Making History, Twice, at Grace Cathedral

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Making History, Twice, at Grace Cathedral

 THE BAY CITIZENMaking History, Twice, at Grace CathedralBy SCOTT JAMESPublished: September 23, 2010 The installation of Jane Alison Shaw as the eighth dean of Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill on Nov. 6 is a milestone — she will be the first woman to lead the cathedral, which was founded during the Gold Rush in 1849.Dr. Shaw will also be the cathedral’s first openly gay dean.“I’m glad I live in a moment in history when I can answer the call,” Dr. Shaw said in a telephone interview from England, where she is finishing work as the dean of divinity at Oxford University.While one’s sexual orientation rarely raises an eyebrow in San Francisco these days, the Episcopal Church has been torn apart over the issue of full inclusion for gay men and lesbians. Dr. Shaw’s elevation to lead one of the denomination’s most prominent churches is “a signal moment,” said The Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop of the Diocese of California. “We seek to be a house of prayer for all people.”The bishop, whose diocese comprises churches in the Bay Area, said Grace Cathedral was one of the largest Episcopal churches in the United States and was “ scrutinized worldwide” by the greater Anglican Communion’s 80 million members.The appointment has some predicting that Dr. Shaw’s high-profile position could make her a significant presence in the Bay Area’s gay and lesbian community — should she choose to take that role.“Having someone in that position who is a living example of our community is going to broaden perspectives,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the organization that campaigned against Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage. Mr. Kors noted that many Christian churches supported the ban, and said he hoped that an openly gay Christian religious leader could change minds, or reach across pew aisles.Dr. Shaw, who is British but has lived here before and received a Ph.D. in history at theUniversity of California, Berkeley, said she was familiar with the issues facing the Bay Area gay community. “I’m happy to help the cause,” she said.Supporting that cause may be a fairly common view here, but within the Anglican Church worldwide there has been a contentious debate about same-sex marriage and inclusion of gay men and lesbians in the faith. The 2003 election of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, led to divisions within the church in the United States and the broader Anglican Communion. Several individual churches and two dioceses disassociated from the United States province over the issue.Jay Johnson of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley called Grace Cathedral “an iconic institution” and said Dr. Shaw’s ascension as one of the first female deans might be more significant than her being openly lesbian.“There are places in the communion where women still cannot be ordained,” Mr. Johnson said, including parts of the United States.Although Dr. Shaw’s arrival will make her one of the most prominent members of the gay and lesbian community in the Bay Area, the diocese has not promoted her orientation or focused attention on it. The June 25 announcement of her appointment makes no mention of her orientation or of her longtime partner, Sarah Ogilvie, though in the past, similar announcements of significant church appointments have mentioned family members and spouses.Bishop Andrus said there was no effort to conceal that Dr. Shaw is lesbian. The omission, he said, was a courtesy to allow Dr. Ogilvie, who is also an academic, to reveal her plans to her colleagues on her own.Nonetheless, it is a sign that even though Dr. Shaw’s appointment is significant, it was not her sex or her sexual orientation that earned her the position. Those who have spent time with her described her as “brilliant.” She also appears to have a sense of humor, admitting that at Oxford she regularly debates Richard Dawkins, an anti-religion author, and yet, “We get along really well.”“She was chosen for her qualifications,” said the Rev. Mark E. Stanger, canon precentor at the cathedral. “She brings a deep faith; she’s very perceptive about the needs of the church.”The Rev. Paul Fromberg, rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church on Potrero Hill, who has known Dr. Shaw for several years, described her as a gifted intellectual and scholar with “a great sense of the history of the church.”She is about to make some of her own.Scott James is an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco.

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Edited by: SaVVAΣ on 24/09/2010 - 19:37