The Episcopal Church elects its first female leader

First a gay man, now a woman! The American arm of the Anglican Communion does more trailblazing.

Published June 19, 2006 4:16PM (EDT)

The American electorate has yet to put a woman in the top political post. But the Episcopal Church made history Sunday by electing Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, as the first woman in the world to lead a branch of the global Anglican Communion -- nearly 30 years after the American church started ordaining women.

Though praised by many, the choice to elect Jefferts Schori, bishop of Nevada, has the potential to further strain the unity of the Episcopal Church, which has been in internal turmoil since it shocked the international Anglican Communion by consecrating the church's first gay bishop three years ago. As a result of that decision, some American congregations left the Episcopal Church and branches overseas threatened to break away.

The Episcopalians will determine later this week if they should temporarily bar gays from leading dioceses. Ironically, Jefferts Schori will have to justify that decision to some of the same people who don't think women should be ordained either. (The Church of England is consumed with the debate on a woman's place in the church, and some conservative American dioceses, which don't support female bishops, are talking schism.)

But Jefferts Schori has experience making a place for herself in a male world: She is a former oceanographer and a licensed pilot. "When I was growing up, girls didn't aspire to such things. Girls sang in the choir," she said told the Associated Press. But preaching, she said, "led me to realize it was something I wanted to do."

Lead on, Jefferts Schori!

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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