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From Columbus: Convention sees history unfold as church elected new Presiding Bishop

[Episcopal News Service]  Throughout the day June 18 in Columbus, the 75th General Convention conducted its business with the sense of anticipation and the knowledge that history was being made.

After the Convention celebrated Eucharist together, members of the House of Bishops left the Greater Columbus Convention Center around 10:30 a.m., and traveled by bus approximately three-quarters of a mile to Trinity Episcopal Church. They were in good spirits, many of them waving and smiling at the members of the church and the press standing across the street. The block around Trinity was cordoned off and attended by volunteers and staff to provide the bishops with privacy for the duration of the election. 

"Everyone I talk to seems to feel all the candidates are good candidates and would make good PB's," said the Rev. Deacon Joseph Shippen of the Diocese of Atlanta as the bishops arrived. "But, of course, everyone's guessing." 

The Rev. Barbara Seras, coordinator for Province III, and Nancy Springer-Baldwin from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, were sitting outside a coffee shop across from Trinity, watching the bishops' arrival.

Seras noted that the bishops arrived by bus and were dressed in simple clerical garb. "It was so subdued, no pomp and ceremony – yet I felt there was something very honorable, very sacred walking in. It was palpable." 

At 3:01 p.m., the Very Rev. George L.W. Werner, president of the House of Deputies, announced that there had been an election. People crowded into the gallery of the house as word spread through the Convention Center that the 26th presiding bishop had been selected. Deputies, media and visitors waited restively after the Consecration of Bishops Committee filed back into the House of Deputies. A motion to suspend debate on the resolution being discussed was enthusiastically seconded and moved.

Werner asked that all present refrain from applause or celebration when the announcement was made. The Ven. Dena Harrison, bishop-suffragan elect of Texas and chaplain of the House of Deputies, then offered prayers.

Matthew K. Chew, the Deputy chair of the committee, rose to announce that Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada was elected on the fifth ballot with 95 votes. Despite the instructions for silence, many in the House and gallery broke into cheers and applause, but composed themselves at a reminder from Werner. 

Minutes after hearing the full voting results of the ballots, the corridor outside the House of Deputies was a noisy contrast to the business continuing in the house. People talked, celebrated and made call after call on their cell phones, spreading the word that the Episcopal Church had elected its first woman presiding bishop. People hugged each other, crying and laughing at the same time.

Just before 5 p.m., current Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and others brought Jefferts Schori to the House of Deptuies; the Nevada deputation accompanied them to the dais. The house galleries were packed with standing room only. Applause and loud cheers echoed through the hall as she made her way to the front. Jefferts Schori addressed the house with brief remarks in both English and Spanish.  

The Presiding Bishop-elect then went with Griswold to the Hyatt Regency for a news conference and subsequent interviews.

The evening of June 18 was the night designated on the Convention's schedule for seminary gatherings and about 6:50 p.m. Jefferts Schori came to the Church Divinity of School of the Pacific reception at the Crowne Plaza hotel. As she rounded the corner into the reception, the gathering erupted in cheers and in an impromptu rendition of "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."

Her term officially begins November 1; she will be invested and seated during a liturgy at Washington National Cathedral on November 4.