by Robin Allan Jones
Our presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is known for her remarkable achievements and her formidable intellect. In person, she wins you over in a very few seconds with her quiet alto voice. She spoke at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Seattle for a press conference she held on Friday, April 11, on her way to an environmental event at the Seattle Sculpture Garden. The reason for her visit had to do with the environment, but most of the questions put to her really had to do with leadership, and on that she spoke eloquently.
In response, for example, to one of the first questions posed, she said that she hoped Episcopalians would rise to leadership in saving in the environment because we are called to leadership by our baptisms.
Leadership is sometimes revealed in the ability to grasp the essence of a problem. St. Paul’s parishioner Mark Taylor asked the Presiding Bishop to respond to an assertion voiced by one of his professional colleagues that environmental activism is not really the concern of people of color. Bishop Schori’s response was, simply, that first of all, the environment is very much the concern of Native Americans and always has been, and, moreover, by the best evidence, the impact of pollution is and will be felt disproportionately by people of color.
Bishop Schori was trained as an oceanographer, and she points out that the ocean cannot be studied in isolation. Neither, really, can people and the fulfillment of their needs be apprehended except by consideration of humanity as a body. When part of the body of Christ suffers, she reminded us, we all suffer. Certainly that applies when considering the impact of our industry and technology on the environment and our fellow human beings, and it also applies as we deal with some of the storms besetting our church. While on one hand, the church in general and we at St. Paul’s in particular are upholders of cherished traditions, we find ourselves re-examining what the church means to society as a whole, and Bishop Schori pointed out that leadership is all about motivating change; it’s rarely about staying where you are.
I’m afraid the arrival and presence of our presiding bishop was perhaps overshadowed that day by that of the Dalai Lama, and as press conferences go, this one may have lacked the drama that goes when a political office finds itself under fire. But under the high-peaked roof of our little church, won over by this alto voice that speaks of listening, I found myself wishing it weren’t a press conference at all but a Eucharist, that all of us, under the rain-dappled skylights, could just take communion together.
Robin Allan Jones is a stagehand, scenic artist, and theatrical designer in Seattle. A member of St. Paul’s since 2005, he serves the parish as a liturgical minister and as co-director of The Umbrella Theater at St. Paul's.