Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman elected as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States in 2006.
But achieving that status, where she serves as chief pastor and primate to church members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses, wasn’t her toughest challenge.
“I had a much harder time as a woman oceanographer. I think we’ve come a long way,” she said Friday during a visit to All Saints of the Desert Episcopal Church in Sun City.
Still, as the 26th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Jefferts Schori said she never expected to attain such heights in the church.
“I thought the idea of being elected was totally ridiculous,” she said. “I thought, never in my lifetime will a woman be elected to this position. I was as surprised as anyone.”
Jefferts Schori said she is proud of her achievement but also looking forward to the day when it is no longer novel.
“There are nearly 20 women bishops in the Episcopal Church, many of them now retired,” she said. “We are treated fairly and justly by our brother bishops, but of course, there is still some resistance elsewhere that we must deal with.”
That was not the case in Sun City where she was warmly greeted on a cold day.
“She’s only visiting a few churches during her trip and we’re excited to have her here,” said Karen Miller, a member of the church. “Certainly it is not every day she comes to see us.”
The Rev. Bob Burton, rector at the church, said the goal was to give as many people as possible the chance to meet Jefferts Schori.
“This is not just for our congregation but for all Episcopalians in the West Valley,” he said. “Just a low-key event, an opportunity for her to meet a lot of people.”
During her visit, the bishop was asked about the uprising in Egypt. Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church and the greater Anglican Communion is still trying to figure that out what can be done.
“The best response our church might make is not yet clear,” she said. “We can pray, and we can advocate for tolerance. We can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Egypt.”
Speaking more generally about relations among faiths, Jefferts Schori asked the members of All Saints if they had reached out to any Muslim groups in their area. When several people shook their heads no, she urged them to change that.
“I would encourage you to start a dialogue with the Muslim faith,” she said. “There are many strands of Muslims that share a great deal in common with the Episcopal Church. God will use us if we are willing to work closely with each other. There are great possibilities.”
Jefferts Schori said she would be visiting Tucson over the weekend, her first visit in an official capacity. When a member of the audience asked her to push for further gun control measures in light of last month’s shootings in southern Arizona, she said the church has already taken a position.
“The Episcopal Church has been pretty clear in our position,” she said. “We are in favor of reasonable and fair gun control. Weapons of violence should not be freely available to just anyone who wants them.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.