Melissa Skelton, bishop of the diocese of New Westminster, has been elected metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, becoming the first woman in the Anglican Church of Canada to have the title “archbishop.”
The U.S.-born Skelton was elected on the first ballot by the ecclesiastical province’s electoral college—its six diocesan bishops plus members of its executive council—Saturday morning, May 12. Voting was by telephone conference; 21 of the electoral college’s 24 members voted. Skelton will be formally installed as metropolitan at the next provincial synod September 14-16, but takes office as metropolitan immediately.
Skelton succeeds John Privett, who last December announced plans to step down, both as metropolitan and bishop of the diocese of Kootenay. Privett resigned as metropolitan effective April 30 and will retire from his position as bishop May 31.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Skelton said she felt humbled and grateful to have been elected to the position. She said she was looking forward to orienting herself to the role by speaking with Privett and the other officers of the provincial synod. She also wanted, she said, to see more of the province in person.
“I’d like to visit all the dioceses, and let the bishops know that I’m really here to support them in whatever ways would be helpful, in the same ways that John [Privett] was for me,” she said.
Skelton said she was unaware, when she agreed to stand for election, that if elected she would become the Anglican Church of Canada’s first female metropolitan. Since the vote, she said, she has been offered lots of congratulations, by both men and women, and felt very gratified by their support.
“Any time a woman is the first to take on a role…not only in our church but in secular society, then the rest of us women are strengthened thereby,” she said. “We are affirmed; we are encouraged, and that’s not a trivial thing at all.”
Among her priorities as metropolitan, Skelton said, are preparing for coming diocesan elections and continuing provincial initiatives in areas such as safe church practices, and fostering collaboration among dioceses to make the best possible use of resources and talent in the province.
Also on the ballot were Logan McMenamie, bishop of the diocese of British Columbia, and Larry Robertson, bishop of Yukon.
The ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon includes the dioceses of Yukon, Caledonia, Kootenay, New Westminster, British Columbia (which covers Vancouver Island and other islands along the coast of B.C.) and the Territory of the People, which is an autonomous territory.
Born in Columbus, Georgia, Skelton became an Episcopalian in her 20s. She has substantial background in business, and earned a master of business administration from the University of Chicago after completing her master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. She became a priest in 1993, while working at American consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble as a brand manager. Skelton served for a time as vice-president for administration at New York City’s General Theological Seminary, then became vice-president of brand and systems development for Tom’s of Maine, which sells natural-ingredients-only toothpaste and other personal care products.
After leaving Tom’s in 2001, she became rector of Trinity Church in Castine, Maine, then moved across the continent in 2005 to become rector of St. Paul’s, in the diocese of Olympia, in western Washington state.
Skelton was elected bishop of New Westminster, which includes Vancouver and much of southwest mainland B.C., in December 2013, while she was serving at St. Paul’s.
Asked whether she was interested in having her name put forward as a candidate for primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Skelton, 67, said she has not, because, if elected primate, she would not have much time before having to retire at the mandatory age of 70.
“I would think we would want to put forward names that would have a good possibility of a number of years ahead of them,” she said.
A new primate for the church will be chosen at General Synod in 2019, when Archbishop Fred Hiltz will resign.