House of Bishops more diverse than ever with addition of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ bishops

By David Paulsen
Posted May 16, 2023
Deon Johnson selfie

Front from left, Vermont Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson and retired Olympia Suffragan Bishop Nedi Rivera pose for a photo with other Episcopal bishops while attending the consecration of Ohio Bishop Coadjutor Anne Jolly on April 29 in Cleveland. Photo: Deon Johnson

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church has long been known as a predominantly white denomination, one that for most of its history ordained only men as bishops and priests. For the past eight years, however, since the church’s last presiding bishop election, the House of Bishops has undergone a rapid diversification.

Though still more than two-thirds white and male, the House of Bishops’ increasing diversity was evident last month when 30 Episcopal bishops gathered in Cleveland for the Diocese of Ohio’s consecration of the Rt. Rev. Anne Jolly as the church’s newest bishop. Ten of the bishops were women, in addition to Jolly herself and two female bishops-elect who attended. Ten Black bishops participated, along with two of South Asian descent. At least four bishops were immigrants.

Two LGBTQ+ bishops attended, as did the Rt. Rev. Nedi Rivera, the church’s first Latina bishop when she was consecrated in 2005. And photos from the consecration show a wide range of ages, from Southwest Florida Bishop Douglas Scharf at 43 to retired Ohio Suffragan Bishop Arthur Williams Jr. at 87.

The Rt. Rev. Anne B. Jolly was ordained and consecrated bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Ohio on April 29. Photo: Courtesy of the Diocese of Ohio

“The bishops that came were a great image of diversity of our House of Bishops now,” Jolly, Ohio’s bishop coadjutor, told Episcopal News Service afterward in a phone interview. “We benefit as a church, as a people, by having more diverse viewpoints.”

On May 15, a church committee issued a call for nominations for the election next year of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s successor. Because dioceses since 2015 have increasingly elected women, people of color and LGBTQ+ bishops, the 28th presiding bishop will be chosen from the most diverse pool of potential candidates in the church’s history. Several bishops interviewed by ENS, while noting how far the church has come, stressed the need to continue broadening representation in the House of Bishops. For a Christian denomination whose very name means “bishop led,” that diversity is ever more important for the church’s engagement with a changing world, they said.

“I’m convinced that God’s future for the church is in diversity,” Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson, who attended Jolly’s consecration, said in an interview. Johnson, a native of Barbados, was consecrated in 2020. He is the Diocese of Missouri’s first Black bishop and first openly gay bishop. “Part of it is that we have to be intentional in reaching out to communities that have been traditionally marginalized.”

For this story, ENS compiled and analyzed current and historical data on the House of Bishops’ changing roster by referencing the Episcopal Church Annual, the House of Bishops’ webpage, ENS digital archives and online searches. That research identified a pronounced increase in the House of Bishops’ diversity after Curry was installed as presiding bishop in November 2015. Of the 66 Episcopal bishops either consecrated or “translated” since then, 43 are women, people of color, LGBTQ+ bishops, or a combination of more than one of those categories. (Bishops consecrated in other Anglican provinces are said to be translated to The Episcopal Church when called to serve in an Episcopal diocese, such as Texas Assistant Bishop Hector Monterrosso, previously a bishop in Costa Rica.)

In all, there are 46 women in the House of Bishops today, as well as at least 53 people of color and six gay and lesbian bishops, for a combined 90 of the church’s 280 or so active and retired bishops. The diversity is even more pronounced when focusing just on active bishops, an estimated 126 of them, since the church’s retired bishops are disproportionately white men.

“The growing diversity in the House of Bishops is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime, co-chair of the presiding bishop nominating committee, said in a written statement for this story. The committee membership, too, represents the breadth of diversity in the church, Lattime said, and greater diversity among bishops is an asset as the church considers new denominational leadership for the next decade. “Our work of listening to The Episcopal Church tells us that Episcopalians believe that inequality and division are challenges the church is facing and will face in the future.”

Other bishops who spoke to ENS said progress has not happened by accident. Church leaders at all levels have worked to lower barriers to diversifying bishop slates, partly in response to concerns raised in 2015 that Episcopal leadership was then becoming even less representative – not more – of the racial and gender diversity of the communities the church aimed to serve.

Though Curry’s election eight years ago was historic – he would become The Episcopal Church’s first African American presiding bishop – he was chosen from a slate of candidates that included no women. Curry’s predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, had been the first woman elected to that role, but throughout her episcopate the House of Bishops’ membership, with some exceptions, remained mostly white, male and straight.

From left, 26th Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, 27th Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and 25th Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold pose for a photo while attending the 2016 memorial service of 24th Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning. Photo: Frank DeSantis, Diocese of Oregon

The 78th General Convention, in addition to electing Curry, passed a resolution creating the Task Force on the Episcopacy, to propose reforms to the process of searching for and electing new bishops. “Bishops are overwhelmingly male and white,” the task force said in its 2018 report. “We seek a more diverse episcopate because it reflects the Kingdom of God, because it is collectively beneficial, because it is inclusive and because we believe it is just.”

Retired Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, who was a runner-up to Curry in the 2015 election, chaired the Task Force on the Episcopacy. He noted to ENS that while that task force was drafting churchwide reform proposals intended to encourage more diverse bishop slates, efforts were already underway at the diocesan level.

“Many dioceses were beginning to take their own local initiatives around diversity training, anti-racism efforts with search committees and deliberately trying to work out a process that actively invited [and] engaged a more diverse slate, particularly people of color and women,” Douglas told ENS.

More and more dioceses were seeing “difference as a positive value,” he said, while asking themselves, “how can we work differently to make sure that, in the applicant pool, we get a good and robust and diverse slate of candidates?”

At the same time, key female church leaders were building networks of women, encouraging more to seek top leadership roles, from bishops to cathedral deans. In the span of a few years, those networks, particularly Beautiful Authority and Leading Women helped bring the House of Bishops’ roster closer to gender parity.

“Everybody understood this was a moment, and it was good and it produced a lot of fruit,” said the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, who helped launch the first Leading Women conference in 2016. More than 50 female clergy participated, and several would later be elected bishops.

In 2007, when the Diocese of El Camino Real consecrated Gray-Reeves, she was only the 15th female bishop in The Episcopal Church and its seventh female diocesan bishop. In 2015, Curry chose Gray-Reeves to serve alongside him as vice chair of the House of Bishops. Since then, she has retired from diocesan leadership and now serves as managing director of the College of Bishops, which trains new bishops. The makeup of the House of Bishops has changed dramatically in her time as vice chair, which she said is a benefit to the house and the church.

“The House of Bishops is socially impacted by the presence of women and the presence of people of color. … It changes our behavior. It changes how we think,” she said. “There’s more, different people that speak, so it’s not just the same people at the microphone all the time.”

Female bishops and bishops elect gather at the March 2019 meeting of the House of Bishops at Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

ENS research confirmed that 2016 was a turning point in the House of Bishops’ shift toward greater diversity. To quantify racial diversity, ENS defined “people of color” as those of Black, Asian, Latino or Indigenous heritage, which mirrors distinctions made by the U.S. Census as well as The Episcopal Church in its ethnic ministries.

Starting with the Diocese of the Dominican Republic’s consecration of Bishop Moisés Quezada Mota in February 2016, the House of Bishops has added at least 22 people of color in seven years – compared to the previous seven-year period when six people of color were welcomed as bishops.

Over the same period, starting with Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe’s consecration in December 2016, the House of Bishops has added 29 female members, out of 66 total new Episcopal bishops since Curry’s installation. Before Duncan-Probe, only 21 women had been ordained as bishops across the whole history of The Episcopal Church.

The trend accelerated in 2018. Starting that year, 25 of the 48 new Episcopal bishops have been women. At least 15 of those 48 have been people of color.

And since the Diocese of New Hampshire consecrated the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson in 2003 as the church’s first openly gay and partnered bishop, an additional five gay and lesbian bishops have taken seats in the House of Bishops – four of them in the past four years.

Such progress, however, has not been spread equally. The church still has just three bishops of Indigenous descent, none of them currently leading a diocese. And of at least 20 Latino bishops in the church, most are from Puerto Rico, Cuba or the Spanish-speaking dioceses of the church’s Province IX. Only three are leading dioceses in the continental United States.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry stands with West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf at her consecration on May 4, 2019. Photo: Diocese of West Tennessee

“As our nation becomes more and more diverse, if we don’t take advantage of people from a variety of backgrounds, I think we’re missing out on an opportunity to have the best people in the positions,” West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf told ENS.

Roaf, who attended the Leading Women conference in 2016, was consecrated in 2019, becoming the first female bishop and the first Black bishop in all three Episcopal dioceses of the state of Tennessee. She credits Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows’ barrier-breaking episcopate as a key inspiration.

“Until the first African American woman became a diocesan [bishop], I’m not sure that I would have ever put my hat in the ring,” Roaf said. She and Baskerville-Burrows are now among seven Black female bishops diocesan in The Episcopal Church. “It’s really just an amazing sisterhood of women who support and encourage one another in this call.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at