First Black Woman Elected to Lead Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee

Growing up as an Episcopalian in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the Rev. Phoebe Roaf never saw any priests who looked like her.

Her role models, all white men, were affirming and wonderful, she said, but it wasn’t until her 40s that she saw God was calling her — a black woman — to be ordained.

Now, Roaf has been elected as the first woman and first African-American to lead the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee. She will also be only the fourth black woman to become a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States.

“I’m a person who’s very optimistic about the future,” Roaf said. “I have had a ministry of building bridges and reconciliation in my secular life and in my life as a parish priest, and that is sorely needed at this time in our nation’s history. … I’m coming there as someone who wants to build bridges and bring people together.”

Roaf, currently rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, was selected Saturday through a balloting process at the diocese’s annual convention held in Germantown.

She was selected over two other nominees, also women. She will be installed May 4 at Hope Presbyterian Church where the Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, will preside.

Roaf succeeds Bishop Don Johnson, who has led the diocese since 2001.

She has been rector at St. Philip’s, the oldest African-American church in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, since 2011. Before that, Roaf was associate rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans.

Now, Roaf said she wants the people of the Diocese of West Tennessee to know she is grateful and humbled for their trust, and that she is eager to join in the work they are already doing.

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Source: Commercial Appeal