The Church Times interviewed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. She makes an observation that is interesting to ponder on this Independence Day.
She sets out her view of the Episcopal Church’s history and charism: ever-widening circles of inclusion into the full life of the Church. A path that parallels the struggles and tensions throughout our nation’s history.
“There is a long history of disagreement in the Episcopal Church. At heart, it’s about how people read scripture. Some people argue for the primacy of scripture, and won’t accept that there are other sources of authority.
“It’s a very old conflict, and we have always been forming minor splinter groups. We will always find something else to disagree about.” She puts conflict into a grand narrative of increasing inclusivity.
“The Episcopal Church has a widening understanding of what it is to be a human, an expanding anthropology, if you will. In the 1700s, a full member of the Church was a white man of majority who owned land; then we considered whether those who did not own land could be members. Next we wondered whether slaves could be members; then we questioned the whole issue of slavery.
“After that, we began to ask whether women could be full members. Then, here in the Episcopal Church, we’ve looked at the standing of children, baptised but not confirmed. Then gay and lesbian people, then disabled people. . . There will be other groups coming. I don’t know who they will be yet. It’s a long process of liberation.”
But earlier in the interview she answers a question about why it has taken so long for women to advance within the Episcopal Church–about why there are so few women Bishops and Cathedral Deans when there are so many women clergy.
She acknowledges that there is still ground to make up in the United States. “There is canonical equality,” she says, “but not equal access. The number of senior women – bishops, deans – does not represent the presence of women as priests.”
She thinks that the UK might eventually move faster than the Episcopal Church in the US, since priests and senior clergy are appointed to posts, not elected, as in the US. “I think you’re more fortunate in the UK, in that you don’t elect your bishops.”
The church’s 2011 report Called to Serve: A Study of Clergy Careers, Clergy Wellness, and Clergy Women shows the disparity between the canonical equality and equality of outcomes. See Stained glass ceiling still in place for women and Parish, family present predominant barriers to female clergy. The report found,
Thus the gender equality policies aimed at the formal structure of the Church have, it seems, largely succeeded, but the informal mechanisms that perpetuate inequality, those that occur in everyday interactions outside the arena of formal policy making, remain in place. … [I]t became clear that the world of the parish and the internal workings of the family still present barriers to the advancement of women clergy….
So what do you think? Is that “long process of liberation” helped or hindered by the councils of the church that elect bishops or choose rectors?