An Hour Later, Phyllis Spiegel Becomes Bishop of Utah
By Kirk Petersen
Paula Clark was supposed to become Bishop of Chicago in April 2021 — but suffered a stroke two weeks before the ceremony.
Then in November, her husband Andrew — her “soulmate” — died of cancer.
Some people were skeptical that she would ever take office. She didn’t share that skepticism. After countless hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy; after discontinuing use of a walker; after starting to work part-time in early 2022; after all that, she knelt in front of Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry on September 17 in Lombard, a Chicago suburb. A gaggle of attending bishops laid hands on her, and Curry intoned, “We pray that the heart of this, your servant, whom you have chosen, will be filled to be a bishop in your church.” He said the other words that needed to be said, then helped Clark to her feet.
He lowered his voice, but his microphone was still live. He can be heard on the diocesan video asking, “You good? Okay bishop!” And the 13th Bishop of Chicago turned to face her flock and her well-wishers.
Clark has made tremendous progress, but some level of disability will always remain. “I will have exercises that are related to the stroke for the rest of my life,” she told TLC in May. “It’s just part of what you do to stay nimble, right? So it’s a part of who I am now, the exercise regime is part of what I do, so that’s forever.”
Her voice has strengthened since that May interview, but a flat and nasal tone creeps in from time to time. She speaks somewhat slowly, but does not struggle to find words. She walks unaided, with small steps.
Her work has become part of her recovery, and her recovery has become part of her ministry.
“I’ll also be a spokesperson for disability rights,” she said in May. “Being differently abled, I’ve come to realize that that part of my being is very important. I will not shy from speaking about that, because we as a society have a long way to go where that’s concerned.”
“You have walked through the valley of the shadow of death,” Bishop of Washington Mariann Edgar Budde told Clark in her sermon. “And by God’s grace, and with the love and support of so many; with your own sweat, and tears, you’ve come out on the other side. And so you know — not merely in your head, but in your bones — that nothing can separate you, or any of us, from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”
Clark was canon to the ordinary in Washington at the time of her election, so Budde was her boss. “Being in the presence of Paula Clark, and watching her in action, is like taking a master class in Christian leadership,” Budde said — even more so since traversing the valley.
In thanking the people who had supported her through many months, Clark said, “You’ve always been a people who had a faith that would move mountains. And together, we’re gonna move some mountains.”
At the beginning of her sermon, Budde gave a shout-out to another incoming bishop, 1,400 miles away. “There is another gathering of equal joy about to begin in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah,” where Phyllis Spiegel would be consecrated the 12th Bishop of Utah. “And Phyllis told me that she would be watching [this] service online until the procession begins in Salt Lake, so will you join me in greeting Bishop-elect Spiegel!” She led a raucous round of applause.
The Diocese of Utah video shows Spiegel being consecrated by former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. After she received her crozier from outgoing Bishop Scott Hayashi, Spiegel said, “I have always been told that I wear my emotions on my face, so I guess you can pretty much see the joy that is in my heart right now is exploding on my face. But let me tell you, I think that still has to be a fraction of what is actually inside of my heart this day.”
Joy was the order of the day. “I think we just broke the joy meter here,” Curry said.