Here is the text of an interview by Emily Flitter of the Wall Street Journal and our Suffragan Bishop which took place on July 9, 2008 after the vote by the governing body of the Anglican church to allow women to be consecrated Bishops: 'A Bishop Who Happens to be a Woman'
A day after the Church of England's governing body voted to allow women to be consecrated as bishops, the Right Rev. Catherine Roskam was headed to the Lambeth Conference, the periodic convention of bishops from the Anglican Communion that has, since 1948, occurred once a decade.
Since the last Lambeth Conference in 1998, a gay bishop has been ordained along with a handful of women, one of whom was elected in 2006 to the highest position of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
The Right Rev. Catherine Roskam
Bishop Roskam, who holds the title of Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of New York -- she oversees Episcopal congregations in the Hudson-Valley suburbs north of New York City -- and is the fourth woman ever to be consecrated, reflected on the rise of female leadership in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. Edited excerpts from her interview with the Wall Street Journal follow.
WSJ: I've caught you on your way to the airport as you head out to the Lambeth Conference. Given the controversy over the Episcopal Church of the United States' election of a woman to its highest post -- presiding bishop -- are you surprised to be going there at all?
Bishop Roskam: I would have been very surprised if we had not been invited. We were invited in 1998. I was one of the first 11 women to be there in 1998.
The first place I'm going when I get there is the women in leadership conference. I expect that to be a very positive experience and I hope that we who are women bishops can be of support and help to the women there.
I expect when we get to Lambeth we'll be very well received. [In 1998,] I was told there were about 50 bishops that would cross the street when a woman bishop was approaching, but with 850 bishops around it was hard to figure out who was crossing the street for what reason. This year, it'll be gathering of friends.
WSJ: You were an actress before you entered the Church. Can you describe that career arc?
Bishop Roskam: Acting...I loved acting. And in a lot of ways, theater is a calling. It takes a lot of dedication and a subordination of one's own ego to the dedication of the artistic good.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a priest but that was impossible. So I went into theater instead. Then when it looked like it would be possible, in 1979 and 1980, I began to just kind of feel a tug. I began to study at seminary. I was ordained in 1984.
WSJ: In the years since you first entered the Church, how have congregants' receptions of you changed?
Bishop Roskam: I am the first woman consecrated that didn't have protests at her consecration. And no one has had protests since then. But those before me -- the first three women -- did have protests. In fact Barbara Harris had three separate protests, and it was a big issue, they wanted her to wear a bullet-proof vest and she refused. The threats were numerous and not of the same voice.
But the fact that there are 24 women in the Communion should make it easier for the women in England. We're going to keep those women in our prayers.
WSJ: What is the biggest challenge the women leaders in Britain's Anglican Church will face?
Bishop Roskam: Their system is very different -- bishops are appointed there. In terms of the gender issue it's much better to be in a church where a bishop is elected. Then you know the majority of the people there really want to have a woman bishop. I think one of the dangers might be that a woman could be appointed in a place where the majority didn't want a woman bishop.
WSJ: You use the phrase "woman bishop," which seems to have a specific sentiment attached to it. How is having women entering the clergy really felt by the congregants and leadership?
Bishop Roskam: It's a good point, because I have to say in my own diocese I am not a "woman bishop." I don't even feel like a "woman bishop" in our synod [a governing body made up of clergy and laity in a diocese], I am just a bishop who happens to be a woman.
I'm in my thirteenth year of consecration -- at the beginning, the newspapers were filled with the phrase "woman bishop." How it changes over time is that people encounter the ministries of bishops who are women and it ceases to be an issue.
There's a great furor of course in certain areas over women entering the leadership of the Anglican Communion but if you go to churches here or in Africa or England you'll see churches are made up of [about] 70% women so it's natural that women would want to be in the leadership.
The writer of "The Red Tent" said men don't tell women's stories, and that's really right. And we need to tell our stories in places of power. Because women and children are the people who suffer in many [poverty-stricken] places the most. I think it's time for us to be in every possible leadership position and not only be in the few.
WSJ: Has being a woman ever helped you specifically in your role as a bishop?
Bishop Roskam: I don't like to talk in generalizations, but I do think that women go about creating community and making connections in a different sort of way. It's a relational kind of ministry and it's not just one-on-one. Women have this great gift of seeing the range of ministries and parishes in a diocese because they're in a different church every Sunday and they begin to make the connections -- it can be very catalytic, making those connections. I think women do do that. I think some men do it too.
I think women network well in general -- there, I've just made a generalization! But I do, that's sort of the way we get things done. We don't do things in the abstract, we're more likely to get things done because we know somebody who knows somebody and we can pull them together and get things cooking.
WSJ: Can you offer any advice to those who want to follow in your path?
Bishop Roskam: It takes some time to be formed as a bishop. It doesn't all come when the other bishops lay hands on you at your consecration. It can take three years before we grow into this wonderful vocation where it begins to feel comfortable and familiar.
I think the hard part for women is when they come up against people who think they're not ordained -- that is difficult and it can be very humiliating. I deal with it with prayer. I remember that Jesus was humiliated at the end. I take that for my strength.
WSJ: Who has treated you as if you weren't ordained?
Bishop Roskam: I've never experienced it from a layperson. I've only experienced it from clergy and a handful of bishops, most of whom are outside of our church. It's not a very comfortable place to be.
WSJ: What are the ecumenical implications of accepting women leaders in Anglican Communion?
Bishop Roskam: I think the other bodies have already come to terms with the fact that women have been ordained. I think people will think it's a great sign of hope.