WASHINGTON – Katharine Jefferts Schori took office Saturday as the first woman presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, a first not only for her denomination but also for the global Anglican Communion, which has never before had a female priest leading one of its provinces.
In a ceremony at the cavernous Washington National Cathedral, filled by more than 3,000 well-wishers, Jefferts Schori took leadership of the U.S. church as the Anglican rift over the Bible and sexuality threatens to erupt into schism.
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.
She took the primatial staff, the symbol of her authority, from outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.
She will now represent the American denomination to the many Anglican leaders angered by the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Her job is further complicated by her personal support for Robinson's election. She believes the church should ordain gays and bless same-sex couples, though she insists she won't impose her views on others.
That may not be enough appease other branches of the Anglican family, which take a traditional view that gay relationships are prohibited by Scripture. Some Anglican leaders also reject the idea of women's ordination: Jefferts Schori has said they'll have to "get over it."
The majority of Anglicans worldwide have conservative views on sexuality, but they are a minority in The Episcopal Church. Still, by withholding money and building alliances like-minded Anglicans overseas, they have chipped away at the authority of the 2.3-million-member denomination.
It now falls to Jefferts Schori to try and reconcile The Episcopal Church with its critics. She is willing to compromise on her personal views to some degree. For instance, she thinks the American church should honor the communion's request and refrain from electing any more gay bishops for now.
Seven U.S. conservative dioceses have already rejected her authority and have asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, to assign them another national leader. Three of the dioceses do not support ordaining women.
Jefferts Schori has spent her life tackling outsized challenges.
She is an oceanographer who graduated from Stanford University, a rock climber and a pilot who flew her plane to visit parishes around the sprawling Nevada Diocese.
Her husband of more than 25 years, Richard Schori, is a retired mathematician. Their daughter, 25-year-old Katharine Johanna, is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
Jefferts Schori decided to pursue full-time ministry after federal funding for her scientific research dried up. She was ordained in 1994.