Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese
Seattle parish head known to be progressive on moral and religious issues
BY DOUGLAS TODD,
DECEMBER 1, 2013
Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese.
The female American priest chosen as the new bishop for the Vancouver-area Anglican diocese says she attracts people to her church who have been "wounded" by other Christian traditions.
Rev. Melissa Skelton, who leads St. John's Episcopal parish in Seattle, Washington, was elected a bishop in Canada on the third ballot at a vote held Saturday at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in downtown Vancouver.
Skelton will replace retired Anglican bishop Michael Ingham, who was at the centre of a storm within the 60-million-member worldwide Anglican communion when he became the first Anglican bishop to formally support the blessing of same-sex couples.
In an interview after she emerged at the top of a field of eight candidates, Skelton said that the residents of Cascadia, which includes B.C., Washington State and Oregon, have in common a love of nature and spirituality.
The people drawn to her growing Seattle parish have been "mostly evangelicals looking for beauty and mystery," said Skelton, a member of the large American Episcopal denomination, which is the name by which Anglicans are known in the U.S.
Widely understood among Anglicans to be a "progressive" on moral and religious issues, Skelton is relatively well known in the Diocese of New Westminster because she has led leadership workshops for clergy and laity in B.C.
"Though I did not grow up in the West, I have come to relish the challenges and joys of the Cascadian context. I understand the 'spiritual but not religious' character of the region, its multi-faith and multi-cultural character, and its aboriginal/First Nations context," Skelton said in her nomination papers.
Before entering the priesthood, Skelton specialized in marketing. In the 1990s she was "brand manager" for a hair products division of Proctor and Gamble, a multi-national corporation specializing in household products.
The candidate who came in second after Skelton in Saturday's vote was Rev. Lynn McNaughton, a former instructor at the Vancouver School of Theology who is now priest at St. Clement's Church in North Vancouver.
Four females and four males were in the running for Vancouver-area bishop. On the final ballot Skelton won 81 votes from clergy and 126 from lay church members, compared to McNaughton's 25 votes from clergy and 21 from lay members.
After Skelton was pronounced as bishop-elect, many women walked up to her in tears, giving her hugs.
Skelton - who has a grown son, is unmarried and came in second in a May election for bishop of New Jersey -- will be the first female bishop in the history of the Diocese of New Westminster.
Since 1940, the diocese of New Westminster has had only one Canadian-born bishop; Rev. David Somerville. Most have been raised in Britain.
After Skelton's election, an Anglican layperson told her he looks forward to her learning how to say "Eh," as is customary among many Canadians.
Rev. Jessica Schaap, of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Vancouver, said she doesn't believe there is any "inferiority complex" that leads B.C. Anglicans to generally avoid voting for a Canadian-born person as local bishop.
"I think she (Skelton) has a really strong skill set," Schaap said in an interview. "I think an outsider can bring a fresh perspective and ask questions that we might not ask."
Reinhard Rudersdorfer, a lay Anglican who served on the diocese's nomination committee, said the fact Skelton has not lived in the diocese means she will have an "openness" to all clergy and laity.
In addition to saying Vancouver-area Anglicans seemed more than ready for a female bishop, Rudersdorfer said they also appeared to "want a bishop who would tend to stay home."
Even though Rudersdorfer is an admirer of Ingham, who was bishop for almost 20 years, he said Ingham was often travelling - "because he was famous" for advancing gay and lesbian rights in the worldwide Anglican church.
American-born Rev. William Roberts, who is priest at St. John's Anglican Church in Squamish, said he has found priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia in which Skelton is a well-known congregational growth leader consistently show high degrees of "creativity."
Anglican Rev. Donald Grayston, a former religious studies instructor at Simon Fraser University, said he would have preferred a Canadian-born leader but is "entirely ready to accept" Skelton as bishop of the diocese, which has roughly 15,000 members.
"She arrives at a critical moment in the life of the church. I want to see her engage us all in resistance to the decline."
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