion,” said the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax and a leading church conservative, pointing out that Bishop Schori has voted in the past in favor of same-sex unions and the consecration of homosexual bishops.

Canon David Anderson from the American Anglican Council said that Bishop Schori was known for tolerating conservative Episcopalians but that “she still does not get it” when it comes to their concerns.

Bishop Schori not only agreed to Bishop Robinson’s election, but she also told reporters yesterday that she favors same-sex blessing ceremonies. Both acts have earned condemnation from 22 Anglican provinces. Bishop Schori will replace outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who retires in November.

She defeated five men for the post, winning on the fifth ballot on votes cast by 188 Episcopal bishops. The Episcopal House of Bishops elects a presiding bishop, and the House of Deputies ratifies the election.

The election was a race between her and Alabama Bishop Henry N. Parsley, 57, who trailed by a few votes on each ballot. The winner needed 95 votes. She got exactly that amount on the fifth ballot while Bishop Parsley got 82. Out of the 108 clergy and lay deputations who voted to ratify the election, 15 lay deputations and 14 clergy deputations voted against her.

“What a historic moment for the church,” said the Rt. Rev. Cate Waynick, the bishop of Indianapolis. “What an omen for the church. … My heart is close to bursting.”

It is not clear what the reaction to the Schori election will be from Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, which teach that women cannot be ordained. Only 15 out of 38 Anglican provinces ordain female bishops. Among the other 23, nine do not ordain women at all, three ordain them only as deacons and 11 ordain women as priests, but not as bishops.

“I don’t know,” said the Anglican bishop of York, John Sentamu, as he walked through the corridors of the Greater Columbus Convention Center after the election. “I just don’t know.”

“The fact that her ordination as a bishop is not accepted by a large portion of the Communion introduces an element of division and impairment,” said Bishop Jack Leo Iker of Fort Worth, Texas.

Washington Bishop John B. Chane called the election “unexpected” but a “significant commitment to reclaiming the diversity of who we are as a church.” The actual election, he said, was a time of “silent reflection and hymn singing. The environment was apolitical and focused on the process of election and discerning God’s will.”

Bishop Schori was considered a dark horse for the slot, because she has only been a bishop since 2001 and she has never been the rector of a parish. Her election was “not a surprise,” said Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee, co-chair of the nominating committee that selected her last fall.

“Bishop Jefferts Schori thinks clearly, her faith is sound and she can speak the truth in love and represent the church with grace,” he said yesterday.

Bishop Schori is married to Richard Miles Schori, a retired theoretical mathematician, and they have a married daughter. She attended seminary at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., and said in 1983 that her doctorate from Oregon State University was in squid and octopuses in the Northeast Pacific.

“I have a delight in the incredible diversity of creation,” she said.

When asked how, as the chief pastor and chief consecrator of bishops for the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church, she will deal with those who oppose female bishops, she said: “I have good relationships with almost every member of the House of Bishops, whether we agree or disagree, and I will bend over backwards to build relationships with people who disagree.”

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