SOUTH BEND - When Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2006, Episcopalians everywhere gasped.
Then many cheered while others objected.
Jefferts Schori had become the first woman to lead the national church. Her gender alone drew opposition from conservatives, but so did her feminist views and pro gay rights stand.
In the five years since, Jefferts Schori says she believes the opposition has softened.
“I do think the anxiety has gone down as people have realized that I am a follower of Jesus and that I strive to preach the same good news he proclaimed,” said Jefferts Schori, who will make her first visit to South Bend this week.
The presiding bishop will participate in the 113th annual Convention of the Diocese of Northern Indiana. The diocese consists of 36 churches, including the host church, the Cathedral of St. James.
Her roles here will include officiating a Eucharist at 10 a.m. Saturday and participating in an open forum at 1:30 Saturday, both at Century Center, as well as a media event at 6 p.m. Friday at the downtown South Bend Chocolate Cafe.
She also will preach and celebrate a bilingual Mass at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Plymouth.
Fluent in Spanish, the presiding bishop said in an e-mail that she “generally asks to be sent to a congregation that represents a new development for the diocese, a multicultural community, or an example from which the rest of the church might learn, rather than a more typical, big, urban congregation.”
The Rev. John Schramm, pastor of St. Thomas, said his church is the only one in district with a Spanish congregation.
“We are excited about her visit,” Schramm said. “It will be an interesting occasion.”
Located at 412 N. Center St. in downtown Plymouth, St. Thomas has been offering a Spanish Mass since 2003.
Schramm, pastor at St. Thomas for 29 years, estimates that about one-third of the approximately 100 people who attend Mass there are Latino.
“Two years ago we had 55 to 65 Latinos attending Mass on Sunday,” he said. “But in the last couple years the economy and anti-immigrant sentiment have cut into (that number).”
St. Thomas attendees aren’t the only ones eagerly anticipating the presiding bishop.
“This is a big deal,” said the Very Rev. Brian Grantz, of the Cathedral of St. James. “She is a wonderful speaker and an energetic person.”
Grantz also acknowledges that her election as presiding bishop “did not come without controversy.”
Some churches and dioceses threatened or took steps to withdraw from the national Episcopal church over what they consider a growing liberalization of the church.
As for this diocese, Grantz said “there are many in both our church and the diocese who welcome her and many who, conversely, are struggling with that (her views). There is a range of thought and opinion throughout the diocese.”