WASHINGTON -- The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori was empowered to take charge of the Episcopal Church yesterday in a Gothic sanctuary filled with well-wishers and clouds of incense, becoming the first woman to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion's 520-year history.
The investiture of Jefferts Schori, an airplane pilot and former oceanographer, as presiding bishop of the denomination drew a standing ovation from the 3,200 people in Washington's National Cathedral, which was decorated with banners and flowers displaying the "colors of dawn" she selected as a motif: blues, greens, orange, silver and gold.
Continuing an ancient rite, the former bishop of Nevada banged three times on the cathedral's bronze west gates with her bishop's staff before entering, the sharp raps echoing off the stone walls and stained-glass windows. What followed was a vibrant, ethnically diverse welcoming procession led by Paiute Shoshone drummers, choral groups singing in Spanish and a Nigerian language, bishops in red walking two by two and dancers waving streamers of purple and magenta.
Her selection as the 26th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the denomination's highest office, was hailed as a breakthrough for women and for inclusion of gays and lesbians, which she supports. It also made her a target in an international battle over opposing views on sexuality and interpretation of Scripture that have pushed the worldwide 77 million-member Anglican Communion toward schism.
The fireworks began in September when traditional clergymen meeting in Rwanda proposed that Jefferts Schori be sidelined at the next Anglican primates' meeting, set for February in Tanzania, or accompanied by a U.S. bishop opposed to gay ordination and same-sex marriage.
At least four conservative U.S. dioceses have rejected her authority and asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, to place them under the jurisdiction of another leader.
In an interview last week, Jefferts Schori, 52, pointed out that her denomination has always been among the most progressive of mainstream churches.
"I'm going to Tanzania," she said. "The reality is that only a handful of bishops are unhappy. Africa is not monolithic or monochromatic in the same way the church here is not; they are not all of one mind."
Indeed, the archbishop of Cape Town and the bishop of the Anglican Church of Tanzania were among the church officials, dignitaries and lay people from around the world who watched the two-hour religious pageant.
The congregation cheered when her predecessor, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III, handed Jefferts Schori the primatial staff symbolizing her nine-year term as shepherd of the 2.4 million-member flock.
Other attendees included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; the bishop's husband, Richard Miles Schori, a retired mathematician; and her daughter, Katharine Johanna, 25, a first lieutenant and pilot in the Air Force.
Wearing a multicolored stole, Jefferts Schori delivered a 10-minute sermon that did not mention gays and the role of women specifically but called on Anglicans to overcome the divisions keeping them and the church from achieving the sense of wholeness and well-being, an absence of discord embodied by the Hebrew word shalom.
Louis Sahagun writes for the Los Angeles Times.