Washington Elects the Church's Second Woman Bishop

Episcopal News Service. June 12, 1992 [92131]

Frances Antonucci Beard, Assistant to the bishop for communication and Editor of Washington Diocese

For only the second time in history, the Episcopal Church has elected a woman to serve as a bishop.

The Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, 54-year-old rector of St. Philip's Church in Laurel, Maryland, was elected suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Washington on May 30 at a special convention. Dixon joins Bishop Barbara Harris, who nearly four years ago was elected suffragan bishop of Massachusetts and the Anglican Communion's first woman bishop.

Dixon led the list of seven candidates -- including three other women -- on the first ballot and received the necessary majority of votes from the 330 clergy and lay delegates on the third ballot.

The election was hailed by a five-minute standing ovation. Dixon was escorted to the podium by members of the diocesan standing committee, which she chairs. Her remarks to the convention were punctuated several times by cheers.

"For women this election is much more than Jane Dixon. It is a confirmation that we are created in the image of God, male and female, and a major statement of a basic Christian principle to empower both men and women," Dixon said following the election. Acknowledging the continuing debate about women's ordination in the church, she added, "I'm sure there are people who will be disturbed, but I believe in my heart there are more people who will rejoice."

Reactions stress wholeness of ministry

Bishop Harris expressed her delight with the election and said, "Far more significant than her sex are her skills as pastor, teacher, and counselor. Her election is another step forward for our church in recognizing, accepting, and affirming the gifts that so many women bring to the people of God."

"The election of Jane Dixon is another milestone in this church," said Bishop Ronald Haines, who called for the election of a suffragan at a diocesan convention last January. "She and I already have had the privilege of serving together. She knows the diocese well, has considerable skills as a parish priest, and comes from a parish that has experienced substantial growth," Haines said.

Haines said that Dixon would find "a warm welcome" in the House of Bishops. "In the larger communion there is a slow but steady trend toward election of women as bishops," Haines observed.

Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning sent a special message in which he stressed the "sense of wholeness" women have brought to ministry. "This is a wonderful and natural outgrowth of the positive experience we have had for so many years of women serving as priests."

Pamela Chinnis, warden of Epiphany Church where the election was held, said, "As the first woman president of the House of Deputies, I welcome the addition of more women to the House of Bishops," adding that the election was greatly enriched by the caliber of all the candidates.

Gospel is inclusive

Following consent from standing committees and bishops of the church's other dioceses, Dixon will probably be consecrated in mid-November. As a suffragan bishop, Dixon will stress congregational development and the oversight of missions in the diocese, comprised of 97 congregations and 41,000 members in the District of Columbia and four counties in Maryland.

During public forums in which all the candidates participated, Dixon was asked about the ordination of homosexuals. She said that, in light of the baptismal covenant, she "could not exclude any person on one issue alone." She added, "If the Gospel of Jesus Christ weren't inclusive, I wouldn't be standing here."

Dixon, one of 44 women priests in the diocese, was a candidate for suffragan bishop of North Carolina in 1990.

After graduation from Vanderbilt University, Dixon taught school before resigning to raise a family, and then studied theology at Virginia Theological Seminary. In 1982 she graduated and was ordained the second woman priest in the diocese.

[thumbnail: Dixon Elected Suffragan B...]