<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Women as Denominational or Organizational Leaders</b> <p> * * * <p> Denominational leadership is hardest for women to achieve because it involves real power, and because those who elect or appoint such leaders must overcome any lingering gender bias in their decision-making. Still, the numbers of women in such positions are growing. In the Christian world, women now serve as bishops in major American denominations, including the Episcopal, Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Reformed, and African-Methodist Episcopal churches. And of course, the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church is a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori. <p> In churches that do not have the office of bishop, women have also made strides. Rev. Susan Andrews became the first woman elected to head the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 2003. Rev. Sharon Watkins is the president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She was also the first woman ever to preach at an Inaugural Prayer Service, that for President Barack Obama in January 2009. The Unitarian Universalists have yet to elect a woman as denominational president, but they were among the earliest to ordain women as pastors. In 1999, they became the first religious denomination in the United States where ordained women outnumbered ordained men. <p> In the Jewish world, women have been elected presidents of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the umbrella group for the Reform tradition in Judaism. The first was Rabbi Janet Marder; the second was Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus. In the Reconstructionist tradition, Rabbi Toba Spitzer was chosen to lead the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association in 2007, and Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld became the first woman to chair the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism. <p> In the Muslim world, Dr. Ingrid Mattson is the first woman (and the first convert) to become president of the Islamic Society of North America. In some parts of the world, Muslim women are now recognized as <i>muftis</i>, or Islamic scholars with the right to issue <i>fatwas</i> (authoritative religious edicts). This has been the practice in India for some time, and there are movements in that direction in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. <p> There are also signs of new leadership roles for women in Islam. For example, Muslim women have recently been installed as <i>mourchidates</i> in Morocco. This is a social service role, not unlike deacons in Christianity, but it is an attempt to institutionalize women's leadership, and it may be a step toward other leadership roles for women in Islam. <p> Leadership and structures in the Eastern religious traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism are informal, and leaders are less often elected than "proclaimed" and then ultimately recognized and accepted by a sizeable following. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati is a prominent woman guru in the Hindu tradition at Kashi Ashram in Florida. The Venerable Tenzin Palmo is a highly respected Buddhist nun and spiritual leader, as is Pema Chodron, who has a following in Europe, Australia, and North America. Ishani Chowdhury became the face of Hinduism in official Washington, especially during her tenure as director of public policy for the Hindu American Foundation. Karen Pechelis emphasized the growth of female gurus in the Hindu tradition in her book, <i>The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States</i>. <p> When I interviewed women in these roles, I sometimes addressed questions about women's leadership, but most of these women—while recognizing their historic roles—do not dwell on their "firsts." They are concerned about issues that challenge their respective denominations. <p> <p> <b>Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori <p> First Woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and First Woman Primate of the Anglican Communion</b> <p> Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is the twenty-sixth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the first woman primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion. She was elected in 2006 at the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Before that, she served as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada. She is also an oceanographer and a licensed pilot. Appropriately, her first book is called <i>A Wing and a Prayer.</i> <p> I spoke with Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in June 2007 when she was dealing with severe splits in the Episcopal Church over the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests and bishops. <p> <p> <b>Maureen Fiedler:</b> You are one of those rare firsts among women who make it to the top. How has that been for you? Do you celebrate it? Do you find it a challenge to be the first woman, or do you mostly not think about it? <p> <b>Katharine Jefferts Schori:</b> It's not a big issue for me. I'm certainly aware that for some people, I am a symbol of something far larger. But I've spent most of my adult life in professions that are dominated by men, and so it really does not feel like anything terribly unusual to me. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> How have others received you as a woman in the Episcopal Church of the United States and in the worldwide Anglican Communion? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Mostly with graciousness. When we meet each other as human beings face-to-face, there's usually abundant graciousness. We find it generally difficult to be rude to other people when we meet them for the first time. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> I know from your new book, A Wing and a Prayer, that you are deeply concerned about what you call bodybuilding, which means in your case building the body of Christ, or the community of the faithful. But as we all know, the Episcopal Church body has some splinters these days; some churches have even said they are seceding from the Episcopal Church. How serious is this split in your view? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Numerically, it's fairly minor. And that's not something that's always evident in the media. We have about 7,400 congregations in the Episcopal Church. And those, in which a majority of dissenters are a sizable number, have voted to disassociate from the Episcopal Church. They number about forty-five, so it's well under one percent of the total. That said, there are clearly more people than that who are unhappy with some of the decisions of the last couple of General Conventions, but they're not going anywhere. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> So you're not really expecting more parishes to say that they are splitting themselves from the parent body? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> No, I don't expect a significant increase. Most of the ones who are exceedingly unhappy have probably already acted. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> What is your understanding of the issues that caused this split? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> First of all, I would not call it a split. I would call it some individuals deciding to leave the church. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> Just to be technically clear—in the Episcopal tradition, churches can't secede, but individuals can leave the church? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> That's absolutely correct. We have always struggled about who is a member of the community, and who is not. If you look at the very earliest history of Christianity, there were significant struggles over whether Gentiles could be followers of Jesus. The first great church councils, if we can call them by so august a name, were about whether Gentile converts had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish dietary laws. And certainly in our own country, we've had a long series of challenging conversations about the place of slaves in the church, about the place of immigrants in the church, about the place of women in the church. And today, the conversation is about the place of gay and lesbian people in the church. And I remain convinced that there will be another group yet to come. I don't know who it's going be, but it seems to be part of the fallen nature of humanity to want to define ourselves over against some other group. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> Does the split, in your view, have anything to do with the Episcopal Church's moving away from traditional understandings of authority? Or treating theological teaching, or truth, as somehow relative? That's what some critics claim. <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Anglicanism has always held up as a high value a broad understanding of theological belief. We have said that we are comprehensive, for the sake of truth. We're willing to live with some tension without having to define everything in black and white. The great genius of the Elizabethan Settlement was that people worshiped together and were permitted to hold a variety of theological understandings of what actually happened at Communion in the Eucharist. That's been part of our gift and value, and some people find it uncomfortable, especially in a culture that is not supportive of that. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> In other words, the Episcopal Church is tolerant of different theological views, within certain boundaries? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Not just tolerant, but affirming of differences as a sign of health. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> Some critics have raised the question of the centrality of Christ in the church. Is that an issue for Episcopalians: new understandings of Christ that are troubling some people? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> I think that it's another expression of discomfort with a variety of understandings. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> Was the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is, as we know, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, the precipitating moment for much of discomfort, in your view? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> In some people's view, certainly. But Gene is not the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. The Bishop of Utah, when he retired, wrote to the elder members of the House of Bishops and came out. So Gene is not the first, but he's certainly the first who was elected as an openly gay man. There have clearly been numerous gay priests and bishops throughout the history of the church. Gene Robinson is the first who's been willing to be open in public about that during the election process. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> How about comfort with the role of women in the Episcopal Church? It's in fairly recent history, beginning with the irregular ordinations in '74, followed by regular ordinations in '76, that you even began to have women as priests. And within several years there were women bishops, and now you are the first woman presiding bishop. Is there general comfort with that, or is it still an underlying issue in the Episcopal Church? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> It is an underlying issue for some people in the Episcopal Church. Out of 110 dioceses, there are still three diocesan bishops who do not recognize the validity of ordained women as priests or bishops. A couple of them do permit women deacons. And there are certainly some of the faithful in our church who are uncomfortable with the idea of women in ordained leadership. Some theologians, feminist theologians in particular, point to the connection between the place of women and the place of gay and lesbian people in the church as challenging the traditional patriarchal understanding of authority and leadership. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> With some churches claiming to secede, there is the question of who owns the church property. Where does that stand legally? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> We've been very clear over the recent decades, and clear in our canons, that all property is held in trust for the larger body, and that congregations do not own their property. They may hold title to it, but that title is held in trust for the larger community, because in most cases, that property is the result of the gifts, and the legacy of generations for the mission and ministry of generations yet to come. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> But there will be a contest in civil court over this, will there not? There are lawsuits pending. <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> There are some in process now, and most of them have been decided in favor of the national body. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> Aren't some of the issues within the Episcopal Church writ a bit larger in the worldwide Anglican Communion? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Yes, and the problems are complex. We're dealing with a history of colonialism, and colonialism that's beginning to be turned against the United States. And it's important to remember that the Episcopal Church is not just the church in the United States. We also have ten overseas dioceses in places like Taiwan, Honduras, Venezuela, and Haiti. Often, decisions that this church makes are equated with policies and actions of our government. <p> It's also important to remember that in places where there appear to be protests about actions of this church, that voice often comes from the archbishop of Canterbury. There is a diversity of opinion in every part of the Anglican Communion. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> And that diversity of the opinion within the Anglican Communion was expressed, for example, in your meeting in Tanzania earlier this year, in a discussion of gay and lesbian issues, was it not? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Certainly, and that's probably an important thing to talk about. In that gathering of thirty-four or thirty-five bishops, leaders of their provinces, there were certainly a handful who are exceedingly unhappy with actions of the Episcopal Church. There is a much larger number who are tremendously annoyed that we are spending so much time and energy on this because people in their own provinces are dying of hunger, lack of medication, or medical care. And honestly, they are seeking for us as a Communion to move toward those life and death issues. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> What can be done to heal the rift? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Healing or reconciliation happens between individuals. It's not something that happens as easily between institutions or groups of people. For bodies that have separated to reconcile takes the kind of laborious work that we see in ecumenical dialogue. It takes meetings of individuals over months, years, sometimes decades, and centuries to find common ground. <p> The current conflict certainly has its roots in some earlier decisions of this church that were also problematic: our introduction of a new Prayer Book in 1979, the introduction of a new hymnal, the ordination of women. In some places, those were handled with more pastoral effectiveness than in others. But wounds remain in some places. The conversations about sexuality, in places where they cause significant pain, are often connected to places where those earlier decisions have been very painful. And pain often causes people to separate. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> Your book, <i>A Wing and a Prayer</i>, is a collection of your finest sermons, or homilies. There are many marvelous images and stories in it. I'm wondering, as you look at the book now, what part is most relevant to your role today as presiding bishop? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Probably the focus on building shalom, building the reign of God, a community of justice and peace, where people's basic human dignity is attended to, where people can begin to value the diversity of creation, rather than seeing it as inordinate challenge, and where we can learn to live with others who are different from us. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> You talk about "shalom" not simply as a surface word that can be translated easily as "peace," but as something deeper. <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> Absolutely; it's about transformed life, which is the focus of Christianity. <p> <b>Fiedler:</b> You also talk a great deal in your book about issues like poverty, peace, and justice. Does it trouble you that issues like those that are involved in the split in the church deflect attention from these more pressing global issues? <p> <b>Jefferts Schori:</b> It's abundantly clear that the conversation about human sexuality is part of the vocation of this church in this season. And it has been for several decades. But it's not the whole of our vocation. Our mission as a church is about building a healed world, one that looks more like the reign of God. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling</b> Copyright © 2010 by Maureen Fiedler. Excerpted by permission of Seabury Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.