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Episcopal bishop thrives in male-dominated world

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Katharine Jefferts Schori visits Camp Galilee.
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GLENBROOK – Come November, the nation’s first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal church will put Nevada in the spotlight and herself in a familiar territory – on the fringe of a turbulent world.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the current bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, knows the challenges of sitting in a male-dominated post that represents 110 dioceses across the nation and works with 300 bishops. Three regional churches are located in Incline Village, Carson City and Minden.

After about two decades of service, she was elected to the highest post of the church in June, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States. The position will also serve as a U.S. diplomat to the international Christian community. She’ll set up an office in New York City.

Before being ordained in 1994 in the Episcopal church, the 52-year-old Las Vegas resident who grew up between the Northwest and New Jersey worked as an oceanographer – another line of work most commonly associated with men. She recalled an instance in which a captain on a research boat gave her less than a warm welcome.

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“He wouldn’t talk to me. He didn’t think women belong at sea,” she said, while relaxing on the shores of Lake Tahoe at Camp Galilee in Glenbrook last week. With her calm demeanor and confident nature, Schori just shrugged off the discriminatory behavior and moved on.

Schori has a new set of challenges to confront with a church in a state of crossroads – including the clergy’s attitude about global warming, which Schori believes is a real crisis. Old ideals about divorce, contraception and same-sex marriage have given way to a new way of dealing with the modern world.

The latter issue provided the Episcopal church with much discourse during a recent convention when it appeared to relax its rules on alternative lifestyles.

“We did say as a church that it’s appropriate or acceptable for individual congregations to bless couples as a matter of pastoral practice,” she said.

Then, there are other changing signs.

“We’re changing attitudes about divorce,” she said. The church finds it appropriate to encourage divorce for the safety of the people involved.

“We’re more flexible than the Catholic Church,” she said.

The irony is, Catholicism was part of the Episcopal Church before a split in the 1500s.

In modern times, Schori has also split from critics in the Christian community who lambasted Dan Brown’s best-selling book “The Da Vinci Code” over a fictional account of a married Jesus Christ.

“I thought it was a great story. I think (the controversy) comes out of fear when people’s beliefs are threatened,” she said. But she further admits to understanding the thorny point made in the book.

Schori finds the situation in the Middle East disturbing, but she recognizes it as a part of the people’s reality for thousands of years.

“We often have the strongest conflict with people closest to us,” she said, equating the war-plagued region to “siblings arguing over an inheritance.” She stressed the need for Palestinians and Israelis to recognize each other’s existence.

Her sense of adventure isn’t limited to work. Schori – a Stanford University graduate, is a certified pilot who owns a Cessna 172.

“It’s my way of getting around Nevada,” she said.

Her 25-year-old daughter Kate Harris of Dayton, Ohio, also flies as an Air Force pilot.

Moreover, she and her husband of 27 years, Richard Schori, a retired mathematician, have gone mountaineering and backpacking most recently in Washington. She lived outside Seattle for 10 years.

The bishop evidently opened the hearts, minds and souls of the youth during her visit to the Camp Galilee retreat.

“It’s nice to have her here. She gives good sermons,” 14-year-old Veronica Mozley Eisenbarth said, while standing with a nodding cluster of other students.

The Reno teen said she appreciates the bishop asking the students questions instead of lecturing. One such lesson involved an inquiry into how the youth would define heaven and whether it’s a destination.

“I consider it a place in my heart. It can be a beautiful meadow to me. But what’s good for one person may not be to another person. I like that she approaches it that way,” the young girl said.


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