National Press Club

Episcopal Leader Urges Focus on Issues of Hunger, Disease, Poverty

December 19, 2008 | By Hope Katz Gibbs

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, addresses the Club

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, addresses the Club

Photo/Image: Marshall Cohen

“Help us tell the world that fear is not the answer,” the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori told a room filled with the faithful and skeptical who came to hear her speak at a Club luncheon Tuesday.

Jefferts Schori is the 26th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the first woman to lead a national church in the 520-year history of Anglicanism/

“When one part of this nation or world suffers, we all do,” she said. “We no longer live in a hermetically sealed nation or economic system — if we ever did. Protectionist and isolationist policies are not going to heal us. We are all going to be affected by massive layoffs in the manufacturing sector and in the financial sector. The same maxim applies to us in this country as is often quoted in the developing world, that when the U.S. sneezes, Haiti or Honduras gets a cold.”

Jefferts Schori, who has a doctorate in oceanography and is a qualified airplane pilot, focused mainly on the importance of putting aside differences and having people of all faiths work together to improve the greater good.

“Perhaps the first role of religion in such times is to be a messenger, like one of those biblical angels, who starts out by saying, fear not,” she said. “Don’t be afraid; this whole thing is a lot bigger than you are. Yes, change is coming, and it will drive some people crazy, and at the same time not go far enough for others. In more secular language, we might say, don’t sweat the small stuff. And more of it is small stuff than you might expect. At the same time, the religious voice will remind you that how you deal with the small stuff does not affect you alone – your actions may have consequences beyond your wildest imagining.”

Questions from the audience brought to light the conflict that for years has been mounting from conservatives regarding Episcopal stances on homosexuality, same-sex partnerships, ordination of women and other social issues. Regarding the move by theological conservatives, who on Dec. 3 announced they were founding their own rival denomination, Jefferts Schori said she and like-minded colleagues “tried hard to negotiate for a long time. But finally, when we couldn’t come to a consensus, we asked the courts to act.” The breakway congregations have attempted to take church property with them; the Episcopal Church sued to block that.

For the final question of the day, NPC President Sylvia Smith asked Jefferts Schori what she prays about privately that would surprise us. Jefferts Schori answered: “I pray for people who consider me their enemy. I believe that whenever we face an obstacle in our lives, praying for those who challenge us is a necessary part of our journey." As for whether that's a hard task: "No, not when it becomes a discipline.”