Sunday, October 5, 2008. 10:10 AM
The State of the Episcopal Church: 2008
Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, converses with Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III about The State of the Episcopal Church: 2008.
Lloyd opens the session by describing what a groundbreaker Bishop Katharine is: the first woman head of the Episcopal Church [and] the first woman leader of any national church in the 450 years of the Anglican Communion. Shes a scientist, an author, a person of deep faith, and someone committed to seeing our faith lived out in ways that can change the world into a more just and hopeful place for everyone.
The presiding bishop has drawn both criticism and praise in the Anglican Communion. Both before and during her tenure, the Episcopal Church has been condemned by some other autonomous national churches of the Anglican Communion for ordaining women and homosexuals. A small number of dioceses and parishes have withdrawn from the Episcopal Church in recent years. Disputes about the ownership of church property are making their way through courts of law.
Jefferts Schori visited the Cathedral just after leading a service of repentance in Philadelphia that examined the historical role of the Episcopal Church in slavery, and the legacies of that role. That service was part of a larger effort, impelled by a resolution passed at the most recent General Convention, for the denomination and its dioceses to study the history and lingering effects of church involvement in chattel slavery.
Our social relationships in this country are still much impacted by the history of slavery and by ongoing racism, the presiding bishop says in her conversation with Lloyd. Until we begin to tell the stories and understand the direct impacts, and the way in which consequences of slavery still touch and influence our society, were not really going to be able to heal from it.
At the event in Philadelphia, eight dioceses reported findings about their own involvement of slavery. Jefferts Schori sketches the maltreatment of Absalom Jones, the first African American priest ordained in the Episcopal Church. We have a long way to go. Were still recovering our history. Were still recovering those stories and discovering the ways in which they influence our relationships today, she summarizes.
The presiding bishop also discusses the most recent Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of bishops of the Anglican Communion. Held in England since 1867, the conference has a fairly long pattern of passing resolutions about controversial topics, which are often directly contradicted by resolutions passed ten years later.
Additionally, the conference has something of a tradition of bishops absenting themselves. Jefferts Schori points out, The behavior weve seen at the Lambeth Conference just past is not new, where some bishops decide not to attend, and some are very public about their reasons for not attending. She says that just over half of eligible bishops attended the first Lambeth Conference.
Bishops do not always stay away from Lambeth in protest, the presiding bishop later indicates: in some parts of the world, archbishops of the national church can forbid their subordinate bishops from attending.
As Jefferts Schori describes these practices, Lloyd remarks, We have a history of not behaving well sometimes.
Jefferts Shori gently parries, We have a history of struggle in community, and deciding who is a full member and who isnt.
The most recent Lambeth returned to the original 19th-century vision of prayer, study, and conversation. No resolutions were passed. Bishops talked about the diverse societal contexts in which they serve, focusing on divisions that have grown up in the Anglican Communionand particularly on criticisms of the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada.
A number of us heard repeatedly, from a variety of bishops, that I may not agree with what youve done, and yes, your decisions have made my life harder, but my job is not to tell you that you have to ignore the issues in your context. Your job is not to make my life easier, Jefferts Schori recollects. The presiding bishop points out that human sexuality does not stir controversy in all national churches in the Anglican Communion. Many developing countries churches are far more concerned about hunger, poverty, and disease.
Differences of opinion, varieties of practice, and attention to social context have long characterized the Anglican Communion. Yes, we are experiencing some significant stress in the ability of people to maintain a diversity of opinion within this Communion. Thats not new, says Jefferts Schori. What is new is the pace of communication and the fact that people in Nigeria know about what weve done here, instantly. (The Anglican archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, has led a movement against the ordination of homosexuals and assumed a leadership role among American parishes seeking to leave the Episcopal Church.)
The day before Jefferts Schoris appearance at the Cathedral, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh voted, in a way that we think is illegal, effectively, to leave the Espicopal Church. It was not an overwheling majority, but it was a significant majority, Jefferts Schori said at the Cathedral. The Pittsburgh diocese has realigned itself with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America. Several days after Jefferts Schoris visit to the Cathedral, she recognized a new Standing Committee as the reorganized and legitimate Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Speaking of the rift in the Pittsburgh diocese, Jefferts Schori says at the Cathedral, Christians from the very early days, from the third and fourth centuries, have said its inappropriate for bishops to try to exercise authority in places that are not part of their geographic jurisdiction. So-called wandering bishops, such as the now deposed bishop of the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan, have been frowned on for hundreds and hundreds of years, she adds.
Jefferts Schori mentions similar actions in progress in Fort Worth and Quincy, Illinois. In San Joaquin, California, the Episcopal Church is now trying to reestablish a diocese after a split.
In the face of schism and controversy, Lloyd asks, what makes some congregations vibrant and alive? Are we focused on maintaining the institution or are we focused on the Gospel? the presiding bishop asks rhetorically, urging attention to Christs teachings as well as the maintenance of buildings. She also talks about uneven world progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and stewardship of the earth. Climate change, she asserts, is already affecting the worlds poorest people in drastic ways. She also speaks, as a licensed pilot, oceanographer, and member of the clergy, of her reverence for Gods creation, and of her early indications of a call to holy orders.
Katharine Jefferts Schori is the twenty-sixth presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, the first woman ever to hold those offices. Prior to her election in 2006, Jefferts Schori was bishop of the Diocese of Nevada. She spent a first career as a professional oceanographer and remains an avid airplane pilot. Her most recent book is A Wing And A Prayer: A Message of Faith and Hope.
About The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, previously bishop of Nevada, is the 26th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. She is chief pastor to the Episcopal Church’s 2.4 million members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses as well as its ecumenical officer and primate, joining leaders of the other 38 Anglican Provinces in consultation for global good and reconciliation. Jefferts Schori was elected at the 75th General Convention on June 18, 2006. She was formally invested at Washington National Cathedral on November 4, 2006.
Over the course of her 9-year term, Bishop Jefferts Schori is responsible for initiating and developing policy for the Episcopal Church and speaks on behalf of the church regarding the policies, strategies, and programs authorized by General Convention. She has been vocal about the Episcopal Church’s mission priorities, including the United Nation Millennium Development Goals, issues of domestic poverty, climate change and care for the earth, as well as the ongoing need to contextualize the gospel. The Presiding Bishop is charged to speak God's word to the church and to the world.
Bishop Jefferts Schori’s career as an oceanographer preceded her studies for the priesthood, to which she was ordained in 1994. She holds a B.S. in biology from Stanford University, an M.S. and Ph.D. in oceanography from Oregon State University, an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and several honorary doctoral degrees. She remains an active, instrument-rated pilot—a skill she applied when traveling between the congregations of the Diocese of Nevada, where she was elected bishop in 2000 and ordained to the episcopate February 24, 2001. At the time of her election as bishop of Nevada, she was a priest, university lecturer, and hospice chaplain in Oregon.
Bishop Jefferts Schori grew up in the Seattle area and has spent most of her life in the West. Bishop Jefferts Schori and her husband, Richard Miles Schori, a retired mathematician (topologist), were married in 1979. They have one daughter, who is a captain (pilot) in the U.S. Air Force.