Beliefnet News

By Daniel Burke
2008 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) For a woman sitting on a very warm seat, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, seems remarkably cool.
Even those who disagree with her progressive leadership agree that the 53-year-old remains unflappable under duress.
“She’s centered and intense,” said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a well-regarded conservative theologian from South Carolina. “You get a sense when she answers a question that she’s trying to channel all her passion in one place.”
Since Jefferts Schori’s installation slightly more than a year ago, she’s had plenty of opportunities to test her poise. The presiding bishop, who serves a nine-year term, is chief pastor and executive of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church.
“It’s been a year of a steep learning curve,” she said in an interview Wednesday (Jan. 16). “But it’s been a delightful privilege to travel around and see the ways in which the church is fully engaged in its mission.”
Part of that mission, Jefferts Schori said, is demonstrating how a diverse community can “value the person and positions of others who disagree with us.”
Her historic election in 2006, when she became the first woman to lead a national province of the worldwide Anglican Communion since the Church of England was founded in the mid-1500s, immediately riled traditionalist parts of the church, even as women rejoiced.
Conservatives in her Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion were already incensed over the 2004 consecration of a partnered gay man as bishop of New Hampshire. Jefferts Schori supported that election.
Now dozens of churches — including an entire diocese in California
— have left the Episcopal Church for more conservative branches of the Anglican Communion. Lawsuits over property and assets have followed close behind.
“She has the hardest job in the world,” said Diana Butler Bass, an Episcopalian and author of “Christianity for the Rest of Us,” who had high praise for Jefferts Schori’s leadership. “What a terrible time to come into a job.”
It would be easier to let U.S. conservatives secede to join another Anglican province without a fight, said Jefferts Schori, “but I don’t think that’s a faithful thing to do.”
Episcopal leaders are stewards of church property and assets, protecting past generations’ legacies and passing them on to future Episcopalians, according to the presiding bishop. Allowing congregations to walk away with church property condones “bad behavior,” she said.
“In a sense it’s related to the old ecclesiastical behavior toward child abuse,” when priests essentially looked the other way, she said.
“Bad behavior must be confronted.”
But Jefferts Schori can be “heavy handed” in her treatment of conservative bishops and churches who’ve left or distanced themselves from the church, said the Rev. Neal Michell, canon for strategic development in the Diocese of Dallas.
Earlier this month, Episcopal leaders, including Jefferts Schori, charged two conservative bishops with “abandonment,” barring San Joaquin
(Calif.) Bishop John-David Schofield from active ministry and threatening similar action against Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh.
Both Michell and Harmon also criticized the presiding bishop’s decision to become involved in a legal battle between the Diocese of Virginia and 11 churches that have split to join Nigerian Anglicans.
“To be so directly and explicitly and publicly and intentionally involved in these processes is terribly counterproductive to the church’s mission,” said Harmon.
But resolving the internal squabbles is part of the church’s mission, Jefferts Schori insists, “because it’s about how we live together.”
Even with all the burdens of the job, the nature-loving former oceanographer said the most challenging part of the past year has been living at church headquarters in New York City.
“Having my focal place in a city where there are very few wild things, except, I’m told, the nightlife,” is difficult, said Jefferts Schori.

Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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