Mary Adelia McLeod, the first woman to become a diocesan bishop in The Episcopal Church, has died at her home in Charleston, West Virginia, on Wednesday at the age of 84.
Although McLeod was the third woman to be consecrated a bishop in the mainline Protestant denomination, she was the first female bishop who specifically led a diocese.
The Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, the regional body that McLeod was elected in 1993 to lead, announced her death on Wednesday.
Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, the head of the Vermont Diocese and the first black woman to hold the leadership position, said in the announcement that McLeod “was always encouraging to me.”
“I’m trying my best to continue her work of empowering and supporting lay ministry, promoting inclusion, strengthening our stewardship, improving transparency around our financial resources, and encouraging the ministry of women,” said MacVean-Brown.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1938, McLeod later graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in history.
Along with her husband, Henry McLeod III, she entered the Episcopal seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, graduating in 1980 and becoming the first woman from Alabama to be ordained in The Episcopal Church.
She would serve at St. Timothy’s Church in Athens, Alabama, and St. John’s Church, Charleston, West Virginia, and was an archdeacon in the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia.
In 1993, McLeod was elected bishop of the Vermont Diocese, becoming only the second woman in the entire global Anglican Communion to head a diocese as bishop.
The first was the Rt. Rev. Penelope Jamieson, who had been elected bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Dunedin, a regional body of the Anglican Church of New Zealand, in 1989.
In an interview with The Associated Press in July 1993, McLeod explained that she did not want to be considered a feminist icon, but rather simply as a servant of God.
“The Diocese of Vermont has looked past the gender issue and was looking for the right person for them, and it just happened to be me,” said McLeod at the time. “But they have been very courageous in following the Spirit’s guiding.”
“I think there’s been a conscious effort, at least in the election of bishops, to include women in that process. That certainly wasn’t true 10 years ago.”
McLeod was consecrated on Nov. 1, 1993, in a globally broadcast service that took place during a major snowstorm and served as head of the diocese until 2001.
In 2000, as the state of Vermont first debated legalizing same-sex marriage, McLeod expressed her support for the Church recognizing gay unions in an essay titled, “Let the Church be the first to issue an Emancipation Proclamation.”
“I believe homosexual persons choosing to live together in a life-long union are not committing a sin. I believe some persons are born homosexual and are not made/chosen as a result of trauma, rebellion, psychological difficulties or for any other reason. God creates diversity in human beings,” she wrote.
“The Anglican tradition understands marriage as the life-long union between a man and a woman. I have no quarrel with that understanding, but suggest the Church might consider expanding what we mean or may want to mean by the union of two human beings committed to each other in a life-long relationship.”
McLeod is survived by her husband, three daughters, two sons, and eight grandchildren. A private family ceremony will be held, with her body being donated to the West Virginia Human Gift Registry.