The Episcopal Church's New Pilot

episcopalian church, homosexuality, pastor, russ mitchell

This November, the first woman ever elected to lead a major Christian congregation will be inaugurated as the presiding bishop of the Episcopalian Church, CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.

If someone had told Katharine Jefferts Schori 12 years ago when she first became a priest that someday she would be the leader of her church, would she have believed them?

"I would have thought it highly unlikely," Jefferts Schori told Mitchell.

When she was chosen to lead the 2.3 million Episcopalians in the United States, Jefferts Schori knew she would be flying into a storm of controversy.

But this part-time pilot, who flies a single-engine Cessna to the outlying parishes of her Nevada diocese, believes she'll be able to prevent a threatened huge split in her church.

Some people who don't think that the presiding bishop of the church should condone homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

"Well, my sense is that Jesus invited everybody to the table, to the great feast, and that for us to say that some people are not fit to come to that feast, is not our task," Jefferts Schori said.

It was the ordination of women as priests that first angered a number of dioceses. Then came a threaten to split from the main church when, three years ago, an openly gay priest was elected as bishop of New Hampshire.

Since Jefferts Schori's election, a number of dioceses have come out and have been critical. A leader in Springfield, Ill., said: "I think the Episcopalian Church is in meltdown. The lowest ebb of our beloved and beleaguered church since perhaps the Civil War if not the American Revolution."

"It's predictable," Jefferts Schori said. "People who have been unhappy at the course of the church's direction over the last couple of decades, this is another piece that may offend some. It tells them change is happening whether they are interested in that change or not."

The Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican community. But many Anglicans overseas feel Episcopalians in America have gone too far down the liberal road.

Does she care what other churches think?

"Absolutely. Absolutely and I think our most recent general convention was very clear about the fact that we are very concerned about our membership in the Anglican communion and our relationships with other parts of the Anglican community," Jefferts Schori said.

Some of the opposition might be coming from the simple fact that she's a woman.

"I think that's a significant piece of it," Jefferts Schori said. "I think a number of changes in attitude of the church over the last century have offended old ways of understanding who should be in charge. Is it a white male who will rule in the church or is it not?"

Jefferts Schori is also a pilot. What does she think is so special about being up in the pilot's seat of an airplane?

"There's a wonderful poem that was written in the Second World War by a fellow named McGee. It's called 'High Flight.' And he talks about the experience of being aloft as a religious, spiritual encounter. And there's a certain element of that," she said. "It gives one a different perspective on the world. It gives one a larger view."

Waiting to speak with Schori, some bystanders called her "a star." How is she dealing with the celebrity nature of being in her position?

"I am a human being. I am simply doing what I have been called to do," she said.

The applause must come as a welcome sound for Bishop Schori, but she acknowledges many battles lie ahead. At the end of her term in nine years, how will she measure her success?

"Well, I would hope to see a church that is less focused on internal division and far more focused on the world around us, transforming the communities in which we live," Jefferts Schori said.