WASHINGTON -- Katharine Jefferts Schori took office yesterday as the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, a first not only for her denomination but also for the global Anglican Communion, which has never had a female priest leading one of its provinces.
In a ceremony at the cavernous Washington National Cathedral, filled by more than 3,000 well-wishers, Jefferts Schori took leadership of the US church as the Anglican rift over the Bible and sexuality threatens to erupt into schism.
Jefferts Schori, 52, was bishop of Nevada when she was the surprise winner of the election for presiding bishop at the Episcopal General Convention in June.
Worshipers stood and faced the doors of the cathedral as Jefferts Schori knocked and entered, wearing a multicolored robe and miter. She walked in a procession toward the front of the church, led by people waving streamers and flags, as applause filled the sanctuary.
Outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold turned over the symbol of her new authority, the primatial staff, to Jefferts Schori.
She will now represent the American denomination to the many Anglican leaders angered by the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Her job is further complicated by her personal support for Robinson's election. She believes the church should ordain gays and bless same-sex couples, though she insists she won't impose her views on others.
"If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body, is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness," Jefferts Schori said in her sermon yesterday.
That may not be enough to appease other branches of the Anglican family, which take a traditional view that gay relationships are prohibited by Scripture. Some Anglican leaders also reject the idea of women's ordination: Jefferts Schori has said they'll have to "get over it."
The majority of Anglicans worldwide have conservative views on sexuality, but they are a minority in the Episcopal Church. Still, by withholding money and building alliances with like-minded Anglicans overseas, they have chipped away at the authority of the 2.3 million member denomination.
It now falls to Jefferts Schori to try to reconcile the Episcopal Church with its critics. She is willing to compromise on her personal views . For instance, she thinks the American church should honor the communion's request and refrain from electing any more gay bishops for now.