Out lesbian new head of SF's Grace Cathedral
by Seth Hemmelgarn
An out lesbian has become the dean of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, making her not just the first lesbian, but the first woman ever to head the church.
The Very Reverend Dr. Jane Shaw showed her humor when asked what exactly her duties are.
"I think I run the cathedral," she said. "I have oversight of everything that goes on here."
That includes presiding at services and overseeing a staff of about 80 people, including those who run the preschool and cathedral school. Shaw estimated about 800 people come to services at the cathedral each Sunday.
"I'm myself and people can take me as I am," said Shaw. "I'm many things, not just a lesbian, not just a woman. I'm an intellectual, I am a new immigrant in this country, I love music ... . I'm happy they called me to Grace Cathedral."
Shaw, 47, who holds a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley, previously served as dean of divinity at New College, Oxford University.
She was installed to her new position Saturday, November 6, becoming Grace Cathedral's eighth dean since it was founded in 1906. She follows Alan Jones, who was dean for 25 years until February 2009, when he retired from the position. Jones is now the cathedral's dean emeritus.
Shaw was named dean June 25, after being nominated by the Right Reverend Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal bishop of California. The cathedral's board of trustees unanimously approved her nomination that day.
Heidi K. Zuhl, a Grace Cathedral spokeswoman, declined to state Shaw's salary.
In a phone interview this week, Shaw said she's building on Jones's legacy.
"He really made the cathedral very important in the city," she said.
She said she wants to make Grace a place "people absolutely come to for discussion of key ideas." The cathedral will re-launch its Forum program, a series of panel discussions and speakers, in 2011, said Shaw.
She hopes the church will keep working on social justice issues and continue outreach to people including seniors, people who are unemployed, residents of single-room occupancy hotels, and residents of the city's Bayview neighborhood.
Shaw also said, "I want to take a role in many communities," including the LGBT communities. She said she's "in the process of beginning to talk to people," although she hesitated to say what she'd do specifically because "it's important I hear what people need."
"I'm looking forward to talking to lots of people" in and out of the congregation, she said.
Shaw said that sometimes "inclusion" is "a codeword for LGBT, but there are other forms of inclusion too."
She added, "I hope we would have inclusion mean that we genuinely include everybody."
That hasn't always been the case with the Episcopal Church. There's been unhappiness in the church since at least the 1970s, when women were first allowed to be ordained as ministers. The national Episcopal Church has recently been supportive of gays, lesbians, and women, sparking rebellion from some churches.
The Episcopal Church, which had more than 2 million members in the United States as of 2008, is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In 2003, openly gay Gene Robinson was elected as the bishop of New Hampshire. That helped lead to a call from some Anglican Church leaders for the Episcopalians to stop authorizing same-sex unions and stop allowing lesbians and gays to take high positions in the church.
Robinson announced over the weekend that he would retire as bishop in January 2013.
Asked about Robinson, Shaw said, "I think he'll go on working in all kinds of important ways in the Episcopal Church" and "I think his important voice will continue to be heard" even after he leaves his position.
She also said, "The Episcopal Church has taken the lead on inclusion, compared to the rest of the Anglican Communion, and that's fantastic, and of course we're going to keep building on that."
Shaw is domestic partners with Sarah Ogilvie.
Louise Brooks, a board member of the LGBT Episcopalian group Integrity, said she doesn't know Shaw personally, but she spoke favorably of Shaw's reputation.
"There's been very little press hoopla around the fact that [Shaw] is an open lesbian," and that "speaks to the fact of where the Episcopal church is today, that sexual orientation has little to do with the choice of people for this position," said Brooks.
She said Shaw "will be the voice of a different type of Christianity ... conveying a message that everyone is a beloved child of God, and that there is no asterisk that says 'unless you're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.'"