Monday, November 23, 2009
I was prepared to be impressed with The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori, and I was. Her presence at the Central NY diocesan convention was marked by listening and sharing. She welcomed questions, but she also raised our eyes to what was going on even in our area. She gave credit to those who deserved it but also called from us the kind of ministry that we are all called to.
On Friday night she met with the clergy and their spouses for happy hour and dinner. She is a small woman who is going to have to deal with osteoporosis, I think, as she spends herself in the service of the Church. She said she hadn’t been home in two week and hadn’t seen her husband in three. That kind of job tears at one. I give thanks that she is willing to give of her self in service to us. She is incredibly frank but with a wonderful sense of quiet humor that marks the best of us. She has a gentleness that covers incredible strength that is rooted in God.
The first question she was asked by a spouse was if she was going to comment publicly on the situation in Uganda where there is legislation pending on the criminalization and even the death penalty for gays. Her explanation was measured and revealing. She has listened to the LGBT people of Uganda and refrained to do so because it would be pouring oil on the fire. Her comment on behalf of TEC would be seen as one more attempt at colonial censure. But she did say that she would be trying to address the monied interests in the US who fund the ultra-conservative efforts of the Mimms crowd and who are funding much of the anti LGBT element in Africa and the UK. She understands how communications in other places are grasped and is clearly informed about how to make her point. It is clear that she has good resources to call upon when she needs to make decisions.
Her non-anxious presence is amazing. More than the last two PB’s she can address and listen to those who are opposed to her without becoming defensive. She can be as welcoming to conservative or liberal alike. But she seemingly does not take a back step when addressing the tough issues. I must admit that I was not happy with her moratorium on LGBT consecrations in 2006. But her leadership in such places as San Joachin, Pittsburgh and Ft. Worth has been steadfast and tough. Her leadership in CNY was collaborative but not flashy. She is outwardly an exceedingly humble person. She knows she stands on the shoulders of the women who were ordained in ‘74 and ‘75. She knows that her experience of the episcopacy is predicated by +Barbara Harris and +Jane Dixon and others. But I think that she brings her own sense of spirituality to the position with a kind of flinty, no-nonsense womanhood that the House of Bishops has needed.
She has no aversion to calling the baptized of the diocese to a taking back of the ministry of the Church. She does not mince words or is she “nice” for the sake of being “nice”. She is filled with stories about how CNY is not unique in the Church because of our shrinking congregations or financial troubles. But she conveys the hope that we can, as has other places throughout the Church, be about the ministry of Jesus Christ despite our difficulties. She has, in one weekend, called the people of CNY to exercise their ministry, to live out Christ’s presence in our lives, and to not wait for approbation of clergy or diocesan leadership. But most of all ++Katharine made herself available to us. She is not in some ivory tower in NYC. She stood with a glass of wine in groups of us and chatted with us, entertained questions, told stories of those in other parts of TEC and was interested in how we were living out our lives in TEC. She has been in 90 of the 110 diocese of TEC in a mere 4 and that says something about her willingness to be present to us.
Both + Skip and +Ted Gulick have commented to me on the extraordinary sense of the Holy Spirit when ++Katharine was elected in 2006. I have heard others say the same thing online. I have always understood the presence of the Holy Spirit to underlie the workings of our conventions. And I feel God has given us in ++Katharine the kind of leadership that the HOB and TEC needs at this time. This does not mean that I think she has some kind of magical quality to rule. I believe that we have in her an extraordinary person who can and does access others and God to make decisions that serve the Church. She has gifts for inclusion that cannot be denied. It says to me that TEC is in good hands and that we can trust God to strengthen her for the next six years. But she also gives us an image of what Christian leadership can be in all orders. By her very presence she calls us to inclusion, to peaceful discussion, to educated and informed approaches to faith and to strength to proclaim a Gospel that is willing to explore new ways of living out the Christian message of hope.