Seattle will be home to two archbishops – for a time.
On New Year’s Day, the Most Rev. Melissa Skelton assumes duties as Bishop Provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. The posting will allow the Western Washington diocese to go through a period of discernment before clergy and lay delegates, owing to the departing of Bishop Greg Rickel.
Once rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Skelton brings a background in both business and clergy, as well as ministry on both sides of the 49th Parallel. Skelton has accumulated a succession of firsts. She was elected in 2013 as the first woman, the first American, and the first person who had a career outside the church to serve as bishop of the Vancouver B.C.-based Anglican Diocese of New Westminster.
She was later elected Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and the Yukon, the first woman to hold the position which carries with it the title of archbishop. She thus became the first female archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. (The Catholic Church in Western Washington became an archdiocese in 1951 and has been headed by six archbishops over the past 71 years.)
Skelton retired from her Canadian post last year, as required when a bishop reaches age 70. (The Roman Catholic Church requires its bishops to retire at age 75, and cardinals over the age of 80 do not vote in papal elections.)
The provisional role will provide time for the local diocese to vet candidates and make a wise “fit” in calling a new prelate. The caution is warranted, since the removal of a troubled bishop is a messy and divisive business, even in the Catholic Church when the Vatican needs to replace a scandal-tarnished incumbent.
Bishop Rickel had a challenging 15-year tenure. He guided the Diocese of Olympia through the Great Recession and dealt with two congregations that sought to sever ties over the church’s acceptance of gay clergy and its embrace of marriage equality. He oversaw a difficult transition at St. Mark’s Cathedral during and after resignation of its Dean Robert Taylor. The Bishop also had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and suspension of in-person worship.
Archbishop Skelton became active as an Episcopalian in her 20’s. She has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a Master of Divinity degree from the Virginia Theological Seminary. She was called to St. Paul’s from a pastorate in Maine. In Seattle, St. Paul’s on lower Queen Anne prospered. Skelton was active in the diocese and founded the church’s Congregation for Congregational Development. She is the second woman to serve as a bishop in the Diocese of Olympia.