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Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offers message of hope [National Press Club]

By Hope Katz Gibbs
The Record, National Press Club
Photo by Marshall Cohen
December 16, 2008

“Help us tell the world that fear is not the answer,” Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told a room filled with the faithful and skeptical who came to hear her speak today at the National Press Club.

“When one part of this nation or world suffers, we all do,” insisted the 26th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, who is the first woman to lead a national church in the 520-year history of Anglicanism. “We no longer live in a hermetically sealed nation or economic system — if we ever did. Protectionist and isolationist policies are not going to heal us. We are all going to be affected by massive layoffs in the manufacturing sector, and in the financial sector. The same maxim applies to us in this country as is often quoted in the developing world, that when the U.S. sneezes, Haiti or Honduras gets a cold.”

In addition to having a PhD in oceanography and being a semi-professional pilot, since November 2006 she has been the 26th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church — the first woman to lead a national church in the 520-year history of Anglicanism.

She serves as chief pastor to the Episcopal Church’s 2.4 million members in 16 countries and 10 dioceses, as well as the American representative to the worldwide Anglican Communion, a body of 38 provinces and 77 million worshippers.

And like any amazing woman — she isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. In fact, Schori took over just a few years after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church consecrated openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. After the affirmation was announced, 20 Episcopal bishops rose in protest.

“I will stand against the actions of the Convention with everything I have and everything I am,” declared Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh. “I have not left, and will not leave, the Episcopal Church…it is this 74th General Convention that has left us, betrayed us, undone us.”

Schori’s liberal ideas on homosexuality, same-sex partnerships, and other social issues have continued to frustrate some of the conservative members of the Episcopal Church. In her first national interview after being elected, she told CNN that she does not believe homosexuality is a sin:

“I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us. And some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender.”

Just weeks ago — on December 3, 2008 — theological conservatives from the Episcopal Church announced they were founding their own rival denomination. Schori told large crowd that had gathered at the NPC yesterday that she and like-minded colleagues “tried hard to negotiate for a long time. But finally, when we couldn’t come to a consensus, we asked the courts to act.”

Throughout her speech, entitled “Religion in the Public Square,” Schori maintained that it is important for everyone be hopeful and fearless in their convictions.

“Perhaps the first role of religion in such times is to be a messenger, like one of those biblical angels, who starts out by saying, fear not,” Bishop Schori said. “Don’t be afraid; this whole thing is a lot bigger than you are. Yes, change is coming, and it will drive some people crazy, and at the same time not go far enough for others. In more secular language, we might say, don’t sweat the small stuff. And more of it is small stuff than you might expect. At the same time, the religious voice will remind you that how you deal with the small stuff does not affect you alone – your actions may have consequences beyond your wildest imagining.”

She concluded her speech, saying: “On two occasions in the last few days, leaders in my own church have said to me that the church only makes the front page if it’s about schism or sex – and in the current era, preferably both. The reality experienced by most Episcopalians, and indeed most faithful people, is of their congregations gathering for weekly worship, saying their prayers, and serving their neighbors, nearby and far away.”

“That service happens in remarkable and profound ways, building schools in Africa, clinics in Haiti, digging wells in the Philippines, as well as prodding our legislators to attend to issues of climate change, access to health care, and funding AIDS work in Africa. It is the rare few who are consumed by conflict, and they tend not to last, for intense and prolonged conflict is not life giving. “

“Help us tell the stories of transformation, of moving toward that hopeful future, for which the world hungers,” Bishop Schori said. “Help us tell the world that fear is not the answer.”

For the final question of the day, NPC President Sylvia Smith asked Jefferts Schori what she prays about privately that would surprise us. Jefferts Schori answered: “I pray for people who consider me their enemy. I believe that whenever we face an obstacle in our lives, praying for those who challenge us is a necessary part of our journey.” As for whether that’s a hard task: “No, not when it becomes a discipline.”


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