FAIRBANKS — For six days in July, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori traveled Alaska, getting a firsthand look at the work that churches are doing around the state. “In each place the church is working at being effective in different cultures, environments and social contexts,” Schori said.
“They are seeking to be the hands and heart of Christ.”
One of her last stops was Fairbanks on July 28 for a potluck dinner on the lawn at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, with singing, dancing and a discussion titled “The Episcopal Church as Missionary Society.”
The tour took Schori and her husband Richard Schori to Sitka, Anchorage, Kenai, Kotzebue, Kivalina, Fort Yukon, Fairbanks and Nenana. Alaska’s Episcopal Bishop Mark Lattime accompanied the Schoris to all sites but Sitka. “It was absolutely fabulous, a great blessing,” he said. “It was delightful to travel with the presiding bishop; it was quite a journey.” It was Lattime who invited Schori to visit Alaska. She had come once before in her role as Presiding Bishop, but just to Anchorage to consecrate Lattime as bishop three years ago.
Around the state, Schori participated in worship services, baptisms, meals, a community sing-a-long and discussions about salmon struggles and climate change. “She really did get to experience all the challenges of traveling in Alaska,” Lattime said. “You know how the weather and flights are unpredictable, but by the hair of our chin it all worked out fine.”
The highlight of the trip was a boat ride to a culture camp on the Yukon River outside of Fort Yukon, Schori said. “That camp is a remarkable example of what it takes to pass on faith,” she said.
Schori said she learned through the visits that the church can be a strong advocate for Alaskans in many ways.
“I’ve gotten to see that my brother bishop is doing a remarkable job developing leaders,” she said. “Bishop Lattime is doing a wonderful job encouraging people in what would look to outsiders like dire conditions.”
Schori predicts a bright future for the Episcopal Church in Alaska. “The gifts people need are largely present in themselves and the people around them,” she said. “You can improve the lives of people if you pay attention to the gifts already there.”
Schori was elected presiding bishop in 2006. The church claims more than 2 million members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses. She was the first woman elected as a primate in the Anglican Communion. She holds a doctorate in oceanography from Oregon State University and a master of divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. She is an instrument-rated pilot. The Schoris’ daughter Katharine is a captain and pilot in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Anchorage.