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Presiding Episcopal bishop speaks of joy, diverse opinions

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the Episcopal Church, visits the Diocese of Southwest Florida this week.

Jefferts Schori, who leads more than 2.4-million Episcopalians worldwide and 34,000 in the bay area, is coming to Tampa for the biannual meeting of the National Association of Episcopal Schools. It's her first visit as presiding bishop.

We talked with her Friday as she prepared for her trip.

What's the state of the Episcopal Church?

Most every place I visit, congregations and dioceses are energetically engaged in serving their neighbors both nearby and far away. What gets reported in the media is a matter of a relatively few people who are exceedingly unhappy and very noisy.

You've been in office for almost two years. Describe the landscape of the church.

In some sense, I think we're past the worst of the current controversies. I think most people are realizing that there are a variety of opinions in this church about the current hot-button issues as there have always been a variety of opinions about matters of great interest in the church. I'm fond of reminding people that in the late 1800s people were arguing vehemently about whether or not you could put candles on the altar. Significant numbers of people left the church over that issue. The current controversy is not new in its heat. What is new is the speed with which it's communicated around the world. But I think as Episcopalians we're remembering that we value a diversity of opinion, and that's part of our health and part of our DNA.

Are you any closer to resolving the controversial issues, which include disagreements over the ordination of gay priests?

I'm not sure these issues are ever going to be fully resolved. I think it's a matter of learning to live in the tension of not moving completely in one direction or the other. That's what Anglicans are good at and have been good at through our history.

Many people view the Episcopal Church as one of the most liberal denominations in the United States. How do you feel about that characterization?

I don't think that's accurate. We're actually very conservative in our liturgical tradition. We worship in ways that are very much like the ways the early Christian communities worshiped. We're conservative in the sense that we retain the best of what comes from the past. And we're progressive in the sense that we think our job is, in every generation, to present the gospel in language and images that can be understood by new generations.

What would you say to individuals who might be considering leaving the denomination?

I would remind them that their voice and their gifts are welcome and needed in this church and that we lament their going if they decide they need to go. At the same time, if they decide they need to pursue their spiritual journey in another place, we pray all the best for them.

Why did the denomination feel the need to apologize recently for its historical role in the institution of slavery?

The proximate cause was a resolution passed at our last general convention in 2006 asking the church to formally apologize for its participation in the sin of slavery. We did that in a formal way on Oct. 4. My hope is that service is the first of many services that will happen in local dioceses and in congregations as people begin to discover the history of their communities over the last several hundred years. How they've participated in slavery, how they've benefited from slavery, how they continue to benefit from injustice in this country.

What have you learned about yourself since you've been in office?

I've learned that I keep on learning. Every day presents opportunities for discovering in greater depth what it means to be a messenger of good news in this world.

How would you characterize your time in office?

Busy and full. And a great delight and a great joy to see the church engaged in mission in all its varied parts and contexts.

What does a bishop do for fun?

I like to go mountain climbing, backpacking and flying.

Sherri Day can be reached at sday@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

>>fast facts

Visit to diocese

This week the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, visits the Diocese of Southwest Florida.

Following is her itinerary.

Thursday: Preaches the opening Eucharist of the National Association of Episcopal Schools biannual meeting in Tampa. Conference attendees only.

Friday: Meets with clergy at DaySpring Conference Center, Ellenton. At 6 p.m., takes questions at a reception at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Venice. Tickets required.

Saturday: Visits young adults at retreat in Ellenton. Lunches with Southwest Florida diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith. Tours Berkeley Preparatory School and St. John's Day School in Tampa.

Sunday: Celebrates the Eucharist and preaches at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 4311 W San Miguel St. in Tampa. The public is invited.

Questions? Call the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida at (941) 556-0315.

Presiding Episcopal bishop speaks of joy, diverse opinions 11/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 10:15pm]
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