PORTLAND, Maine — The head of the Episcopal Church in the United States will make two stops in southern Maine this weekend as her term winds down.
The Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the 26th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, will visit churches in Portland and Falmouth, where she will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary.
The Episcopal Diocese of Maine claims about 17,000 members and 67 congregations.
Jefferts Schori, who is from Nevada, will hold a town hall-style meeting on April 25 from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St.
She will be at St. Mary’s, 43 Foreside Road, Falmouth, on April 26 at 9 a.m. to preside and preach at a worship service marking the church’s 125th anniversary.
She was invited to celebrate the anniversary by the Rev. Nathan Ferrell, rector at St. Mary’s, and the parish leadership.
“Our parish leadership talked about having a guest preacher come in to provide energy for celebration,” Ferrell said, and he ultimately decided to see if Jefferts Schori might be interested.
The Rev. Stephen Lane, Episcopal bishop in Maine, said it was “surprising” Jefferts Schori agreed to come since St. Mary’s is a small church, and they wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for as many people as possible to hear her speak.
Lane said Jefferts Schori last visited Portland seven years ago when he became a bishop.
“But this is kind of the first time she’s come to visit a congregation and to speak to the public,” he said.
Jefferts Schori, 61, the first woman to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, was elected in 2006.
This November will mark the end of her nine-year term, and Lane said she has decided not to run again.
“She’s coming to the end of her term, so this would be the last opportunity for her to come to Maine,” he said.
Ferrell said the presiding bishop has to visit all 100 dioceses around the world during their term, which may have factored into Jefferts Schori’s decision. He said this is certainly the first time such a figure has come to St. Mary’s, but also likely to Falmouth, too. He said she will host a question-and-answer session after the church service on April 26.
Lane said he expects Jefferts Schori to speak about changes within the 2 million-member denomination, since he said all major churches are facing declining membership and aging populations, as well as questions of relevancy.
“I think she’ll be addressing those kinds of changes, the experience of getting smaller, the experience of being perhaps pushed to the margins of society, and the implications of that for church and society,” he said.
Ferrell said the job of the presiding bishop is to “think strategically” about where the church is heading — “especially in American culture, because how Americans approach religion is changing drastically.”
Lane said Jefferts Schori is a marine biologist by training, which helped the rest of the church “look at the relationship of human life to the life of the planet” and help connect “the life of faith and care for the environment and the natural world.”
“I think that’s been very important for us these last nine years to have someone who’s so knowledgeable about the natural world also be the head of the church and to make those connections,” Lane said.
Ferrell said the Falmouth congregation is planning a other events to celebrate its 125th anniversary, including a day of service on May 17. He said regular services will be canceled that day and small groups will go out into the community for service projects, from cleaning up Route 1 to doing yard work for senior citizens.