Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

By the standards of episcopal Church meetings, it was a thrilling and entirely unexpected outcome. When the governing body of the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion met in June to elect a new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, wasn't high on anybody's shortlist. There were some moderates, and a conservative or two; all were men. In the 21st century, stories of "first women" are old hat--except in the case of the Anglican Church, whose 77 million members are still divided over female ordination. The United States approved it in 1976.

Schori's election comes at a difficult time for America's 2 million Episcopalians, when some conservative dioceses are threatening to split from the U.S. church over the 2003 consecration of a gay bishop. But Schori is tough, and her apparent steadiness amid conflict helped win her the job. "I will bend over backwards to build good relations with those who do not agree with me," she said after her election. A former oceanographer who flies small planes for fun, Schori is already expert at defying expectations.