the way we live now

Geoffrey Kirk looks at Katharine Jeffers Schori's agenda and ponders the significance of her surprise appointment

Who is Katharine Jeffers Schori? In view of the fact that most members of the Anglican Communion will never have heard of her, and most of those who have will still be uncertain how to pronounce her name, the question might seem irrelevant. But not so. The election of Schori as the Twenty-sixth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was a defining moment, both for American Anglicans and for the world-wide Communion.

Schori is 52. She has been ordained for only twelve years (less time than most clergy spend in their first incumbency). All her experience was in one parish and diocese until election as Bishop of Nevada in 2001. She took a bachelors degree in biology from Stanford University, 1974; a masters in oceanography, from Oregon State University, 1977; a PhD from Oregon, 1983; a masters in divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, 1994. She is said to be fluent in Spanish. She has a pilots license. Other items in her curriculum vitae have proved to be somewhat exaggerated. The school of theology of which she was said to be ‘Dean,' for example, proved to be no more than the adult education programme of the church of which she was curate.

The appointment to the church’s senior post of a woman with so little experience and qualification, over a slate of candidates who had clearly been honing their CVs since seminary in the hope of such preferment, demands explanation. And the explanation surely is that Jeffers Schori is Woman for the Hour.

Let me explain what I mean. The Episcopal Church has decided to cut itself off from its roots, and to step away from its relationship with both historic Anglicanism and with the greater part of the contemporary Communion. It did both things deliberately and definitively at the 2006 General Convention. But it did more than that. It also articulated what was to replace them.

‘This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years,’ (they are Katharine’s own words, in her Inaugural Address) ‘by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals... That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us.' The Gospel of redemption through the Incarnation, Passion and Atonement of the Son of God has been replaced by a confident expectation of paradise on earth ‘where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, men and women treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation' if we all put our backs into it.

It is an agenda which entails the virtual surrender of the Nicene Creed in favour of the Charter of the United Nations. Few Episcopalians-in-the-pew, one suspects, are fully aware that the agenda which their General Convention has adopted is lifted verbatim from the documents of a body of which their Government has consistently taken a sceptical view. But Katharine (hence the timeliness of her appointment) is just the person to reassure them of the Tightness of that decision and of its godliness. She can manipulate the language of inclusion in a way which makes Griswold look like an amateur. And, as her investiture sermon demonstrated, she can make the new and deeper place to which Frank promised to take them sound like home-sweet-home and the internal divisions which the liberal agenda has already caused sound like ‘shalom' - peace, perfect peace.

The remarkable thing about Katharine’s sermon was how little it referred to the internal conflicts which characterize contemporary Episcopalianism. Never before have seven dioceses sought to dissociate themselves from the ministry of a presiding bishop. Never before has an Anglican Province chosen as its leader one whose orders are in doubt in many provinces and in her own. And yet that yawning chasm of credibility was alluded to only in passing in a sermon which was designed more to foster emotion than to encourage refection. Katharine clearly belongs to that large body of Episcopalians who talk incessantly about ‘waging reconciliation,’ but who have no intention whatever of taking steps in their own church which will bring it about.

The Episcopal Church, say twenty or more of its bishops, is not Windsor compliant. In the person of Katharine it declares, finally and irrevocably, that it is not Eames compliant. It will not declare a moratorium on same-sex blessings and gay bishops. In the person of its new presiding bishop it definitively ends any pretence at an open period of reception of women’s ordination which survived the mandatory canons of 1997. The person of its new presiding bishop is a pledge that there will be no repentance and no going back.

She is also The Episcopal Church’s word to Rowan Williams. Williams memorably said of the proposed appointment of Jeffrey John to the see of Reading that it would be anomalous to appoint as a bishop one whose ministry would not be received by many in the diocese or the wider Church. Now here comes Katharine, vocally supportive of the gay bishop who is causing Lambeth so much grief, and whose orders are unacceptable to many in her own Church and many more across the communion. Her trouser suits, her earrings, her luminous self-confidence spell out in letters many feet high ‘Back off Rowan.’

Who is Katharine Jefferts Schori? She is the Episcopal Church as its liberal activists would have it be. And yet she is extravagantly capable of clothing its extremism with carefully knitted euphemisms. ND

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