The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori indicated Tuesday morning that she would not seek re-election at the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City. The announcement puts to rest speculation that the first female Presiding Bishop could have also been the first to seek re-election.
“I believe I can best serve this Church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori said in a statement released by the Episcopal Office of Public Affairs. “I also believe that I can offer this Church stronger and clearer leadership in the coming year as we move toward that election and a whole-hearted engagement with necessary structural reforms. I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse Church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored Creation.”
Speculation over whether Jefferts Schori would seek a second term was sparked earlier this year in a Missouri Public Radio interview. In the interview, Jefferts Schori pushed back against the implication that she couldn’t seek another term, and indicated that she was still in the process of discernment. In response to a question of whether she was “not saying ‘no’ to the possibility of a second term,” Jefferts Schori responded, “That’s correct.”
There has never been a re-election of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Under church law, if the Presiding Bishop would turn 72 during their term, they must resign at the General Convention closest to that birthday. With the shorter nine-year term and Jefferts Schori’s relative youth, she would have been the first Presiding Bishop capable of serving two full terms.
Jefferts Schori’s term has been a controversial one, to say the least. The election of a female primate would have been contentious enough, given the debates throughout the Anglican Communion over women’s ordination and consecration. But Jefferts Schori was also famous for her unfettered political and theological liberalism, and has a knack for making controversial comments that inflame more orthodox Christians. Most recently, Jefferts Schori was criticized for a sermon in Curacao, during which she said that St. Paul was wrong to heal a demon-possessed girl, in that he “depriv[ed] her of her spiritual gifts.” But before that was her denial that a belief in Jesus was the sole path to salvation, her references to “mother Jesus,” and her claim that a belief in individual salvation was the “great Western heresy”.
Needless to say, Jefferts Schori also presided over an unprecedented decline in membership and average Sunday attendance. So far in her term, the number of baptized members has fallen 12.08%, partly due to an exodus of traditionalist Anglicans to alternative Anglican jurisdictions.
IRD Anglican Action Director Jeff Walton said that despite their mutual adversity, traditionalist Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise. “The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) would most likely not have found their footing without an exodus of conservative Episcopalians sent packing by the clear, unambiguous contrasts drawn by Jefferts Schori that Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation and that personal salvation is a heresy.”
“Similarly, Jefferts Schori directly benefited from church traditionalists: she was elected by the slimmest of margins with support from three conservative bishops, including the late John-David Schofield of the Diocese of San Joaquin. Schofield correctly identified that the Episcopal Church had already committed to a liberalizing trajectory, and that an election of Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley as Presiding Bishop would not alter this path. Instead, Schofield foresaw the crisis that a Jefferts Schori election would exacerbate, and the wedge she would drive between the Episcopal Church and the Global South.”
A new presiding bishop will be elected at the Episcopal Church’s 75th General Convention, set to meet in Salt Lake City beginning June 25, 2015.