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Is Katharine Jefferts Schori eyeing a second term as Presiding Bishop?

Is Katharine Jefferts Schori eyeing a second term as Presiding Bishop?
The PB reveals thought process on Missouri Public Radio interview

News Analysis

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
March 1, 2014

The persistent rumors, which have been floating around The Episcopal Church since the 2012 General Convention, that Katharine Jefferts Schori would like to remain Presiding Bishop were given some teeth by her recently in a Missouri Pubic Radio interview which was the prelude to an address at the C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.

In an 18-minute wide-ranging interview, Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up to Date program, asked the Presiding Bishop about the Episcopal Presiding Bishop term limits.

"You are in Year eight of a nine-year term as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church," Kraske noted. "You can't seek another term. Do I have that right?"

"That's not correct," Jefferts Schori informed him. "There's no limit on terms in this church. The Presiding Bishop has to retire at the General Convention that's closest to person's 70th birthday, because she can't serve past the age of 72. And all my predecessors had to retire at the end of their terms because they were so close to retirement age."

The radio show host added that Bishop Katharine, as he calls her, is not near the shurch's retirement age of 72. She'll turn 60 on March 26.

"So what are your plans?" Kraske pressed.

She replied that she is still in discernment about seeking another term as Presiding Bishop.

"How long do you think that is going to take for you?" Kraske queried.

"Well, the church is engaged in the beginnings of the process of discernment as well. There is a committee at work that will help to frame a slate of candidates that they expect to announce more than a year from now," she replied. "That election will happen in June 2015 and the next term of office, for whoever is elected, begins in November 2015. So it is more than a year-and-a-half from now until that process is finished and it is really too early for me to make a final decision about that." Still pressing for a definitive answer Kraske outright asked, "But as of today, you're not saying 'no' to the possibility of a second term?

"That's correct," Jefferts Schori replied. "Yeah."

The Presiding Bishop may be putting too many eggs in her dream basket. In her initial reply about the presiding bishop's terms of office, she mentioned that her predecessors retired from seeking a second term of office because they were nearing forced retirement age. That may be a slight misstatement.

From 1789, William White (I Pennsylvania) became the first Presiding Bishop of the infant Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, until 1924 when Ethelbert Talbot (I Bethlehem) became the 15th Presiding Bishop, the post was held by the most senior bishop in the House of Bishops according to their date of consecration as an Episcopal bishop. They all held their post until death. However, one curious fact is that the first Presiding Bishop William White held the office for a brief 67 days for the shortest term as PB, but also held the office for the longest time as the fourth presiding bishop in 1795. He held the post until he died in office on July 17, 1836. He was also elected as the first Bishop of Pennsylvania (1787-1836) and the second Chaplain of the United States Senate (1790-1800).

Since 1925 and the XLVIII General Convention in New Orleans, the presiding bishop has been elected. The 16th Presiding Bishop John Murray (VII Maryland) took office on Jan. 1, 1926. In 1929 he died in office, as did his immediate successor Charles Anderson (IV Chicago).

Following Presiding Bishop Anderson's death, the House of Bishops elected James de Wolf Perry (VII Rhode Island) as the 18th Presiding Bishop. He was the last presiding bishop to retain his diocese while serving as PB. The19th Presiding Bishop Henry Tucker (VIII Virginia) resigned his diocese to become the PB.

Since 1947 there have been seven presiding bishops: Henry Sherrill was 56 when he took office and served for nearly 12 years. Next came Arthur Lichtenberger who was 58 when be ascended to the presiding bishop's post in 1958. He served nearly six years. He was followed by 54-year-old Arthur Lichtenberger in 1965. He served for nine and a half years, as did 53-year-old John Allin who became presiding bishop in 1974.

At 58 Edmond Browning became 24th Presiding Bishop in 1986. He served a full 12-year term, the last to do so as the term length was changed in 1994 to nine years. At the time, it was thought that 12 years was too long for a sitting presiding bishop's term because of the weight of office and the stress it causes. It was not envisioned that any presiding bishop would take a second bite of the apple so built-in term limits were not imposed.

"After careful consideration and consultation this Commission is recommending that, effective at the close of the 1997 General Convention, the term of office of the Presiding Bishop be limited to nine years instead of the present twelve-year limitation," explained the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church in Page 497 of the 1994 Episcopal General Convention Blue Book. "This recommendation is made because of the increasing workload and pressures on the Presiding Bishop. The Commission notes that many diocesan bishops are retiring well before the age of mandatory retirement, as further indication of the arduous duties of the office of a bishop having jurisdiction."

Resolution 1994-A130, originating in the House of Deputies was passed and concurred to by the House of Bishops. Canon I.2.2 was amended to read: "The term of office of the Presiding Bishop, when elected according to the provisions of Article I Section 3 of the Constitution, shall be nine years..."

Katharine Jefferts Schori's immediate predecessor, Frank Griswold, was 60 when he took office in 1998. He turned his primate's staff over to the current presiding bishop in 2006 when she was 52. However she is not the youngest presiding bishop. That honor again goes to William White, when at the tender age of 41 he became the first presiding bishop.

Technically, Katharine Jefferts Schori could run for a second term as presiding bishop since specific term limits are not built into the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.

This month the Presiding Bishop will turn 60. When the 2015 General Convention meets in Salt Lake City, she will be 61. Should she decide to run for another term, be nominated, and subsequently be re-elected for a second term as presiding bishop, she would be canonically forced to retire at the 2024 General Convention. At the age of 70 she would then be too old to seek a third elected term.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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