In a unanimous decision by the clergy and lay faithful of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, Rev. Canon Paula E. Clark is now the Bishop-elect of the diocese. This makes her the first Black bishop and the first woman to head the diocese and the 13th elected bishop.
On December 12, the Electing Convention was held on Zoom and Clark was one of four candidates slated for the position. Her win came as a surprise to her and she is happy to lead the diocese of Chicago while breaking glass ceilings along the way.
“I’m just honored to be among those who are breaking the glass ceiling and providing opportunities and examples for younger women,” Clark said.
“I am overwhelmed. I’m humbled and filled with so much joy, people of the diocese of Chicago. I can hardly believe it,” Clark told the convention.
The Washington, DC native was baptized at the age of 10 into the Episcopal Church after her family could not integrate into the Baptist church. According to a press release, she was baptized by Bishop John Walker, the first Black dean of Washington National Cathedral and first Black bishop of the Diocese of Washington.
The 1960s was riddled with social unrest and as a Black family in a predominantly White neighborhood, Clark encountered racism and racial inequality firsthand as a child. She hopes to use her position as Bishop to tackle racial division.
“All of the major world religions believe in unity and peace and love…So this is an opportunity for us to have a counter-narrative to some of what we are seeing in our wider society,” said Clark.
“We Episcopalians are strong people who can model for the rest of this country and the world what it looks like to walk the way of love. God is calling us to a new day and a new way of being.”
Currently, she is canon to the ordinary and chief of staff in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Clark first felt the call to priesthood in seventh grade at the National Cathedral School but did not pursue it till after her mother’s passing. Her mother did not approve of women’s ordination.
Clark obtained her bachelor’s from Brown University and earned her master’s in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.
For nine years she worked as a public information officer for the Office of the Mayor and the District of Columbia’s Board of Parole. Thereafter, Clark served as the director of human resources and administration for an engineering and consulting firm in Washington for five years.
Then in 2004, she earned a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. It is from this point that the journey to fulfill her childhood priestly dreams began.
The wife of Andrew McLean and mother of five with seven grandchildren worked at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beltsville, Maryland. She later joined the staff of Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde.
Her predecessor, Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee, retires on December 31. Bishop-elect Clark, who will oversee 122 congregations and more than 31,000 members in northern, central and southwestern Illinois, will be sworn in on April 24. The ecclesiastical authority will oversee the activities of the diocese during the transition.