WASHINGTON – Katharine Jefferts Schori took office Saturday as the first female leader of the Episcopal Church and the first woman priest to head an Anglican province, two landmarks that could quickly be overshadowed by divisions over the Bible and sexuality throughout world Anglicanism.
Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays, acknowledged the rift in an elaborate ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral, urging parishioners to “make peace” with those who oppose the direction of the U.S. church. In 2003, the denomination consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
“If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body, is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness,” Jefferts Schori said during her ceremony.
Jefferts Schori, 52, was bishop of Nevada when she was the surprise winner of the election for presiding bishop at the Episcopal General Convention in June. A former oceanographer who was ordained in 1994, she had served only about five years as a bishop.
Her election was celebrated as a victory for women clergy and for Episcopalians who support full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the 2.3 million-member denomination. It was decried by U.S. traditionalists and many Anglicans overseas who do not want to recognize Jefferts Schori’s leadership.
More than 3,000 people filled the church to welcome the new presiding bishop.