Corvallis, Oregon, Gazette-Times
The Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is leaving the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis where she has served as assistant rector for six years to become the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada.
By Carol Reeves
The Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is about to make the move of her life.
After serving as assistant rector at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan for six years, Jefferts Schori is leaving Corvallis next month to become the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada. At 46, she will be the second youngest among the almost 300 bishops in the national Episcopal Church and one of only nine women bishops.
She says she will miss the rain and the green of the Northwest, but that she is looking forward to investing her life and pastoral skills in an area of tremendous challenges and opportunities. Nevada is the fastest growing state in the country, yet the booming economy and glitter of the Las Vegas and Reno lifestyles are tarnished by the consequences of such problems as excessive gambling and prostitution.
"I believe the church can be a significant witness to the people of Nevada and a symbol to people that the church exists to serve them, even if they're not a part of it," she said.
Bishops rarely move around after being elected to lead a diocese, so Jefferts Schori will likely be in the dry desert of Nevada a long time. It's a far cry from where she's spent most of her life.
A native of Seattle, Jefferts Schori lived on the East Coast during her teen years and graduated from high school in New Jersey. She received a degree in marine biology from Stanford and then moved to Corvallis in 1974 to earn her master's and doctorate degrees in oceanography at Oregon State University.
"I was always intrigued with marine life since I was 7 or
8 years old," she said.
She worked for several years in oceanography, including a stint with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. That lasted until 1986, when "the bottom fell out" of the federal budget for research programs.
"I couldn't find a job unless I wanted to write grant proposals all the time," she explained, "and that wasn't the part of the ocean I enjoyed."
Jefferts Schori returned to Corvallis in 1985 with her husband, Richard Schori, a mathematics professor at OSU who went on sabbatical while she worked in Seattle. She began volunteering, including helping to start the Benton County Habitat for Humanity, serving as the treasurer of the Assistance League and as president of the Parents-Teachers Organization at her daughter's school. She also became active again at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan where she had attended church as an OSU student.
She said she spent several years struggling to find a new direction in life. Going into the ministry was not something she considered very seriously, even though there were people in the church who suggested it. Then the rector, the Rev. Bill McCarthy, asked her to preach one Sunday in his absence.
"The process of preparing to preach, and the response I got afterwards, really got me off the dime," she said. "I went to seminary the very next fall."
Jefferts Schori commuted to the Mount Angel Seminary for a year and then attended the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif. She was ordained as a deacon in May 1994 and as a priest six months later.
In an unusual but mutually satisfactory move, the Corvallis congregation asked Jefferts Schori to return as a pastoral assistant. She has since been responsible for the adult education program and has shared in the pastoral care and liturgical duties at the church. She has also been involved with women's and Hispanic ministries.
She credits the Corvallis church for opening the door to her becoming the bishop in Nevada. It's uncommon for someone who has only been ordained for a short amount of time and only served in one church to be given such an important responsibility.
"I've had opportunities to serve and lead here that wouldn't have been possible in a church without such a wide vision," she explained. "The rector has a willingness to break the mold, and the congregation has given me the freedom to exercise and practice my gifts.
"It's a remarkable group of people at Good Sam," she continued. "They are the ones who called me to ordination in the first place, and they've been loving, encouraging and pushing me for the better part of 20 years."
McCarthy says Jefferts Schori's election as bishop is "a very good thing for the Diocese of Nevada, but it will be quite an adjustment for us. After all, we've had a history of almost
20 years with Katharine as a very involved lay leader, and then she came back as an ordained leader to serve the church.
"She has helped model a better understanding of how the ordained ministry is complementary to lay ministry, not above the lay ministry," he continued. "This concept of what we call `total ministry' is one that's always been important to her, and that's one of the reasons Nevada snapped her up."
Jefferts Schori agreed one of the things that attracted her most to the Nevada post was the diocese's long history of using lay people as leaders in the churches. Many people are called to be priests and deacons that are not "professional" clergy, which helps people realize all Christians are called to ministry, she explained.
In her new job Jefferts Schori will oversee a small office staff, the clergy and leadership of the 32 Episcopal churches in the state. She will travel extensively, visiting each church at least once each year.
Because Nevada is larger than Oregon, she hopes to renew her pilot's license and may have to rent an apartment in Reno in addition to finding a home near the diocese headquarters in Las Vegas.
Jefferts Schori wants to build more unity among the various congregations and perhaps begin new Hispanic ministries.
"Fifteen to 20 percent of the population speaks Spanish in Nevada, and yet they've only made modest attempts at ministering to Hispanics," she said.
Another goal is to plant more churches in Las Vegas, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States with 70,000 more people moving in each year.
"There are only six Episcopal churches - one large one, two medium-size and three small churches - to serve a population of 1.5 million people," she said.
Jefferts Schori also hopes to encourage the diocese to take on some of the social issues that plague the state. Beyond the problems of gambling and prostitution, she said, are ecological concerns such as the history of nuclear testing, mining, poor water quality and the lack of land-use planning in Nevada.
"The Episcopal church has a lot of work to do in taking a public stand on these social issues and being a voice for justice," she said.
Jefferts Schori admits the surrounding culture will be very different than that of the Northwest and the environment will not be as lush, but she's approaching next month's move with a positive attitude.
"There's a different kind of beauty there, a kind of naked bare bones beauty," she smiled. "And there's a strong, pioneer sense in Nevada - if there's a problem, we can solve it. That's true of the churches and the society in general."
Jefferts Schori's last Sunday at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis will be Feb. 4. She will assume her new post Feb. 12. Her husband will join her at the end of the OSU school year in June.
"The last six and a half years here in Corvallis have been wonderful," she said. "I'm very grateful for the community here, and I will take the people, especially those in the church, with me in my heart. But I look at this as a new and different challenge for me. It's very exciting."
McCarthy said Good Samaritan church will eventually try to add another priest to its staff, but that the church will never be able to replace Jefferts Schori.
"You don't replace someone like Katharine," he said. "Because of her history with the parish and her unique gifts, there's no way we can replace her. Personally, it's been very good to have a good, solid confidential peer to work with and someone to talk to. I will miss her."
Carol Reeves covers religion and family issues for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 758-9516.
The Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan is planning a farewell dinner to honor Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, in Simpson Hall of the church at
333 N.W. 35th St.
The meal is open to the public, but guests are asked to make reservations by calling the parish office at
757-6647. Ham and potatoes will be provided; those who attend may bring a salad or dessert or make a donation toward the entrée.