There are questions [see Correspondents] about the curriculum vitae of the Presiding Bishop elect of the Episcopal Church. It seems she has adopted the cavalier optimism of many CV writers and made the best of a bad job. Some might dismiss this as water under the bridge; but there are serious issues at stake.
For the errors (shall we call them exaggerations?) in Mrs Schori’s account of her life, have a purpose. They are there to cover up the remarkable fact that the new Presiding Bishop will enter on her term of office, only a decade after her ordination, having had no experience as a parish priest – and indeed no experience as an Anglican at all, lay or ordained, outside the Parish of The Good Shepherd, Corvallis, Oregon.
I have no idea how typical The Good Shepherd is of the life of the Episcopal Church. But it remains a fact that it was from her role there as assistant priest (curate – however that is dignified by high sounding titles) that she was elected bishop of the diocese of Nevada.
Nevada, it has to be said, is not much of a diocese. The Episcopal Church, which even more than the Church of England is optimistic with statistics, claims around 6,000 communicants. A visit to the diocesan website will confirm what might otherwise be expected: there is a high proportion of non-stipendiaries among the clergy and the parishes would probably not be financially viable without their services. The diocesan accounts bear out the picture of an institution which could hardly be described as thriving.
No one doubts Mrs Schori’s personal qualities. One Church of England bishop, who visited her in Nevada on a mission to learn about the impact of casinos on the life of a community, speaks of her charm and warmth. She has proved herself more than equal to the press and media interviews to which she has inevitably been subjected.
But there are two questions: would a man of similar pastoral experience, and experience of the life of the wider Church, have been elected to a similar position? And what does such an election tell the rest of the Communion about the state of the Episcopal Church?
To the first question the answer must surely be: No. On paper at least, the other, male, candidates were all better qualified than she.
The second question is more difficult to answer, but it must surely be in terms of the stability of the Episcopal Church, and its respect for ‘The Anglican Way’. We must, I think, conclude that the election to the highest office in that church of one who, as lay person and priest, has effectively experienced the life of only one of its parishes, and has been bishop in one of the least typical of its dioceses, speaks powerfully of its tenuous relationship with its own past and traditions. This is a church which is remaking itself afresh and anew.
To some that may seem invigorating and praise-worthy. But to the majority it will sound a warning note. The Episcopal Church is choosing – has chosen – to walk apart from the Anglican past and the greater part of the Communion. The appointment of this woman to this post says that and more.