Issue Date: February 22, 2008
By DANIEL BURKE
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.
Shes 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 shes trying to channel all her passion in one place.
Since Jefferts Schoris installation slightly more than a year ago, shes 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.
Its been a year of a steep learning curve, she said in an interview last month. But its been a delightful privilege to travel around and see the ways in which the church is fully engaged in its mission.
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.
It would be easier to let U.S. conservatives secede to join another Anglican province without a fight, said Jefferts Schori, but I dont think thats 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 its 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 whove left or distanced themselves from the church, said the Rev. Neal Michell, canon for strategic development in the Dallas diocese.
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 bishops decision to become involved in a legal battle between the Virginia diocese 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 churchs mission, said Harmon.
But resolving the internal squabbles is part of the churchs mission, Jefferts Schori insists, because its about how we live together.
National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2008
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