Q&A: What is it like to be a woman bishop?

Picture of Bishop Mary Glasspool at the institution of the Rev. Joseph Oloimooja as Rector of Christ the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Los Angeles on April 21, 2012 The Right Reverend Mary Glasspool regularly visits parishes and missions throughout Los Angeles Diocese

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With the Church in Wales having voted to allow women to be bishops, the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool, talks about her role as assistant bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles since 2010.

Her diocese is part of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the country's Anglican Church.

She started by describing her day-to-day job and went on to explain what she believes women can bring to leadership positions in the Church.

What has your experience as a woman bishop been like?

It's been wonderful. I've been a bishop for a little over three years in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. I carry out the functions of a bishop suffragan, which is a position assisting the bishop diocesan.

My role consists of visiting one of the 144 different parishes and missions in the Greater Metropolitan Los Angeles area.

Start Quote

We need to get beyond this gender difference which is, in my view, prejudicial if not oppressive against women”

End Quote The Right Reverend Mary Glasspool

Each Sunday I'm at a different parish or mission. I preach; I celebrate the Eucharist; I support the mission and ministry of that particular parish or mission; and very often I meet with a youth group. That happens on just about every Sunday with the exception of holiday time.

During the course of the week I work with 44 different parochial schools. I am the bishop in Los Angeles responsible for ecumenical and interfaith activities, so I have quite a few meetings with our partners in different churches and among our Jewish sisters and brothers, our Muslim sisters and brothers, the Sikhs, the Baha'is, etc.

Los Angeles is a very, very pluralistic area and so we try to partner for outreach activities as well as dialogue in meeting the needs of the greater community. Our group recently visited one of the synagogues in Beverly Hills and the Islamic Centre of Southern California in Los Angeles and held dialogues with each of the groups there.

More recently, I had the privilege of accompanying 13 young people from the dioceses on an 11-day pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine.

So it's a very interesting job and there's a lot of variety in what I do. It's a wonderful opportunity and privilege to be able to serve the people of God in this particular place.

Do you think there are differences between what a female and a male bishop can bring to the role?

Women in the Anglican Church

Elizabeth Ferard (used by permission of Richard Mammana / Anglicanhistory.org)
  • 1862: Elizabeth Ferard (pictured) becomes the Church of England's first deaconess of modern times. The role is considered an office of the Church rather than part of the formal ministry
  • 1944: Florence Li-Tim Oi, was ordained the first female Anglican priest in Hong Kong. She voluntarily resigned her licence at the end of WWII
  • 1989: Barbara Harris is ordained as the first female Anglican bishop in America
  • 1992: The general synod vote allows women to become priests in England - eight years after the law is proposed - the first 32 are ordained in 1994
  • November 2012: The synod rejects women bishops in England after failing to secure a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity

Yes. I have to respond theologically to this question, and I base [my answer] on the creation narrative in the book of Genesis, which is that it is not an individual man or an individual woman or even a dyad that is created in the image of God - it is community that is created in the image of God and you need male and female both to comprise community.

So, if you have exclusively male or exclusively female you're not quite getting a whole picture of what the image of God looks like. For that reason alone, I would say it's very important to have a balance of men and women in all roles, at every level, particularly in the Church, which is meant to present to the world an image of God.

I think in the world there is a gender gap. Women, it seems to me, throughout the world, no matter what country we're in, get treated as second class citizens. And yet when women and men work together they are absolutely better, they can accomplish more than women or men working alone.

I'm interested in bridging gaps and I think that women bring a different style of leadership to the world, which is more collegial, more nurturing, more collaborative than the type of leadership we've seen historically in the past from largely men, which seems to be more competitive.

I have many male colleagues who are genuinely in their own way nurturing, but I do think that women bring a different leadership style. I think that's essential for the life of the Church.

Did you feel accepted by the community when you were elected?

I absolutely was accepted by the community. The very nature of how we choose bishops, by election, is very democratic. It means that a majority of the people, both lay and clergy, at the convention that elected me and my colleague, Bishop Diane Bruce, were supportive of both of us.

That support has increased over time and I believe in the three years that each of us has been bishop we've managed to cultivate a variety of different relationships and are respected for the leadership that we offer the diocese of Los Angeles.

If you could send one message to those who are not convinced that women should be able to become bishops, what would you say?

Rt Rev Mary Glasspool Mary Glasspool has been a bishop for three years

I just would encourage interaction with women bishops. In the early 1980s I was one of four female priests in Philadelphia, in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. We had then Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa visiting us and speaking to us to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Diocese.

The four women had the opportunity to speak with Archbishop Tutu, and we asked why South Africa, which is so liberal, didn't ordain women priests, even if the archbishop himself was favourable. He said: "It's very simple. They can't quite imagine it and they can't do what they can't imagine".

I always use this example to say, try using your imagination a little bit. Try to imagine what it would be like. If you can't challenge your imagination in that way, come and have the experience.

Remember that the Church is here to serve the world and we need to do that in the best, most effective way possible. One of my male colleagues likes to remember that it's not our mission, the Church's mission, but it's God's mission and we are participants in God's mission to the world.

And certainly we can articulate that in a variety of different ways: feeding the hungry, fighting poverty, trying to bring reconciliation and peace and justice to the world - there's a variety of ways to articulate God's mission.

We need to get beyond this gender difference which is, in my view, prejudicial if not oppressive against women.

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